Justice watch center plans system upgrade

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Justice Department's 24-hour watch center and data center for criminal and terrorist information is set for a systems overhaul soon.

Justice established the El Paso (Texas) Intelligence Center three decades ago to merge data related to illegal drug trade, as well as alien smuggling, along the southern border.

Since then, the center's mission has shifted to encompass homeland security, said James Mavromatis, EPIC's director.

Speaking at the Information Sharing for Homeland Security Symposium here, Mavromatis said Justice plans to spend almost $4.9 million on an Open Connectivity Project at EPIC.

"We're driving a 1991 car and it is 2004," Mavromatis said.

EPIC planners expect to complete the project in 2006. Federal employees are doing much of the systems work themselves with assistance from the center's main IT contractor, Computer Sciences Corp., he said.

"Some of it we will go out to bid," Mavromatis said.

EPIC has a database of criminal intelligence that dates back 30 years. One goal of the project is to apply data mining tools to the information gathered over the years to extract intelligence about crime and terrorism patterns.

About 86 percent of the inquiries to EPIC come from federal law enforcement officials, while state and local officials make up the rest. About a fifth of the inquiries generate "hits" on the databases of criminal records.

"Our biggest single requester is the Coast Guard," Mavromatis said. The guard checks the crew manifests of ships arriving at U.S. ports. Those checks have generated about 30 cases in the past year in which crew members have been identified as "hits."

EPIC planners expect that their data eventually will link to the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visit virtual border system.

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