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FBI Beefs Up Amid Explosion of Cybercrime

Cybercrime is one of the priorities for the FBI, which has 13,260 special agents across the country, according to the agency.

(TNS) -- The head of the FBI said cybercrime is "exploding" apace as the influence of the Internet rises meteorically.

"It (the Internet) is transforming human relationships in ways we've never seen in human history before," FBI Director James Comey said Friday.

Comey said he sees a "tremendous amount of cyberespionage going on — the Chinese being prominent among them, looking to steal our intellectual property."

"I see a whole lot of hacktivists, I see a whole lot of international criminal gangs, very sophisticated thieves," he said. "I see people hurting kids, tons of pedophiles, an explosion of child pornography."

Cybercrime is one of the priorities for the FBI, which has 13,260 special agents across the country, including on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii island, according to the agency. The FBI had an $8.3 billion budget in fiscal 2014.

Comey, the head of the FBI for 15 months, met with law enforcement officials on Oahu on Friday as part of his effort to visit each of the FBI's 56 field offices around the country by the end of the year.

The Honolulu office in Kapolei was No. 56, he said.

Comey met with U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni and county police chiefs and introduced Paul Delacourt as the new special agent in charge of the FBI's Honolulu Division.

Comey was asked at the press event about former Oahu resident and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and other intelligence breaches in Hawaii in recent years.

He said that foreign intelligence-gathering in Hawaii is "significant."

"Let me say it this way: Our counterintelligence program is one of the most important parts of the FBI and our partnerships here," Comey said. "This (Hawaii) is where a huge part of the nation's military, civilian and intelligence infrastructure is, so it's where foreign nation-states are going to come if they want to steal stuff from us."

Comey said he wouldn't characterize the threat of foreign intelligence-gathering as increasing, but "it is significant and it has remained significant."

As for Snowden, who lives in exile in Russia, Comey said he would "welcome the opportunity to afford him the rights and privileges attendant to anybody who is a defendant" in the U.S. criminal justice system.

The Kapolei field office has about 200 people, including agents and analysts, and those working in computer services and administration, the FBI said.

The agency said it does not reveal how many agents there are within that total.

Comey said he talked with the agents in Hawaii and his law enforcement partners "about ways to work better together and to see if we can't get more technology and more talent here to focus on the cyber threat."

Agency-wide, the FBI is "doing a lot of hiring" to combat cybercrime, Comey said.

"We've hired 100 more computer scientists," he said. "I'm investing in high-speed accesses and all kinds of equipment."

He added, "Congress has given us the resources, because Congress sees the threat."

In an October talk at the Brookings Institution, Comey raised concern about real-time and stored data, including phone calls, live chat sessions and email text messages, that are increasingly being encrypted.

"We call it ‘going dark,' and what it means is this: Those charged with protecting our people aren't always able to access the evidence that we need to prosecute crime and prevent terrorism even with lawful authority," Comey said at the time.

The discussion comes as Snowden's government eavesdropping revelations created a backlash against those far-reaching efforts.

Comey said Friday it's important for the nation to "have a conversation" about giving law enforcement the ability to access real-time and stored data.

"I'm a big fan of privacy," he said. "I don't want anybody rifling through my stuff. But if there's probable cause to believe that the evidence of a serious crime is contained on a device, we need to be able to get access to it."

©2014 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser


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