Tucked away in a 1980s-era office park halfway between Washington and Baltimore, 200 digital detectives are scouring the hard drives, MP3 players, and compact discs seized from terrorist hide-outs in search of links and clues to their next plans of attack, says the Baltimore Sun. At the Defense Department’s Cyber Crime Center, the craft of unearthing data hidden deep inside computer equipment is known as “digital forensics.” The center’s executive director, Steven Shirley, predicts it will revolutionize investigations much as DNA did. Like DNA, digital forensic analysis can place a person at a particular location. It can establish relationships, and can provide evidence of activities, plans and intentions.
“Digital forensics is probably accelerating at twice the rate that the impact of DNA did,” he said. Terrorists have gravitated toward modern communication devices for the same reasons business executives do — they’re portable, agile, and relatively inexpensive. “It’s become one of our primary windows on terrorism,” said Jim Jaeger, a retired Air Force brigadier general who heads the digital forensics operation at General Dynamics. The Pentagon launched the Cyber Crime Center in 1998 to lend a high-tech hand to its criminal and counterespionage investigations, but the center has come into its own only in recent years. Counterterrorism and intelligence investigations, which used to make up a small fraction of its cases, now are 40 percent of its work. The volume of data processed has doubled in the past year and is more than 10 times larger than it was in 2001.