New Intelligence Tools

December 12, 2008

The FBI discusses new intelligence gathering tools used in Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence operations.

Audio Transcript

Mr. Schiff: Hello, I’m Neal Schiff, and welcome to Inside the FBI, a weekly podcast about news, cases and operations. Today we’re talking about intelligence gathering and a tool called Compstat.

Mr. Mudd: “Compstat is taking the direction of the FBI, which is to look at how well we’re doing intelligence in the field, and using video-conferencing to get our field offices on the screen and run through a series of questions to determine how well they’re doing on their intelligence operations.”

Mr. Schiff: There’s another tool that’s useful for the FBI and police in collecting intelligence and information and crimes and suspects. It features maps on computers and it’s called Pinpoint…

Mr. Shute: “We take a look at an area; we take a look at the data that we have acquired from our local partners, and what we do is we target an area and we hit that area until we come up with the information that we need.”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI’s Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence operations are overseen by the National Security Branch. Phil Mudd is the Associate Executive Assistant Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, and he has seen many changes not only at the FBI but throughout government in recent years to better protect the United States from terrorists and other types of operatives.

Mr. Mudd: “I think there a couple of things that have changed fundamentally. The first is the real mission of the Bureau and what people expect of us. They expect us not only to investigate crimes after they happen, but they expect us to collect information that allows us to preempt things. It’s a fundamental change in the popular, public perception of how the FBI should conduct its mission. The second thing I would say in answer to this question is I think that globalization affects our mission every day and the kinds of information we collect. In the past we might have looked at organized crime or bank robbers. Now we’re looking at everything from human trafficking from Southeast Asia to cyber pornography from Eastern Europe to terrorism from around the world. So it’s a global organization that has a mission that’s expanded to national security and not just law enforcement.”

Mr. Schiff: How do all the agencies link to not only gather, but to share intelligence when the wires at hot?

Mr. Mudd: “There are a lot of ways that organizations share when things start getting hot. The first of course is formal ways—disseminated intelligence that everybody can read on a computer screen. But there are other ways, maybe a little bit less formal. Video conferences, for example. At the leadership level there is very good cooperation and people talk to each other regularly, often daily. And now, in the space of the last four or five years we have an entity, the National Counterterrorism Center, that gives us every morning a consolidated picture of threats, so that the people reading about threat information—the Director of the FBI, for example—can read not only what the Bureau is doing, but what the CIA, Defense, Homeland Security, the military are doing in response to threats as well.”

Mr. Schiff: What are some of the other agencies besides state and local that the FBI works closely with in these operations?

Mr. Mudd: “As we deal with threats that are increasingly globalized, I think the kind of partners we have might surprise people. Some of them are traditional partners. Our strongest backbone, of course, is with state, local, and tribal law enforcement organizations, sheriffs. We also work domestically, for example, with labs or universities that might be the targets of counterintelligence investigations or technology theft. But over time our Legal Attachés overseas are expanding in number because of the number of foreign leads we have to work with. Our cooperation with foreign police and intelligence services has expanded. We have steady cooperation with CIA overseas and also in war zones. Places like Afghanistan and Iraq now we have extensive partnership with the U.S. military on things like site exploitation when we go to storm a site that has a terrorist in it. So the Bureau has changed from a place that partners with state and locals substantially to a place that also works with intelligence services in places like Asia and the military in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Mr. Schiff: The FBI, for many, many years investigated violations of federal crimes in the United States, branched out a number of years ago and then on 9/11 became an intelligence gathering agency working with police agencies here and abroad. The FBI’s Legal Attaché program expanded. Mudd says the Compstat program is another page in the book for helping investigators do their work around the world.

Mr. Mudd: “A field division might identify two or three threats that they think are really significant in their division. And then we step through a series of questions about how well postured are we are to ensure that that threat doesn’t evolve into an attack. How well we are doing on human-source penetration? How good is our technical coverage? Do we understand the threat well enough to know where the organization we’re facing gets their money from? It’s a tool by video conference to help us go back and forth between Headquarters and the field to ensure that we are taking on the intelligence mission as well as we can.”

Mr. Schiff: Mudd says that Compstat has been a tremendous help and very useful for all involved.

Mr. Mudd: “This is one of the most useful things, especially as an intelligence professional, I’ve seen since I joined the Bureau in 2005. The way it works, the mechanics are, we do both practice and real sessions. You’ll have a few people in the chair at Headquarters. For the real sessions, typically the Director of the FBI and a series of executives sitting around, it could be as many as 15 or 20 in the room. We have a series of three or four field divisions on screens, and we ask them to speak about what they are worried about most in their territory. Is it a terrorist entity? Is it a counterintelligence problem? Is it a criminal problem? Then we start digging down a bit deeper and asking questions about how good our coverage is of that problem. Not how well we are simply prosecuting a case, but how well we’re covered with human sources or technical sources to ensure we’re not surprised in this country. And then sometimes the field divisions will ask us questions about how well we’re supporting them on various kinds of threat issues that they face. So it’s a very interactive session, quite intensive at times, that includes members of the executive staffs of both Headquarters and field divisions.”

Mr. Schiff: And how do FBI Agents and their partners reach into communities looking for information and people and evidence? At the FBI office in Philadelphia, Special Agent Bill Shute created something a few years ago. It’s been a tremendous success: geo-mapping. It’s a map on a computer, and it’s called Pinpoint.

Mr. Shute: “Project Pinpoint is, I guess we can call it, a geo-spatial intelligence tool. It’s basically taking a mapping program and over-laying various data crime sets onto the map, all types of data that could be helpful in an investigation. You have to remember that that could mean any number of different things. So we take various things such as warrants and bench warrants, probation detainers, registered sex offenders. We have cellular telephone towers. You name it, we have it in there. And we utilize that data to try to make links and cases to formulate strategy in trying to lock up bad guys and using it as a way to generate and maintain FBI informants.”

Mr. Schiff: How did you come up with this idea?

Mr. Shute: “I’m a visual learner. I see things. I can understand things better when I see them. I had a vision a long time ago being able to see the locations of all of our informants and our informant resources on a map. And then it began to evolve, because I needed something to relate that to. I needed something to be able to discuss with the informant. So crime data was the most beneficial piece of data I could put in there. Then tasking those informants against various crime data. That’s kind of how it started and how it began to evolve. The more crime data the better, we began to find that it was in the terms of an intelligence tool, that it started to make our confidential human sources even better. They were reporting on more information because we had more information to ask them about.”

Mr. Schiff: Using various types of icons for data and colors for different police agencies, including the FBI, Shute says Pinpoint points to it all.

Mr. Shute: “Sure, you would see arrest warrants; bench warrants; probation detainers. You’d see registered sex offenders. You’d see shootings and homicides. You’d see locations of all firearms recovered in the city of Philadelphia. You’d see the narcotics sellers’ arrests.”

Mr. Schiff: Shute says to make this whole thing of law enforcement fighting crime, terrorism, espionage, and more work, it’s up to the public to play a role and help the FBI and police.

Mr. Shute: “When we get to an area, the only way we’re going to get information to solve crimes if people come forward and talk. And as we have said here in the FBI, we need people to ‘Step Up and Speak Up’ and tell us exactly what happened and that’s where the public comes in.”

Mr. Schiff: Cooperation is the key. You can help. You can talk anonymously with the FBI in case you have information about something that has happened or is going to happen. The phone number for the nearest FBI office is in the front of your telephone book. There’s more information on the Internet at That concludes our show. Thanks for listening. I’m Neal Schiff of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs.

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