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Friday, February 23, 2024

Halvorsen: Moving FBI Counterterrorism Data to the Cloud Speeds Up Investigations

Christine Halvorsen, the deputy assistant director in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, announced last month that all of her division’s data was moved to Amazon Web Services (AWS) after the Las Vegas Massacre of 2017 has led to quicker response times and efficiencies.

The move “resulted in a 98 percent reduction in manual work for analysts and 70 percent cost reductions,” Halvorsen said at Amazon Web Services’ annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas on Nov. 27, according to fedscoop.

“We had agents and analysts, eight per shift, working 24/7 for three weeks going through the video footage of everywhere St ephen Paddock (the Las Vegas shooter) was the month leading up to him coming and doing the shooting,” Halvorsen said, according to fedscoop. “If we had loaded that up into the cloud, the estimate is it would’ve taken us a day using Amazon Rekognition to recognize where he was in the videos. That’s all we were trying to do: narrow down where in the videos he was and who he was meeting with to make sure there wasn’t anybody else part of the conspiracy.”  


The evolution of digital detection technology has vastly improved over years, but the ability to disseminate growing amounts of data has proven challenging. For instance, the FBI gathered more than 50 terabytes of information on the Bostom Marathon bombing suspects in 2013, and then over a petabyte — 20 times as much data on the Las Vegas attack.  

“To get through that data is a challenge for us,” Halvorsen said. “We threw resources at it. The answer for the FBI was to throw bodies at it. But the investigators and analysts were completely overwhelmed by the volume of data collected in that short amount of time for us to get through it quickly.”

Amazon Web Services CEO Andy Jassey said that dramatic growth in AWS and the cloud can be seen across every imaginable vertical business segment, including financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, oil and gas, media and entertainment and customer service.

“And you also see it in the public sector where we have about 4,000 government agencies worldwide using AWS, 9,000 academic institutions and about 27,000 nonprofits – a very broad and diverse and fast-growing customer base,” Jassey said.  

Halvorsen, a 2018 Homeland Security Today Person of the Year, was previously the FBI’s section chief of international operations from 2014-2016, and during that time developed and implemented a corporate approach to the FBI’s international strategic planning processes with an emphasis on cybersecurity.

James Cullum
James Cullum
Multimedia journalist James Cullum has reported for over a decade to newspapers, magazines and websites in the D.C. metro area. He excels at finding order in chaotic environments, from slave liberations in South Sudan to the halls of the power in Washington, D.C.

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