High-tech lab fights crime of digital age: FBI's $1.5 million facility can recover data, zero in on such offenses as child pornography

Imagine a laboratory filled with equipment advanced enough to locate deleted child pornography on a hard drive, recover old e-mails sent on a cell phone and trace the owner of a camera used to download photographs onto a laptop.


[Posted on Thurs, Sept. 8, 2006]

High-tech lab fights crime of digital age: FBI's $1.5 million facility can recover data, zero in on such offenses as child pornography
Source: BuffaloNews.com (www.buffalonews.com)


By VANESSA THOMAS
News Staff Reporter
9/8/2006

Ronald J. Colleran/Buffalo News
Niagara Falls Police Officer Jon Shumway examines the equipment in the new FBI forensic laboratory, unveiled Thursday in Buffalo.


Imagine a laboratory filled with equipment advanced enough to locate deleted child pornography on a hard drive, recover old e-mails sent on a cell phone and trace the owner of a camera used to download photographs onto a laptop.

Welcome to the FBI's new computer forensic laboratory unveiled Thursday in downtown Buffalo.

The $1.5 million laboratory will process computer-related evidence for a variety of crimes, including murder, extortion, white-collar crimes, child pornography and terrorism.

The Western New York Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory is inside Erie County's Public Safety Center, a $33 million facility at Elm and South Division streets.

"In today's digital world, crime scenes have become much more complex," said Kerry E. Haynes, executive assistant director of the FBI's science and technology branch.

"In today's world, digital technology is often more important than physical evidence. Cell phones, [personal digital assistants], computers - each and every one of these devices has its own unique story and can be tainted and destroyed, but we can also extract their evidence," he said.

Laurie J. Bennett, special agent in charge of the FBI's Buffalo operations, called the laboratory a "symbol and physical reminder of the partnership" between the FBI and other state and local law enforcement agencies.

U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn told the audience he is haunted by pornographic computer images of children he sees when his office is prosecuting cases. He recalled a boy, younger than 10, who was being abused by a man.

"There was no expression on the boy's face," Flynn said, describing the child's blank stare although someone was trying to sexually arouse him. "The harm that can be caused by the computer is severe and permanent."

Flynn said the computer forensics lab already has helped to prosecute numerous high-profile child pornography cases in this area.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Littlefield pointed to the case of James Lindgren, 55, a Jamestown man sentenced last year to 18 years in prison after he admitted to sexually molesting a 9-year-old girl in his Jamestown residence and transmitting live images of the abuse over the Internet.

Authorities seized Lindgren's computer, which spawned charges against two other men, from England and North Carolina, for downloading Lindgren's child pornography.

Flynn offered a stern warning to Internet child predators who think their crimes will be kept secret.

"If you're looking at a [pornographic] photograph of children on the Internet and think that no one will know, you're kidding yourself," Flynn said, his voice rising with disgust.

Others speaking at the unveiling of the laboratory included Peter J. Smith, a supervising agent for Immigration & Customs Enforcement; Michael C. Bryant, special agent in charge of the Secret Service office here; Erie County Undersheriff Richard T. Donovan; and County Executive Joel A. Giambra.

At the new lab, seven certified forensic examiners analyze computer-related evidence.

The examiners demonstrated how evidence, like compact discs, memory cards and hard drives, are stored individually in pink, heat-sealed plastic bags and given scannable bar codes.

They also showed how they can "forensically clean" a hard drive, how they find the owner - as registered with the manufacturer - of a camera used to download photographs from a laptop, and how to obtain the duplicate a floppy disc, and retrieve the date, time and time zone of any transmitted data.

In the lab's data center, an examiner displayed audio and video enhancement equipment, which allows them to view a videotape obtained from a crime scene and enhance the perpetrators' facial features or zoom in to see the license plate of a getaway car.

"This lab will bring cutting-edge technology to the community," said Haynes. "With the opening of the Western New York Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory, the community will have access to the highest quality of forensic services and equipment bar none."

e-mail: vthomas@buffnews.com

Original Article on the BuffaloNews.com Web Site ]