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Posted at 2:45 PM ET, 03/31/2010

Annals of crime: the FBI's continuing computer woes

By Jeff Stein

About two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, an FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center had an eye-opening computer experience.

With the click of his mouse on a desk top icon, he could see all the overnight classified CIA reports from Pakistan.

The system was called Hercules. When the agent came back to FBI headquarters, he sought out his bosses.

“Why don’t we have something like that?” he asked, exasperated. His managers assured him the FBI would soon have its own bigger and better system.

I first reported that back in 2006.

All these years and many hundreds of millions of dollars later, the FBI is still struggling -- to put it mildly -- to build its own investigative case management system, the Justice Department’s Inspector General reported today.

“The OIG report released today identified serious concerns about the progress of the FBI’s Sentinel project,” a Justice Department press release said.

“Specifically, the FBI has yet to complete Phase 2 of the project and has suspended work on portions of Sentinel’s third phase and all of its fourth phase because of concerns the FBI had with the usability, performance, and quality of the deliverables provided in an effort to complete Sentinel’s second phase.”

The back story, in case you’ve missed the OIG’s reports on Sentinel over the past five years:

“After more than 3 years and $334 million expended on the development and maintenance of Sentinel, the cost to Sentinel is rising, the completion of Sentinel has been delayed, and the FBI does not have a current schedule or cost estimate for completing the project.”

Actually, it gets worse:

“In today’s report," the OIG continued, "we also noted that the FBI had conditionally accepted delivery of Segment 4 of Sentinel’s Phase 2 in December 2009, despite knowing that there were serious performance and usability issues. “

Investigators found “10,000 inefficiencies in Sentinel’s software code” supplied by the FBI’s contractor, Lockheed Martin.

The FBI said it’s still trying hard.

“In its response to the report, the FBI stated that it is currently taking steps to determine if these inefficiencies affect Sentinel’s performance and the resources required to repair the code as necessary.”

By Jeff Stein  | March 31, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
Categories:  Justice/FBI  
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Was Hercules also a Lockheed project or was it in-house? If neither, why wasn't the same contractor used? The requirements should be similar and I suspect a similar technical solution would have been successful. I put the blame on FBI for mismanaging their own project, but Lockheed shares a significant portion for failing to deliver.

Posted by: jhmil2 | March 31, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

As long as Americans want to believe there is a technological solution for all security and investigative issues, we will always be in some sort of a hole.

Posted by: john_bruckner | March 31, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Ah....the Fumbling Bunch of Incompetents, again.
No surprise here.
Cops (not the brightest bulbs on the porch) and civil servants (even dimmer bulbs) blow $334mil on a basically straight-forward DB system....and blame the contractor.
Probably all are at fault, but the bottom line is more waste of public money - by the same morons who missed 9/11, Robert Hanson, Nada Prouty, etc.

Posted by: graywolf98 | March 31, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Seems like a Extranet database developed with something like ColdFusion, with NSA-approved encryption in the appropriate places would be just the ticket for them.

If the FBI keeps trying for the Cadillac-version it will never get done.

Posted by: jgmann | April 1, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

And this is the agency responsible for counterespionage as well as domestic crime? Sends a chill down my spine.

Posted by: scientist1 | April 2, 2010 5:19 AM | Report abuse

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