Mr. Guy K. Zimmerman
Assistant Inspector General
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of the Inspector General
1425 New York Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005
Dear Mr. Zimmerman,
In response to your memorandum to Director Robert Mueller dated September 1, 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agrees with the conclusion of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) in it's conclusion on page 34, that both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) compile and disseminate data relative to explosive incidents. This duplication of effort has resulted in confusion and a lack of consistency. We disagree, however, with the OIG's recommendation in the first paragraph on page 37, that the databases of the FBI and BATFE should be consolidated under the BATFE. Furthermore, the FBI would like to clarify statements of the OIG's draft report.
Page 1 of the "Executive Summary", footnote #1 states "The FBI does not normally receive and record arson-only incidents." In fact , the Uniform Crime Reporting Act of 1988, 28 U.S.C. 534, and 28 C.F.R. 0.85 (f) clarifies that the FBI shall compile criminal statistics (including arson statistics) from federal, state and local agencies and shall operate a central clearinghouse for police statistics under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. As discussed on August 19, 2004, the FBI 's Uniform Crime Report Program routinely shares arson statistics with the BATFE. The Bomb Data Center (BDC), however, collects only bombing incidents and activity reports and does not collect arson statistics.
The last sentence of the first paragraph on page 7, titled Automated Incident Reporting System (AIRS), states "On August 19, 2004, FBI officials said the FBI recently implemented COBRA, a wireless system that enables law enforcement agencies to enter data remotely." In fact, the COBRA system was implemented in 1998 as part of an FBI program to equip state and local bomb squads to recognize and detect materials involving weapons of mass destruction. At that time, the COBRA system contained a hard-wire modem to connect the user via telephone, to the FBI's Bomb Data Center as part of the National WMD Response Plan. The bombing incident and activity reporting feature of the system was added for the convenience of state and local bomb squads. In January, 2004, the FBI initiated a series of multi-million dollar contracts to upgrade state and local COBRA systems These contracts include replacing the telephone modem with cellular, or wireless modem for remote internet connectivity; to provide wireless service free of charge to state and local bomb squads; and to conduct on-site training to ensure state and local bomb technicians can operate the system. In fact, the FBI was recently nominated for an award for the COBRA system by the technology community for innovative use of technology to improve National security and protect Americans against terrorist attacks.
Also on page 7, the last sentence of the next paragraph of the report states"...as reporting agencies acquire access to LEO they will eventually be authorized to enter data directly into AIRS." The FBI provided all of the more than 440 accredited bomb squads in the U.S. a COBRA system with which they have had the ability to enter data directly into AIRS since 1999. Many departments chose not to utilize the direct-entry capability. As stated above, the system was upgraded to a wireless system in 2004. Also, as the OIG noted on page 18, "Data is collected for the FBI's AIRS system electronically or in hardcopy format via mail (and e-mail) or fax. Authorized members of the BDC/SIG may enter bombing incidents and bomb squad activities directly into the system." This appears to conflict with the OIG's statement at the bottom of page 18 which states "In our judgement, a system in which data can be entered directly by the reporting agency, such as BATS system, (emphasis added) has the advantage of furnishing real-time data." Since AIRS is a direct entry system available to every bomb squad, and in as much as BATS is a pilot project, under development, and only available to two departments (page 4 of the report), it would appear, other factors notwithstanding, that it would be prudent to continue utilizing the FBI's AIRS database.
The draft audit states on page 34, that "... as the FBI migrates from data entry by BDC and LSU staff to data entry by reporting agency, the error rate should decrease." It should be reiterated that AIRS is a direct agency data entry system and that agencies may choose not to utilize that feature. They may fax, mail or e-mail reports to BDC in addition to the direct data entry feature.
Finally, the footnote on page 36 of the draft report states: "On August 19, 2004, FBI officials indicated they did not want to include subject and suspect data, or data related to juveniles." What the FBI officials were attempting to convey is the AIRS database conforms to DOJ policies with regards to the Freedom of Information and Privacy ACT (FOI/PA) and provisions for maintaining information identifying juveniles. Also, the FBI does not feel the internet is an appropriately secure means of inter-agency transmission of criminal investigative information, particularly information that identifies subjects, suspects, victims, witnesses and juveniles. Information transmitted via the internet could be subject to theft and public disclosure, thus jeopardizing criminal investigations, Grand Jury proceedings, individual and business reputations and, of utmost importance, the safety of victims and witnesses. The FBI's AIRS database, therefore collects only statistical data and does not collect or disseminate criminal investigative information.
If you have any additional questions regarding data related to explosives incidents, please do not hesitate to request our assistance. I thank you for your efforts to address this matter.
Dwight E. Adams