FBI Forensic Analysts Aid Local Police in Terrorism, Major Crime Cases
by Jim Kouri, CPP
(This article is based on an FBI Strategic Plan submitted to the National Association of Chiefs of Police.)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) on Monday announced the opening of a new laboratory and office suite for the forensic examination of radiological material and associated evidence, located at the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina.
The new Radiological Evidence Analysis Lab Suite (REALS) will serve as a hub laboratory for the FBI and intelligence agencies who are involved in the prevention of terrorism and the investigation of the disbursement of radiological materials. The new REALS provides the FBI with a flexible radiological containment laboratory where FBI experts can safely conduct forensic examinations on items of evidence associated with radiological material. Traditional forensic laboratories are not designed for the safe examination of radiological materials and evidence associated with a radiological disbursement.
The proper collection, preservation, and forensic analysis of evidence is a tremendous tool that must be fully exploited. Since its inception, the FBI has been the world leader in using science to solve crimes. During its first year of operation in 1932, the FBI’s forensics unit conducted 963 examinations.
Currently, the FBI conducts more than one million forensic examinations annually. The types of forensic investigations conducted by the FBI include terrorism, espionage, public corruption, civil rights, criminal organizations and enterprises, white collar and violent crime. Not only has the volume of evidence received increased dramatically, but the complexity of the examination methods, as well as the complex nature of the investigations themselves have increased. Often, forensic analysis is the only means to provide conclusive information to a jury to assist them in their determination of guilt or innocence.
Forensics is also an essential tool in combating terrorism in that it provides evidence that establishes links and associations that can withstand judicial scrutiny in the United States and abroad. Moreover, comprehensive crime scene searches and the subsequent forensic analysis of evidence is sometimes the only solid intelligence that exists or the only mechanism to corroborate other intelligence reporting.
FBI forensic analysis was essential in piecing together the evidence to identify those responsible for, as well as the supporters of, every terrorist attack against the United States, including the mid-air bombing of Pan Am Flight #103, the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, the bombing of the two United States Embassies in East Africa, the attack against the U.S.S. Cole, and the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
In January 2003, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors -- Laboratory Accreditation Board -- board of delegates voted to adopt Digital Evidence as an accreditable discipline. The Investigative Technology Division conducts forensic examinations in the discipline of Digital Evidence as defined by the ASCLD/LAB. These examinations are performed at FBI Headquarters and field offices by certified forensic examiners.
The evolving threat environment increasingly requires the rapid deployment of FBI forensic examiners to locations around the world in order to collect and preserve evidence that could otherwise be lost forever. FBI forensic resources are increasingly being called upon to support high profile criminal investigations in other countries because of the FBI’s unique forensic expertise and capability.
The FBI will also need to help develop the forensic capabilities of other countries and to leverage existing capabilities within the United States through partnerships with other forensic laboratories and scientists to provide the optimum level of forensic services to meet the increasing demands. It is imperative that constant improvements in forensic analysis be sought through a robust research and development program and that these improvements be quickly deployed to support the entire forensic community.
With the incredibly rapid growth of the World Wide Web, terrorists, foreign actors, and criminals are increasingly using this technology, along with encryption, to facilitate their operations. The FBI and its partners must keep up with the increasing demands required in providing timely forensic analysis of computer-related evidence in support of terrorism, foreign intelligence, cyber, and criminal investigations.
The FBI receives an increasing volume of evidence and an increasing number of requests for expert testimony from federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. It is incumbent upon the FBI to provide operational assistance to international, federal, state, and local agency partners. While the completion of the new FBI Laboratory provides tremendous forensic capability to assist in these matters, increasing demands over the next five years will outpace the FBI’s ability to deliver timely examinations.
The proper collection, preservation, and forensic analysis of evidence from the scene of a terrorist attack or major crime is critically important. There is only one opportunity to do it correctly; otherwise, critical links and evidence may be lost forever. The global threat of terrorism and international crime requires a timely forensic response capability around the world. The need for these services will increase over the next five years, and the FBI must be able to meet this demand.
While the most dramatic increase of services will be overseas, the FBI’s forensic expertise is often called upon to address major crimes in the United States as well, including initial processing of crime scenes.Within the first six weeks after 9/11, the FBI’s CART examined more than nine terabytes (nine million megabytes) of data. With the onset of world-wide access to computers and increased knowledge within the general population, it is reasonable to expect a computer to be involved in some fashion in virtually every investigation the FBI conducts.
FBI is Congressionally mandated to provide computer forensic support, in addition to other forensic support, to state and local law enforcement agencies which it accomplishes through its Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory (RCFL) Program. The RCFLs are partnerships among the FBI and other law enforcement agencies within a geographic area, and the program has continued to grow since its inception with the number of labs expected to exceed 10. As such, computer forensics are expected to play an ever increasing role in the FBI’s future operations.
(Special Thanks to the FBI's Michael Lilly, FBI Office of Public Affairs)
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.