FBI Citizens’ Academy – Week 5

Week #5: Cyber Crime and Violent Crime/Gangs

Last week’s sessions were Cyber Crime and Violent Crime/Gangs (conveniently combined into one in the same). Overall it was sort of depressing evening given the topics covered and the seemingly hopelessness of eradicating or at least preventing them–I know, wishful thinking.

Cyber crime was presented as spanning the wide array of any crime that involves a computer, which as you might guess, can be pretty much any crime. If they find a computer at the scene, these folks can and will be involved. In addition to being the be-all category, there are of course specific crimes that fall solely within the “cyber crime” category. Examples are hacking for financial gain and/or extortion, fraud over the net, cyber espionage, denial of service attacks, and everyone’s least favorite, child porn (which is nearly 100% cyber these days). Interesting note about child porn, before the days of the internet, the US Mail had nearly eliminated the child porn “network” through mail screening. I guess they used to operate as a mail order system. Just about when it was almost snuffed out, the internet came about and it rekindled and exploded once again. So much for trying!

The “hacking” discussion was a good one and went on for a while. The Agent knew it was a talkative topic, so the presentation had tons of room for questions (good and bad for our group!). Discussions went all over the place in terms of online security. From radio frequency enabled credit cards to personal PC security. The Agent made it a point to mention that nothing is truly safe online. The only way to be 100% safe online is to unplug your network cable. The goal for the average person is to make yourself harder to hit than the next person. The vast majority of attacks on people’s PC’s are done because they were easy targets. Another interesting note was the quick discussion of PC vs. Mac in terms of safety or vulnerability to viruses and other threats. The Agent gave the opinion that in a matter of maybe 5 years that Mac’s will be just as vulnerable as PC’s are today. This is because of the increased popularity of Mac’s is slowly but surely making them just as prevalent as PC’s in people’s homes. Their edge over PC’s in terms of security can be largely attributed to their relative lower numbers. Now that more folks have one, hackers will be more interested in figuring out how to do bad on Mac’s…so it’s only a matter of time.

The Agent stated that they have only 9 Agents for the entire state for all things “cyber.” Right in the middle of our deep discussion about cyber security, I had to raise my hand and ask an un-answerable question. I said “we’re talking about how fast technology is growing and how equally fast the bad guys keep up with it. As soon as some new gadget comes out to make life easier, there’s a vulnerability found with it: RF credit cards, smart cell phones, online payment systems, etc. We all know technology knows no bounds and will continue to grow exponentially, and again, as will the bad guys’ efforts. With only 9 Agents covering all of North Carolina, I’m sure you all are busting your rear ends getting things done, but it seems like you’re trying to climb Mt. Everest with only 9 people. What is the solution…what is the end game or strategy, the solution to stopping or at least curbing cyber crime?” The Agent sort of smiled, almost relieved that it appears that I asked the magic question that no one knows how to answer. She agreed with what I stated and said that there does not seem to be an end to it all. Jokingly, she said “I have a few ideas in mind that would likely curb a lot of crime, but there’s a little thing called the US Constitution that gets in the way!” the gist of it all was, as we saw with the recent SOPA theatrics, that privacy has a lot to do with hindering stopping cyber crime.

Just when the discussion seemed to be somehow cheerful and very open with people asking questions and telling stories about how they’ve been “cyber crimed” in some way, we dove into child pornography. Such an evil, dark place, especially with some of the very minute details the Agent shared about the content of some of the images. I’ll spare you all, but I’ll say this: most of the Agents in the building who don’t work on that task force won’t even enter their office space for fear of accidentally seeing something on someone’s screen. In fact, the Agents who do work on that material go once a year to get mentally “cleansed” and evaluated to watch for signs of bad things happening to them from having to see so much of that stuff. The Agent told us that in NC since January of 2011, approximately 50 kids have been freed from homes that were forcing them into the child porn market. She said that older cases in the days before larger hard drives and fast internet, a “big” case would be a few thousand images. Today, the average case is several thousand, maybe tens of thousands. A “big” case today is hundreds of thousands of images…and they aren’t all that rare. Here’s a real kicker: because of the limited resources and the volume of material they have to sort through, in most cases if the kid doesn’t “appear” less than 8 years old, they don’t investigate. Right about then is when my jaw hit the floor and my blood pressure went up–remember my comment about this night being depressing. Because they have to sort through every single image and try to identify all the victims (due to the Adam Walsh Law that requires agencies to notify victims everytime they find their images in a case), investigations take days or weeks just to sort through all the evidence.

From that happy note, we moved on to violent crime and gangs which was dominated by the topic of gangs. Again, it felt like the FBI and whoever else is tackling this topic is trying to chisel away at a mountain with a toothpick. The Agent shared that there are currently 1.4 million known gang members in the US. Actually, the number wasn’t presented as “1.4 million.” It was carried out to the ones position…as in 1,472,308 (not the exact number as I can’t remember it). That number is up 40% since 2008. I had to ask the question of how they’re so sure about that number. The FBI contacts local LEO and asks every year for a count of all known gang members they have. On top of this, there’s something like 33,000 known gangs in the US…a vast majority of which can be found right here in good ole’ Mayberry state of North Carolina!!! For all the brain-melting statistics, go to the FBI’s gang website. The most common method of bringing a gang down is to hit them with RICO charges the same as they did to the mafia. The Agent showed us a lot of photos and even video actually produced by a gang he busted in upstate NY, full of gun waving, money flashing, showing their “bling,” and acting what we’d all likely call “gangster.” The photos and videos were actually used to help ID and prosecute the members in court. We also got to hear some chilling phone recordings from the FBI’s wiretapping of the gang leader where he talked about a shooting he did that day. We’ve all seen it on TV and movies…we all hear about how people think it desensitizes us to the “real” thing. Let me tell you, I wasn’t the least bit desensitized to it when they were putting right in front of me. I don’t live a sheltered life…I’ve seen the shows and movies. It’s just a million times more vivid when you’re sitting there listening to some thug talk about how he just killed some rival gang members with no more emotion than we’d use in talking with the wife about what groceries she needs picked up at the store.

The depressing part of this was to think about what will happen the second our country or even our region is hit with some sort of disaster that eliminates the all-mighty 9-1-1 service. Just like a lot of us here on this very forum sit around worrying and maybe even prep’ing for, these lowlife pieces of trash will try to surface and take control. The level of complexity and relative “order” that they live with in determining boundaries and inter-workings is astounding. Their coordination is what worries me. They’re more than just wanna-be punks who have a lot of front, but will turn and run when the poo hits the fan. these thugs keep the heat turned on and are not afraid to keep attacking…brutally. Not surprisingly, and as you may have heard before, the vast majority of drug trafficking in the US is done through gangs. From the US-Mexico border all the way up to Maine, they relay the packages on down the road.

There’s likely much more that I’ve forgotten to post here. Like I said, I went home feeling pretty crappy about society and our future. If this is the sort of trash we have among us, it feels like they’re forever be a weight around our collective neck.

This week should turn things around. We get to use their Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) in preparation for our range visit this Thursday. Here’s to hoping I can hold my own against some Agents’ shooting skills!


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