Head of FBI’s Milwaukee office targets cyber crime

Computer keyboard
File photo (WLUK)

MILWAUKEE (AP) – As an FBI agent in Chicago, Bob Shields helped create a forensics lab to fight computer-related crime. Now that he’s the head of the agency’s Milwaukee office, he hopes to duplicate the model in Wisconsin.

Shields doesn’t think Wisconsin faces an excess of computer crime, but, as he told The Associated Press, it’s always helpful to have more expertise.

“It’s more for the future. I believe cybercrime is a threat that will continue to grow,” Shields said Wednesday.

Shields most recently served as a chief inspector at the FBI’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, a role that had him visiting bureaus around the country to study how well they were meeting their missions.

After being named the special agent in charge of the Milwaukee bureau last month, he’s now tasked with guiding the FBI’s mission in Wisconsin, one he hopes will include enhanced techniques for fighting cybercrime. Hacker attacks against servers run by state agencies and private companies are getting increasingly sophisticated, he said, and the FBI needs to remain vigilant.

Shields hopes to duplicate the model of Chicago’s Regional Computer Forensics Lab, which provides technical assistance and training for law enforcement officers across the region and deals with cases ranging from hacking to child pornography to domestic terrorism.

Several Wisconsin agencies, including police departments in Milwaukee and Green Bay, have advanced computer-forensics capabilities, but Shields believes a major crime could overwhelm those resources.

For example, the FBI used a wealth of high-tech methods to search for the suspects in last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, including detailed video enhancements and cellphone analyses. Having a forensics lab in Wisconsin would allow agents to do the same thing – without having to send all the material to Chicago or Washington, he said.

Shields declined to comment on whether some residents, already concerned by revelations in the past year that the National Security Agency has been collecting and storing massive amounts of phone records, might be skeptical to see a government agency develop more expertise at examining computer records.

The prospects for getting a forensics lab approved are uncertain. Shields said he’d start by asking police chiefs whether they see a need for one. The lab’s mission would include inviting police officers from around the state to serve two-year training rotations, and some departments may not be able to spare an officer for that long, he said.

“The biggest challenge is getting departments to dedicate resources,” Shields said. “But the benefit is, when they’re done (with the training) the department has that expertise.”

Shields said it could take 12 to 18 months to get approval from headquarters and find a location for a lab, but once everything’s in place, he predicts it wouldn’t take long to get the lab up and running.

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