That will soon change, FBI leaders promise. In the next fiscal year alone, the FBI has requested $76 million to combine and enhance its databases, on top of $730 million more previously budgeted for "Trilogy"--code name for a general technology upgrade, the third try after two failed efforts. The bureau says it will replace paper files and inefficient text-only electronic databases with a "virtual case file" system that will allow rapid, Web browser-like views of video, photos and sounds.
Mindful of the damage that FBI spy Robert Philip Hanssen caused by navigating intelligence files, several senators say they are concerned that the FBI may be leaning too far toward an open system in an effort to make files more accessible to all agents.
Civil libertarians charge that the FBI faces a crisis of competence that sophisticated new technology will only exacerbate-- more deeply burying the bureau in information. Already awash in data, the FBI has not even updated its Web-based wanted posters of leading terrorists. The section on Osama bin Laden makes no mention of Sept. 11 and the Web site still lists Bin Laden lieutenant Mohammed Atef as at large, although he was reportedly killed in November.