A Top Secret Secret: What the FBI doesn’t want the average American to think about.

We all know the shows… CSI, Law&Order, Psych, Bones… The list goes on. All of these shows display American crime fighting in action, displaying intense technology that the average person who watches these shows could only dream of having. But do these technologies really exist?

My sources point to no. In a case study of a FBI technology project called the Virtual Case File (VCF) I found out that up until 2001 the FBI was still using a mainframe computer. This is one computer that runs several terminals. It is a very slow technology (and because of this many FBI people did not even use the computer). Most of the case files were

A Diagram of a Mainframe Computer

A Diagram of a Mainframe Computer

kept on paper. This caused problems with information sharing (in the article officials discuss how they may have been able to prevent 9/11 if they had had efficient technology). The new VCF system was supposed to allow the FBI to create a database of cases so that they did not need to keep the paper files. It would have also made information sharing a much easier process… Unfortunately this was a failed project. The system cost the FBI $170 million and was never made fully functional because the FBI did not keep a close enough eye on what was going on with the project. The FBI is currently working on a new system (this is called Sentinel and is supposed to become fully operational sometime within the next two years).

Back to the TV talk. It hit me when I was reading this article at the beginning of the year… Why do TV shows portray the FBI and other crime solvers as so technologically advanced when no such technology really exists? After reading chapter 9 of Organizations and Organizing I started to wonder if this was a display of symbolic goals. Time for a little WtF conspiracy theory! Is it possible that the government is using the television programs that people watch on a daily basis to cover up its own shortcomings? I think that it is. If the FBI was portrayed in these TV favorites as constantly sitting behind a desk writing cases on paper, would we be as interested in them? I would like to think not. I think that it is possible that the government is using these television programs to obtain the goal of making the public think that they are using technology that is advanced as the technology that the criminals are using.  A symbolic goal brought to life by Olivia and Elliot, Booth and Temperance, Sean and Gus…

3 Responses

  1. Why is the government so woefully behind the private sector in keeping up with technology? I’m not sure if TV shows reflect actual technology or not, but take the financial crises for example. Part of the reason banks could get away with what they did was that government regulators couldn’t keep up with their techniques. It’s exciting and about time that the president appoint a CTO, a chief-technology-officer, in the government. Check it out:

  2. I think you make a good point…but I’m not really sure how conclusively we can assume that the government lacks such technological capabilities. Wouldn’t the government not want the common citizen to know the true capacity of their technological capabilities in the first place for purposes of security? Another way to think about this is that the FBI may be allowing such portrayals for purposes of intimidation. If criminals have a perception of the power the FBI has, then they may be deterred from attempting certain crimes.

  3. If the perception that Law Enforcement agency’s are more advanced than they actually are gives a chill down the spine of terrorists and other serious criminals that has to be a good thing. I am not sure that they are convinced either to be truthful.


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