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Consultant Breached FBI's Computers

A breach of FBI databases is the latest in a string of setbacks for Director Robert S. Mueller's campaign to upgrade the agency's technical capabilities.
A breach of FBI databases is the latest in a string of setbacks for Director Robert S. Mueller's campaign to upgrade the agency's technical capabilities. (By Chris Kleponis -- Bloomberg)

What Colon did was hardly cutting edge, said Joe Stewart, a senior researcher with Chicago-based security company LURHQ Corp. "It was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff five years ago," Stewart said.

Asked if he was surprised that a secure FBI system could be entered so easily, Stewart said, "I'd like to say 'Sure,' but I'm not really. They are dealing with the same types of problems that corporations are dealing with."

Colon's lawyer said in a court filing that his client was hired to work on the FBI's "Trilogy" computer system but became frustrated over "bureaucratic" obstacles, such as obtaining written authorization from the FBI's Washington headquarters for "routine" matters such as adding a printer or moving a new computer onto the system. He said Colon used the hacked user names and passwords to bypass the authorization process and speed the work.

Colon's lawyers said FBI officials in the Springfield office approved of what he was doing, and that one agent even gave Colon his own password, enabling him to get to the encrypted database in March 2004. Because FBI employees are required to change their passwords every 90 days, Colon hacked into the system on three later occasions to update his password list.

The FBI's struggle to modernize its computer system has been a recurring headache for Mueller and has generated considerable criticism from lawmakers.

Better computer technology might have enabled agents to more closely link men who later turned out to be involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to intelligence reviews conducted after the terrorist strikes.

The FBI's Trilogy program cost more than $535 million but failed to produce a usable case-management system for agents because of cost overruns and technical problems, according to the Government Accountability Office.

While Trilogy led to successful hardware upgrades and thousands of new PCs for bureau workers and agents, the final phase -- a software system called the Virtual Case File -- was abandoned last year. The FBI announced in March that it would spend an additional $425 million in an attempt to finish the job. The new system would be called "Sentinel."


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