By Jeffrey C. Lindsey, Chief, Law Enforcement Online Operations Unit, Criminal Justice Information Services Division, U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clarksburg, West Virginia
e were information sharing among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies before it became the big buzzword of the day. . . . It’s really what we’re all about.” So said Tom Bush, assistant director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who leads the agency’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division, located in Clarksburg, West Virginia. Although its name may not be familiar to everyone in the law enforcement community, the CJIS Division provides the criminal justice community with indispensable support daily through the information services it provides. These include the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) program, and the recently launched Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx) program. Included in that array of critical information-sharing tools is the Law Enforcement Online service, more commonly referred to as LEO.
Humble Beginnings, Robust Future
LEO was launched in July 1995 by far-sighted and operationally oriented members of the FBI who envisioned the information-sharing powerhouse that the then nascent Internet was to become. Subsequently, LEO has steadily evolved and overcome many hurdles to become a vibrant information tool for the law enforcement and public safety community. LEO reached a significant milestone in February 2007 when, after all its related hardware had been reengineered, it was relocated, along with the Program Management Office (PMO), from the Washington, D.C., area to the CJIS complex in West Virginia. As a “system of systems” and a fully integrated member of the CJIS Division’s infrastructure, LEO receives the dedicated support of the army of information technology specialists assigned to the complex. Locating the PMO with the information technology staff speeds the integration and deployment of more relevant and user-friendly applications. The combination of operationally and technologically oriented professionals under the same roof also fosters a strong sense of teamwork that is one of the guiding principles behind the creation of LEO and that contributes to it's
success. Deputy Assistant Director Stephen L. Morris, head of the Policy, Administration, and Liaison Branch of the CJIS Division, said, “One of the major strengths of LEO is that it cuts through so many barriers—technological, geographical, administrative, and organizational—to provide a collaborative environment that enables its members to more effectively get their jobs done.”
Integrity, Accessibility, and Versatility
As a system owned and operated by the U.S. federal government, LEO is mandated to meet stringent certification and accreditation standards for access to and transmittal of sensitive but unclassified (SBU) information. The LEO PMO uses a variety of techniques to ensure that the information on LEO remains secure. All applicants are vetted to ensure that they meet the criteria for membership and have a legitimate need to access the information and services provided. Revetting is scheduled for every 180 days. In addition to requiring a username and password, an advanced authentication procedure was recently initiated to provide another layer of security. The good news is that logging on is not an onerous process. LEO members can log on with their computer via the Internet from anywhere in the world, at any time, with a single sign-on procedure.
The high degree of LEO’s integrity and accessibility is complemented by its versatility to its users. Once online, members have access to the entire suite of services provided. These include information-sharing services such as chat, e-mail that is secure between LEO members, access to relevant special interest groups (SIGs), use of Virtual Command Centers (VCCs), e-learning modules, and an e-library. SIGs can be formed for a variety of reasons, including an entity’s mission and location, a group’s specialized skill, or a particular event. As an added layer of security, access to each SIG is role based and controlled by its moderator. Currently, over 400 SIGs are hosted on LEO. Many of them are open to all LEO members. VCCs provide LEO members with a near–real-time situational awareness and event management tool. VCCs can be accessed simultaneously by multiple moderator-approved individuals from across town or across the world. They can also be linked to VCCs operating concurrently at other locations. Within the VCCs are a variety of tools for users, including an alert system. These tools have been utilized for events as disparate as kidnappings, last year’s TOPOFF 4 exercise, and local festivals. As a truly global system, LEO’s VCC was recently used internationally to monitor the events and protests associated with the Olympic torch run.
In addition to these and other services, LEO follows its information-sharing mandate by partnering with other SBU systems and information providers. Once logged on to LEO, members have access to additional public safety information providers including Intelink; RISS.net; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s TRIPwire; and other federal, state, and local systems. In addition to access to relevant applications and databases, the CJIS Division continually upgrades LEO’s technological capabilities. Perhaps the most important aspect of LEO’s versatility is that it provides all of its services, and related training, 24 hours a day and at no cost to its users. This is accomplished with minimal administrative and logistical footprints.
Chief Robert J. Casey of the CJIS Division’s Liaison, Advisory, Training, and Statistics Section noted the driving purpose of LEO is “to be the force multiplier for any criminal justice organizations, or individuals, leading to the accomplishment of their mission by furnishing them access to vital information anytime they need it.”
For additional information about LEO, please call the LEO PMO at 304-625-5555 or log on to www.leo.gov. ■