Tracking Terrorists With the Click of a Mouse
The Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center in Linthicum, MD, has helped recover hidden digital evidence from criminals’ computers for use in law enforcement investigations, including terrorism cases.
The process of extracting this evidence is known as “digital forensics,” an evolving science that will eventually have the same type of revolutionary impact on law enforcement investigations as DNA did, says Steven Shirley, executive director of the center.
Terrorists are increasingly using technology devices like cell phones, laptops, and Palm Pilots, and the digital evidence that is left on these devices can provide investigators with a trove of useful information, including evidence of plots, intentions, and activities, says Shirley.
Digital forensics featured prominently during Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s recent hearing in Guantanamo Bay, as much of the evidence that was produced during the hearing came from a computer hard drive in Mohammed’s possession. This evidence included letters from Osama bin Laden, communications with a Sept. 11 hijacker, and records of the pilot license fees incurred by the lead operative of the Sept.11 attacks, Mohamed Atta.
Similar evidence was obtained from the laptop of slain Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leading to the capture of his top lieutenants.
Digital forensics experts note that terrorists are more likely to use encryption than regular criminals, and there are also crack-resistant technologies available that can effectively lock a hard drive.
Abstracted by the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center (NLECTC) from the Baltimore Sun (03/26/07); P. 1A; Gorman, Siobhan.