Las Vegas Business Press
December 11, 2006
In May, Las Vegas Metro received information from two children who
claimed a live-in family friend was molesting them. Detectives were able
to confirm the accusations and, in the process, found what is believed
to be the largest collection of child pornography ever uncovered in the
Las Vegas Valley.
"There must be several hundred thousand, if not a million photos of
child pornography," Metro Sgt. Leonard Marshall told a small group of
federal, state and local law-enforcement officials in October. "We are
still in the process of forensically examining the digital evidence."
Aside from the sheer volume of evidence in this case, one other reason
police are not finished collecting all of it may be because Nevada
employs only one forensic computer analyst for the whole state.
Two task forces made up of federal and local investigators do co-exist
-- one in the north and another here in the south -- and they utilize a
wide array of computer forensic tools. Lately, those two groups have
become far more focused, however, on high-profile financial crimes and
terror investigations than on anything else.
HELP ON THE WAY?
It is for this reason the state's seven-year-old Technological Crime
Advisory Board has voted to push legislation authorizing the employment
and training of at least five new computer forensic specialists. If
authorized, they will work in the Nevada Attorney General's Office,
assisting agencies across the state in collecting evidence that might
otherwise go undetected. That need has grown exponentially as functional
digital devices, such as PDAs and cellular phones, have increasingly
come onto the market.
"I don't want to denigrate the services of the federal folks assigned to
us. It's just that those assets are becoming fewer and fewer as Nevada's
need is burgeoning," said Jim Earl, the advisory board's executive
Earl said he has not yet seen the draft legislation and admits the issue
remains "up in the air" right now. The budget adopted by Governor-elect
Jim Gibbons could conceivably ignore the request; the incoming governor
is known to be less than enthusiastic about some parts of his
predecessor's draft budget for the coming biennium. But the need for new
computer-evidence analysts remains large, regardless of the political
climate, Earl said.
A HIGH FEDERAL PRIORITY
Federal agents who work here, particularly the FBI, Secret Service and
Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency, are more than happy to see an
expansion of local resources. According to minutes of the advisory
board's July meeting, new FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Martinez,
who was previously deputy director of the FBI's vaunted cyber-crime
program, said the the G-Men are having difficulty handling the vast
amounts of digital evidence it is getting.
"The volume will only get larger and larger. Hard drives continue to get
larger. This also vastly increases the amount of evidence that must be
examined," he told the board.
Cyber crime prevention and investigations rank very high on the FBI's
list of priorities. "We are working very hard to establish cyber issues
as one of the four operational programs in the FBI. The others are
counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence and traditional criminal work,"
Earl hopes to fill the five computer-examiner positions with experienced
agents. The new investigators would not only have to be highly skilled
in technology issues and the use of special forensic software, but also
be able to testify in court about investigative procedures and methods.
"The good news is that, unlike five years ago, there are a lot of
colleges and universities (that) recognize this as a specialty," Earl
said, hopeful the positions could be filled in a short time. Beginners,
he added, would learn the ropes by assisting the federal task forces for
Earl, apparently, is not in the mood to be too picky. "All of this is
really high priority," he said.
Copyright 2006, Las Vegas Business Press
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