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Report: FBI antiterror computer system delayed

Virtual Case File won't be ready this year, article says

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Acts of terror
September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI's much-lauded computer system that was supposed to aid in tracking domestic terror threats will not be ready by year's end, as some top officials at the bureau had expected, according to a New York Times report published Saturday.

It is unclear when the system may be completed, the article said. An FBI official told CNN that the information in the newspaper account was correct.

The newspaper quoted one FBI official who suggested the Virtual Case File program, designed to allow agents to share information easily, "might ultimately have to be abandoned."

FBI Director Robert Mueller had lauded the system as one that would help agents make the types of connections that were missed before the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Saturday that "We had a major presentation from the FBI just a few months ago, and it seemed like they were on the right track."

He added, "The Virtual Case File is extremely important to the fight against terrorism and this news is a real disappointment."

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 20, Mueller indicated that he expected elements of the system to be up and running by the end of the year.

"We have encountered problems, setbacks regarding the deployment of our infrastructure," he said, adding, "we are on track to deliver elements of Virtual Case File capabilities by the end of this year."

His remark triggered debate, with Sen. Patrick Leahy -- the committee's ranking Democrat -- questioning the large budget and delay.

"The attorney general told Congress that Virtual Case File was on schedule to be implemented by December 2003. You said the same thing in July 2003 when you testified before us. In December, the FBI told my staff it was delayed until summer. On March 23 of this year you told the Appropriations Committee the FBI was still negotiating," Leahy said.

Two weeks later, on June 3, Mueller told the House Appropriations Committee, "We are now negotiating with our contractor on the Virtual Case File in terms of winding up and determining what components the Virtual Case File will have this year."

The FBI's chief information officer, Zalmai Azmi, explained some of the challenges in bringing the system online during a news conference in May. "This is a huge program. If we do a hasty development and try to put everything together, the possibility of this system breaking is high."

Azmi added that the FBI's specifications pose another challenge.

"You have to realize that FBI network is a classified network. And until we solve the challenge between secret, top secret and nonclassified, we're not going to be able to have them all stored on the same computer."

A staff statement recently issued by the commission investigating the attacks of September 11 highlighted how antiquated technology had hampered the bureau's ability to detect terrorist activity.

"The FBI's primary information management system, designed using the 1980s technology already obsolete when installed in 1995, limited the bureau's ability to share its information internally and externally," the statement said in part. "The FBI did not have an effective system for storing, searching, or retrieving information of intelligence value contained in its investigative files."

CNN's Terry Frieden, Carol Cratty, Kevin Bohn, Jim Spellman and Sharon Reich contributed to this report.

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