August 19, 2006 10:55 AM PDT

Sleek snoop center still leans on human factor

NORWALK, Calif.--A new law enforcement center--quite possibly the best real-world likeness of the fictitious high-tech "Counter Terrorist Unit" in the popular show "24"--relies on a surprisingly low-tech feature: low cubicle walls.

Located in the Los Angeles suburb of Norwalk, the first-of-its-kind Joint Regional Intelligence Center joins federal, state and local law enforcement in one facility as part of a post-9/11 effort to improve law enforcement collaboration. Analysts and investigators at the center handle intelligence from the various agencies on potential threats to national security, in particular terrorism, and correlate the data.

JRIC

"We are connecting the dots," Michael Chertoff, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said on Friday after touring the recently opened center.

The facility--housed in a nondescript office building in suburbia, near fast-food restaurants and bland government offices--is equipped with some $2 million worth of technology, including numerous projectors that display onto walls maps, information on terrorists, and other data from public and nonpublic sources.

Yet despite all the high-tech eye candy, JRIC relies on people for data-sharing.

"Technology enables us to analyze a lot of information quickly and get access quickly," Chertoff said. "But the human element is important here."

JRIC is the first of 38 such centers meant to prevent potentially valuable intelligence from going unnoticed, Chertoff said. Intelligence agencies have worked together in the past, but not at this scale, JRIC participants said.

At JRIC, pronounced "jay-rick," data such as tips and field reports from a multitude of agencies is analyzed to identify patterns and trends. Agencies that are part of JRIC include the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sherriff's Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

Recently, JRIC staffers worked long hours after a suspected terror plot to blow up transatlantic airliners was unraveled. The center operated extended hours, from 5 a.m. Pacific until midnight, some JRIC employees said. It will become a 24/7 operation in the future.

Currently some 30 analysts and investigators are in place at JRIC. Eventually, the center will house around 60 people from about 15 agencies.

Click here to Play

Video: Behind the scenes at JRIC
CNET News.com's Joris Evers gets inside the first Joint Regional Intelligence Center, whose workforce is drawn from the FBI, Homeland Security and regional agencies.

"For law enforcement this is cutting-edge," Stanley Salas, a section chief at JRIC and a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department, said in an interview. "We're cops, we're used to arresting people, not building places like this."

Individuals at the center represent their own agencies and are tapped into their own data sources. There is no universal access to multiple data sources. People have to make the information-sharing happen, so everyone is put together in an open bullpen instead of cloistered cubicles.

There is a vision for JRIC to unify all data from the various agencies in a single database and offer broad access to personnel, but that doesn't exist today. That's not because of technical limitations, but because of red tape and access restrictions, said Mario Cruz, technology director at JRIC.

"Today we do not have a logical connection (between different agency databases); right now it is the people," he said.

The various agencies involved need to agree on protocols for sharing their data, and that may take a while. "We always have the tech answers and solutions in place before the actual agreements have been hammered out," Cruz said.

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5 comments

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LOL!!!
They're using Windows! No wonder they can't coordinate well
enough to handle a storm.

What are they going to do against a determined terrorist group?
One that's smart enough to attack their easily defeated Windows
systems before attempting a physical attack?
Posted by Macsaresafer (802 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why
Do you hate our freedoms.
Posted by CitizenX (522 comments )
Link Flag
Sure
Easily defeated eh? Their computers seems to be holding up, and so are mine. Try for once to stop parroting Apple ads and get a dose of reality.
Posted by Andrew J Glina (1673 comments )
Link Flag
Some call it low tech
But the Police say it's the best thing they've seen and it will get better.

Knocking the system out from under it's feet before it even becomes fully operational and gets improved to do a more efficient job, it's the best we've currently got.

Bottom Line: I'd prefer low-tech over no-tech.

Agreed that they have a long way to go, but they have to start some where. And as soon as the techniques which are shared by those 15 agencies gets corroborated and patterns are found out... believe you me... they will automate what they can, but there are some things that the human mind and eyes do which are quite difficult to program.

One good example is: Place a picture in front of a human and then place that same picture in front of a camera attached to a computer.

Task: Get both of them to tell you whether that picture is pornographic or not.

The human will reply ASAP, but how do you program that into a computer?

Now replace that task with: Get both of them to tell you whether somebody in a video clip is a likely suspect or not.

Some things require human intervention and or are done better by humans. As intelligent as we want to think computers are... they can only do what they are programmed to do and not everything is programmable... even though Mickeysoft might want you to think otherwise. (* GRIN *)

Walt
Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Low Tech it is....
Any business that is started learns from previous mistakes and trials. The intelligence business is very difficult to justify until a nugget produces a known win in preventing the loss of life and/or property.
We have learned intelligence techniques from our fathers in the previous world wars. I learned in Viet Nam first hand what good and bad intelligence can do to the front line troops. Our current theater of battle is our front yard. This center is dedicated to look at information and pass it to the people who can work quickly to identify the real threats.
Today we have the basic tools and infrastructure to give the analysts the quickest access to data possible. We are working everyday to improve access and enhance the tool box for the analyst. We also are restricted by our own government as to what information we are able to look at and not step on any citizens rights. The managers work with these restrictions and still are willing and able to give the best effort for this country. We also buit this infrastructure for scalability and best practice elements.
Today it is "Low Tech" with the human factor. Tomorrow it may be very "High Tech" however the human factor is where we will always attain victories.
The intelligence analyst is the individual that will uncover and expose the threats to this country.
Analysts are very "Low Tech" and so....
"Low Tech it is".
.
Mario A. Cruz
LAJRIc IT Project Manager
Posted by MAC Mario Cruz (1 comment )
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