Saturday, April 08, 2006

Federal Bureau of Luddites

Defense Tech:
Most of you have probably heard about the FBI's technology problems: The field offices that still aren't connected to the 'Net. The 8,000 employees who don't have e-mail addresses. The case management database that's straight out of the leisure suit era.

But what's not as widely known is why the bureau is so behind the times. The big culprit is FBI culture, it turns out. Until very recently, being computer-savvy hasn't been considered much of an asset in the FBI, and clues were something you kept to yourself.

My story in Slate explains. Check it out -- it's my first one for 'em.

UPDATE 6:03 PM: Slate is more of an essay-driven operation. So I didn't get to use some of the juicier quotes that I squeezed from folks in researching this story. Here are a few:

*'Compar[ing] with the FBI is like comparing the Neanderthal system of 'one bang club on cave mean yes, two mean no,' to the futuristic Star Trek vision of intergalactic communications that transcend time and distance. If Captain Kirk found himself in... the FBI headquarters building in D.C., he surely would tap the communicator on his chest with the comment 'Scotty, beam me up, there is no intelligent life in this rectangular cave.''
-- former NSA officer

* 'Guys would write their notes on legal pads, and lock them in a safe at night when they went home.'
-- former FBI agent

* Every SAC [Special Agent in Charge of an FBI office] is his own king. And they don't like people from other divisions coming into their kingdoms... If I'm working on an L.A. case, and I've got leads in Chicago, the attitude is, 'Why Go?' Everyone gets tied in knots.'
-- former FBI agent

* 'Everything the Bureau has been talking about, they’ve had here for years... You can’t believe how far ahead they are here.'
-- U.S. Strategic Command analyst, formerly with the FBI.

(And before you ask: Yeah, I talked to current agents, too. They just weren't as snarky as the exes.)"


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