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The FBI on Cyber Crime

It's not every day that one gets a chance to talk with Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So when he began taking questions following a speech he made about cooperating with industry to fight crime at the Infraguard 2005 conference yesterday in Washington, I immediately raised my hand. (I was later told that the few invited press members weren't supposed to ask the director questions. D'oh!)

In response to another questioner, Mueller had reiterated the FBI's investigative priorities as counter-intelligence, counter-terrorism and cyber crime, in that order. As a follow-up, I asked whether he thought the agency's record of arrests and convictions on cyber crime investigations was representative of that priority.

I found Mueller's answer interesting:

"I don't think we can be evaluated by number of arrests, indictments and prosecutions. What we have learned by the attacks of September 11 [2001] is that success may well be defined by preventing attacks, including cyber as well as terror attacks. We are doing a far better job today of pulling together the necessary capabilities so that we can not only identify and prosecute [perpetrators of cyber] attacks but also prevent them. ... So I think we are doing a much better job preventing attacks ... but by the same token we haven't shirked our responsibility in any way, shape or form to identify, arrest, indict and prosecute those responsible."

Still, Mueller's response left me feeling as though maybe I didn't get the whole story behind his answer. Later that day, I had the opportunity to speak at length with Louis Reigel III, the assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division. Reigel explained that the FBI is working overtime to develop relationships with law enforcement officials in dozens of other countries where much of the Internet crime originates -- countries that in many cases do not have specific laws against many forms of online activity that are illegal in the United States.

Reigel said the FBI has hundreds of ongoing cyber crime investigations -- many in conjunction with other three-letter federal agencies -- but that the FBI does not discuss or even acknowledge ongoing probes until they have wended their way through the entire legal process. He also said my question about arrest statistics touched a nerve because it harked back to a paradigm that in the not-too-distant past governed the way the FBI operated.

"The bureau is a much-changed organization in the last four to five years. In the past, managers and even street agents were rated on their statistical accomplishments -- how many arrests, indictments were they bringing in? Today, we focus on disruptions, dismantlements: Where did the intelligence go, what sort of intelligence was gathered, and who that intelligence has benefited."

Reigel said that in addition to its traditional responsibility of bringing criminals to justice, the FBI increasingly is taking a closer look at the criminal networks behind cyber crimes to see what more they can learn. "There is no doubt that we are no longer just an investigative agency, but an intelligence agency as well."

By Brian Krebs  |  August 10, 2005; 1:57 PM ET
 
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Comments

Everyone knows journalists aren't there to question, you're there to transcribe press releases.

If you keep this up, some journalists covering security might get a bad name.

Posted by: Adam | August 10, 2005 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I was at the event and the FBI Director was very gracious and took many questions. The event was for the InfraGard members and attendees, not a press event.

The one question that came from an admitted member of the press, not Brian, was about the scandal of the day and way off conference topic. I think this is one of the reasons they say "no press". Brian's question was on topic and appreciated by the audience and probably the Director.

Posted by: Dale | August 11, 2005 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Lest anyone begin to gain too much respect for the FBI, it would serve them well to visit an FBI office. The visitor will pass through the usual array of guards and detection devices in order to enter the building. On his or her arrival at the FBI's enclave of offices he/she will encounter a pleasant greeter, behind a wall of bullet-proof glass. His or her contact with an FBI agent will again be mediated by yet another wall of bullet-proof glass. The visitor may be slightly distressed when the agent refuses to identify him or her self. let alone answer any substantive questions. It's all done, presumably, in the National interest.

On the outside, municipal police, state police and county sheriff's are out there every day face to face with total strangers and, sadly, when crimes occur that involve the FBI, it is the FBI agents who are "in charge". Just imagine how much their judgment is affected by the stress of dealing with the public without the protection of walls of bullet-proof glass; those people could be carrying bombs, or guns, or knives, or slingshots.

Are we surprised that they won't answer any questions? Someone might throw a tough one at them!

Posted by: Ed Beneville (esb3@cox.net) | August 11, 2005 11:13 AM | Report abuse

In response to Ed Beneville: I'm not sure what exactly Ed wants from the FBI. Is he saying that he'd like to just drop in on an FBI office, start asking for the names of on-duty Agents and demand that they spontaneously comment on "substantive questions?"

Try that at any Police department and you'll get the same reaction you get at the FBI. If you have real business with the FBI (ie: you're actually reporting a crime) I imagine that they might actually be helpful, but I also imagine that an initial contact would probably be made over the telephone. If you expect to "walk-in" and get info on Area 51, the chip "they" implanted in your brain, or why the people on television are spying on you, I think you'll probably get a skeptical reaction to your "substantive" questions.

Posted by: JEH | August 12, 2005 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Methinks the FBI should concern itself a bit more with the crime happening within their own country rather then chase after illegal website abroad.

An overwhelming majority of spammers/Child porn/illegal webistes of random description are either hosted in the USA or controlled by US citizens. Oh, and I wish people would get a perspective on the Freedom Of Speech act and start controlling some of the highly illegal material posted on US websites. (Such as how to make a bomb in ten easy steps etc.)

Posted by: Milan | August 15, 2005 2:54 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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