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  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."
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