By Pierre Thomas, Jack Cloherty and Jason Ryan
A new report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General finds DOJ has spent $350 million on developing an integrated wireless network that has “yet to achieve the results intended,” and that after 10 years of trying “its success is doubtful.” This stunning assessment comes a decade after the 9-11 tragedy highlighted a lack of coordination and effective communication between law enforcement and first responders, and spurred a commitment to fix the problem. But according to the DOJ audit, serious communications problems still plague the FBI, DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies. For example, the audit found that the Justice Department’s law enforcement components are still using old and obsolete equipment. The audit further determined that many of the Department’s radios do not meet some or all of the intended requirements, including limited interoperability between the Department’s components and other law enforcement agencies. The Justice Department’s wireless equipment is not even synched up with the Department of Homeland Security’s network. Moreover, the continued use of “legacy,” or outdated, equipment does not meet security encryption requirements, and leaves communication channels open to the threat of being hacked. The bottom line: should there be some large scale catastrophic event, like 9-11, there are still serious questions as to how effectively federal law enforcement agencies will be able to communicate with each other.
In a letter to the Inspector General’s office, Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus responded: “The original… objective was a nationwide interoperable broadband voice and data network servicing the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security with an estimated total cost of $5 billion. However. as the report acknowledges, changing circumstances have required the Department to significantly change the scope and deployment approaches for the IWN program. What has not changed is the Department’s commitment to implementing a reliable, secure. interoperable Land Mobile Radio system for its tactical wireless communications. Despite the challenges to the project noted in the Report, the Department has achieved significant improvements in the wireless communications capabilities delivered to our law enforcement agents.”