Behind the Scenes with OTD
Behind the Scenes
FBI Experts Deliver Technical Tools
|Audio technician working on voice identification|
In our early days, our investigative technologies were fairly high-tech…for the time, that is. Like two-way and short-wave radios, still and motion picture cameras, radio monitoring stations, and mobile surveillance command posts (sometimes disguised as refrigerator trucks!).
Decades later, technology still figures prominently in our investigations. And the folks in our Operational Technology Division, located in rural Virginia, are charged with developing and deploying state-of-the-art investigative technological tools that support our intelligence and investigative priorities.
Marcus Thomas, Assistant Director of our Operational Technology Division, explains the role of his office this way: “You won’t hear about our work on the evening news because of its highly sensitive nature, but you will continue to hear about the fruits of our labor—the terrorist plot averted, the spy caught red-handed, the rescued kidnapping victim, the dismantled child pornography ring.”
We provide these technologies, and the training to use them properly, to FBI field personnel across all of our programs—counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cyber, and criminal. We also use the technologies to assist our local, state, and federal partners.
Examiners enhancing a video
Much of the work of our Operational Technology Division is extremely sensitive, but here are a few general examples of our capabilities:
- Court-authorized electronic surveillance. One of the most tried-and-true methods of catching criminals and terrorists is lawfully intercepting their conversations to learn of their plans. Our electronic surveillance experts excel at constructing and deploying microphones, body recorders, and transmitters, as well as intercepting the content of phone calls and Internet communications.
- Physical surveillance. In addition to listening to their conversations, we also want to see where the subjects of our investigations go and who they’re meeting with. Our experts design and build concealment devices that help us track these individuals (somewhat along the lines of the proverbial pen or briefcase with a hidden camera, but much more advanced these days!).
- Collection and analysis of digital evidence. Crooks use computers and other electronic devices like the rest of us, so there’s often a wealth of incriminating evidence stored on these devices that we’ve become adept at recovering and analyzing. Our Computer Analysis and Response Team provides expert forensics assistance to field investigators, while FBI-sponsored Regional Computer Forensics Laboratories around the country provide full-service support to our state and local partners.
- Tactical operations. Our criminal and national security investigations sometimes require court-authorized surreptitious entries and searches to obtain evidence. Our specialists not only develop the tools, systems, and equipment used during these operations, they also sometimes deploy as part of the “covert entry teams.”
- Tactical communications. During operations, law enforcement personnel have to communicate with one another, so we have experts who design, implement, and provide logistics support for secure FBI radio systems around the world. And since we don’t work in a vacuum, these experts also make sure our communications systems work with those operated by our local, state, and federal partners.
Because technological advances continue at warp-speed and terrorists and criminals make use of these advances, Assistant Director Thomas assures us that “the Operational Technology Division’s highly-skilled personnel are working every day to ensure that the FBI and its partners maintain their technological edge.”
To learn more about the work of our Operational Technology Division, visit its new website.