Cyber threats

Watchdog says FBI investigators need more training, information sharing

FBI Director Robert Mueller in January opened a new computer forensic lab in California, which has more cyber victims than any other state. 

 Nick Ut/The Associated Press

FBI efforts to combat cyber intrusion threats are weakened by poor information sharing with other agencies and a lack of training, according to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The watchdog interviewed FBI cyber investigation squads at 10 field offices throughout the United States. While the bureau was given passing marks for meeting interim goals for establishing and operating the National Cyber Investigative Joint Task Force (NCIJTF), it is falling short in key areas.

“The [FBI] was not always sharing information about cyber threats among the partner agencies participating in the (NCIJTF),” said the watchdog report, which bears some redactions.

One problem: The FBI has issued a Memorandum of Understanding for inter-agency information sharing that is too restrictive. As well, it hasn’t been signed by all the partners. At times, some task force members have been asked to leave threat focus meetings to protect secrecy, said the report.

“Because the NCIJTF is an interagency task force, we believe it is vital that all of the partner agencies have common understandings about information sharing,” said the inspector general’s report.

Investigators also found problems with training.

Of 36 agents interviewed, nearly two-thirds said they had the know-how to do their jobs. “The remaining 36 percent of these field agents reported that they lacked the networking and counterintelligence expertise to investigate national security intrusion cases.” Five of the agents felt they weren’t qualified at all, the report found.

As well, the inspector general found that the FBI’s policy of rotating agents among offices weakens enforcement and that the field offices don’t have adequate forensic and analytical capabilities “to support national security intrusion investigations.”

As a side note, the watchdog report was completed on Nov. 4, 2010 and then sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for review. That office ordered so many redactions that the inspector general fought back. “We reviewed the ODNI’s classification review and believed the classification markings and redactions were over-inclusive. The report was finally issued April 18.

Fast Fact:  There were 5,499 known intrusions of U.S. government computer systems in 2008, a 40 percent increase from the previous year. Each FBI field office has a cyber squad, which sometimes include linguists and computer scientists in addition to special agents who investigate national security, criminal, and online child pornography issues.

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now