Information Warfare: September 20, 2002

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The FBI, which is supposed to be leading the fight against Internet terrorism and crime, is having some serious recruiting problems as it tries to expand its staff of computer experts. It seems that, to the FBI, most qualified geeks that apply are "tainted goods." The elite of the FBI are the "Special Agents." Like pilots in the air force, the Special Agents are the anointed leaders of their organization. Becoming one requires above average mental and physical skills, as well as a clean background. The kind of computer experts the FBI is recruiting, all qualify on the high-IQ front, but run into problems when it comes to physical fitness and an unblemished background. Geeks are known for spending endless hours in front of a computer, not for taking breaks to do push-ups or run laps. The diet of Jolt Cola and junk food doesn't help either. The Internet wizards the FBI needs the most would not survive the FBI Academy obstacle course. Many would not survive a background check either. The best hackers have often hacked places they shouldn't have. Even if they weren't caught, they often weren't shy about describing their exploits on the net. In other words, most of these guys "have a past" in the indictable sense. The FBI has lesser positions for computer experts and technicians, but if you aren't a Special Agent, you don't have much influence on decisions. This is why the FBI has such primitive computer technology. FBI computer experts, who were not special agents, have urged upgrades for decades. But the Special Agents were not all that computer literate and little progress was made. After several humiliations during the 1990s, the FBI finally undertook a major effort to get current with computer technology. This means spending $1.1 billion to catch up in the computer technology department, including $76 million to computerize a billion paper documents that are currently very difficult to search. The FBI has little choice but to move forward. Even before September 11, 2001, they were in a fight with the Department of Defense over who would defend America from attacks via the Internet. Incredibly, the FBI won that fight. But now they have to deliver the technical services, and technical people, to make that work. At the moment, it looks like the FBI techies will be stopped, not by America's cyber-enemies, but by the FBI Academy obstacle course and a distaste for people who have practiced what they now want to protect against.

 


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