State seeks cyber sleuths

State seeks cyber sleuths
State seeks cyber sleuths 

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.


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.


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," 
he said.

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 
a while.

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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