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FBI Shows Off Counterterrorism Database

The FBI demonstrates its 659 million-record Investigative Data Warehouse and boasts about its speed.

Still smarting from the failure of its old IT systems, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Tuesday gave a public demonstration of its Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW) and bragged that the 659 million-record counterterrorism database functions well.

At a meeting in Washington, the FBI said the system had been developed by Chiliad Inc. of Amherst, Mass., whose president and CEO Paul McOwen attended the demonstration.

"It was developed over the course of many years," said McOwen in an interview Wednesday. "In a nutshell, (IDW) has an ability to analyze data, both structured and unstructured, as well as relational databases. It goes across all major platforms, across entirely separate systems."

Noting that the sensitive nature of the intelligence system keeps him from discussing many details, McOwen said the "enormously scalable" system represents a productivity improvement of 60,000 times over previous law enforcement database systems. "It scales to the size of the entire Internet," he said.

By showcasing the counterterrorism database, the FBI was trying in part to offset criticism of its Virtual Case File (VCF), which was supposed to replace aging paper files. The VCF system never worked properly and critics excoriated the FBI for wasting $170 million on it before it was scuttled.

At Tuesday's demo, FBI officials noted that the system can match and cross-link social security numbers and drivers license information and tie disparate data together -- all across hundreds of millions of records. Press reports observed that a search of 1,000 names across 50 databases, which took 32,000 hours to run on old search systems, can be performed in less than a half-hour with the Chiliad-built system.

Chiliad was organized in the late 1990s by former University of Massachusetts academics. McOwen is a former deputy chairman of the university's Computer Science Department.

Chiliad -- the name represents the cardinal number which is the product of 10 and 100 -- was partially financed by a $24 million investment by Hewlett Packard. HP owns less than 15 percent of Chiliad.

McOwen said Chiliad does business with other agencies in the "intelligence world."

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