WASHINGTON: The Special Operation Division (SOD) is one of the primary U.S. government criminal investigative operational synchronization centers. It consists of personnel representing 30 agencies from U.S. Federal Law Enforcement, Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, United Kingdom/ National Crime Agency, Australian Crime Commission, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the New York City Police Department. Their job is to share law enforcement intelligence obtained via court authorized communication technology surveillance and other relevant data uncovered during the course of major multi-agency criminal investigations around the world.
Working with many outstanding people from a variety of agencies, including in the role of Agent in Charge of the Department of Justice (DOJ), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Special Operation Division, (SOD) in Virginia from 2005-2014, there were many public servants demonstrating their dedication and strong commitment pursuing transnational organized crime networks around the globe.
As the criminal threats to this country evolved and became more complex, the powerful workforce around the U.S.A. continued to relentlessly put forth amazing efforts to disrupt the “bad guys” crime waves against our communities.
Politics negative impact on public safety and national security
The FBI Director and other Homeland Security Officials speak about the “Going Dark” of communications issues we are facing in this country. This is nothing new. The DEA, FBI, other federal, state and local agencies, were dealing with these issues before September 11, 2001.
As part of DOJ’s briefing team, the FBI, DEA and DOJ officials began describing the impact of the “technology wave” in the early 2000’s. Suffice to say, now it’s a major issue for law enforcement. There was failed leadership, inadequate support and resources and a lack of engagement by Congress to deal with these emerging concerns.
There were significant complexity and politics getting in the way of progress.
In addition, some of the DOJ attorneys and other agency representatives responsible for action and recommending solutions were more concerned in enhancing their personal resumes with an emphasis toward lucrative positions in the private sector.
They were reluctant to aggressively hold the telecommunications industry accountable for their lack of service to support law enforcement even as criminal investigations were being impeded.
Many years were wasted as key U.S.G personnel avoided this important matter. Now look what we face with advanced encryption and communications technology that can’t be intercepted even when law enforcement has court orders signed by state and federal judges.
The inability to intercept communications emanating from a criminal’s device is really a substantial problem that needs to be addressed now.
We need immediate engagement with Congress, law enforcement and the best and brightest industry leaders to develop solutions that will protect all parties.
Law enforcement is not looking for additional authority or to invade any citizen’s privacy rights. That said, if dangerous criminals and radical terror networks are operating in the U.S. using communication devices to commit criminal activity or plan terrorist acts, law enforcement with probable cause and court authorization, need to be able to access key communications information.
The value of communications infiltration
One of the best capabilities law enforcement has had for many years to prevent crime is the ability to infiltrate communications. Through monitoring communications, law enforcement has been able to fully identify criminal networks, the co-conspirators and develop enforcement actions to prevent the criminal activity.
Law enforcement professionals will continue to lose capabilities to protect the public if leadership doesn’t address this issue immediately.
We need to ask tough questions and demand accountability on our key senior-level government executives and Congress on matters such as emerging technology and the impacts to law enforcement.
Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act
The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) was passed in 1994 and its primary purpose was to enhance the ability of law enforcement agencies to conduct electronic surveillance/wiretaps by mandating that telecommunications carriers and manufacturers of telecommunications equipment design their technology so they were equipped with surveillance capabilities.
The law was later extended to cover broadband internet and voice over internet protocol.
One of the goals of CALEA was to keep law enforcement in the game by mandating that the telecommunications companies provide law enforcement technical solutions, pursuant to court orders and before new technologies would be deployed by Industry to the market.
These issues are expanding at a rapid rate. Certain communication types used by criminals can’t be intercepted even when law enforcement personnel spend countless hours going through the antiquated DOJ process to obtain court orders.
Over the years, many members of Congress and DOJ were way more interested in playing politics than dealing with the related public safety issues. They did little to hold the powerful telecommunications Industry accountable for providing intercept solutions to law enforcement before they deployed new advanced technology to the public.
This important issue has also been ignored by many of the Senior Executives in the government for at least the last 15-20 years. Many of these government managers had a short-term vision and did not want to “rock the boat.” The fear of tainting their reputations, which they believed could negatively impact their career aspirations both in and out of government.
Keeping America safe
It’s imperative that the smart, dedicated and committed personnel we have in law enforcement continue to pound the drum on these critical issues. Law enforcement personnel can be very innovative and have developed ways around the obstacles over the years until solutions were deployed.
We know that criminals and terrorists who commit numerous crimes and kill are using advanced communications methods.
The entire law enforcement community in the U.S. can’t conduct thorough investigations on the criminal networks today without the ability to infiltrate the new technologies.
Encryption was never covered under the CALEA law despite the fact that significant criminal activity was and is currently being organized over the encrypted services readily available.
If carriers release encrypted capabilities to communicate, productive discussions on how law enforcement can still be in a position to obtain that critical data and content are required.
A public-private partnership is necessary
We need responsible American citizens to engage as partners with dedicated law enforcement and have productive national discussions on this important topic. We need to develop solutions for public safety. There are misconceptions in the public about what the law enforcement agencies collect and how they go about it.
The government’s number one priority is keeping Americans safe. Sadly the laws and processes have not kept pace with technology, and this disconnect has created a significant public safety problem.
This is a recipe for disaster and we need to update the obsolete laws.
For the sake of public safety, we need citizens to step up and be vocal about these issues especially since our law enforcement professionals need these tools to infiltrate and exploit the criminal’s communications to stop crime before it occurs.
The consequences of the status quo are severe and we need a sense of urgency.
This is when we really need the super bright technology industry leaders to develop a compromising plan with the government to deal with this evolving and dangerous situation.
Congress can’t avoid this problem and continue to sweep it under the rug.