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Case Study 3‐2 The FBI
The Federal Bureau of Investigation of the U.S. government, the FBI, was forced to scrap its $170 million virtual case file (VCF) management system. Official reports blamed numerous delays, cost overruns, and incompatible software. But a deeper examination of the cause of this failure uncovered issues of control, culture, and incompatible organizational systems.
Among its many duties, the FBI is charged with the responsibility to fight crime and terrorism. To do so, it requires a large number of agents located within the United States and around the world. That means agents must be able to share information among themselves within the bureau and with other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. But sharing information has never been standard operating procedure for this agency. According to one source, “agents are accustomed to holding information close to their bulletproof vests and scorn the idea of sharing information.” This turned out to be a real problem in an investigation of DarkMarket, an Internet forum that connected buyers and sellers so that they could exchange stolen information such as bank details and credit card numbers. When both the FBI and Secret Service agents were investigating each other as criminals, it took their British colleagues, who knew the secrets of both agencies, to avert a crisis.
Enter the FBI’s efforts to modernize its infrastructure, codenamed “Trilogy.” The efforts included providing agents with 30,000 desktop PCs, high‐bandwidth networks to connect FBI locations around the world, and the VCF project to facilitate sharing of case information worldwide. The FBI Director explained to Congress that VCF would provide “an electronic means for agents to globally send field notes, documents, pieces of intelligence and other evidence so they could hopefully act faster on leads.” It was designed to replace a paper‐intensive process with an electronic, web‐based process. With such a reasonable goal, why didn’t it work?
The CIO of the FBI offered one explanation. He claimed that the FBI needed to change its culture. “If the Bureau is ever going to get the high‐tech analysis and surveillance tools it needs to … fight terrorism, we must move from a decentralized amalgam of 56 field offices … to a seamlessly integrated global intelligence operation capable of sharing information and preventing crimes in real‐time.” He added that the Bureau personnel were also very distrustful of the technology, as well as others not only in other organizations but also within the FBI.
A former project manager at the FBI further explained: “They work under the idea that everything needs to be kept secret. But everything doesn’t have to be kept secret. To do this right, you have to share information.”
The VCF system has been shut down, but the CIO is working on a new approach. He is busy trying to win buy‐in from agents in the field so that the next case management system will work. The Director of the FBI has helped too. He reorganized the governance of IT, taking its budget control away from the districts and giving total IT budget authority to the CIO.
The FBI built a new case management system called Sentinel. The new system includes workflow, document management, record management, audit trails, access control, and single sign‐on. It provides enhanced information sharing, search, and analysis capabilities to FBI agents and facilitates information sharing with members of the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
The FBI also has a billion‐dollar Next Generation Identification (NGI) system with 52 million searchable facial images and 100 million individual fingerprint records as well as millions of palm prints, DNA samples, and iris scans. NGI can scan mug shots for a match and pick out suspects from a crowd scanned by a security camera or in a photograph on the Internet. The information can be exchanged with 18,000 law enforcement agencies 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.i When combined with Sentinel, NGI further enhances the effectiveness of the FBI’s antiterror efforts.
Discussion Questions ( answer the questions using the assignment template)
• What do you think were the real reasons why the VCF system failed?
• What were the points of alignment and misalignment between the Information Systems Strategy and the FBI organization?
• What do you think of the CIO’s ﬁnal comment about how to change attitudes? Do you think it will work? Why or why not?
• If you were the CIO, what would you do to help the FBI modernize and make better use of information technology?
i Federal Bureau of Investigation, “FBI Announces Full Operational Capability of the Next Generation Identification System,” September 15, 2014, https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press‐releases/fbi‐announces‐full‐operational‐capability‐of‐the‐next‐generation‐identification‐system (accessed August 20, 2015).
Sources: Adapted from Allan Holmes, “Why the G‐Men Aren’t IT Men” CIO, June 15, 2005, 42–45; Marc Goodman, Future Crimes (Toronto, Canada: Random House, 2015); and John Foley, “FBI’s Sentinel Project: 5 Lessons Learned,” Information Week, February 8, 2012, https://www.informationweek.com/applications/fbis‐sentinel‐project‐5‐lessons‐learned/d/d‐id/1105637 (accessed March 6, 2019).For more information on investigation of DarkMarket check on this :https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DarkMarket
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