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Do FBI agents know their binary code from their morse code?

The IG conducted interviews with 36 field agents in 10 of the FBI's 56 field offices nationwide, all of which have at least one cyber squad. The cyber squads consist of special agencies, intelligence officers, and in some cases linguists and computer scientist. The squads are responsible for combating national security-related cyber intrusion threats.

The audit found that 36% of the agents interviewed “reported that they lacked the networking and counterintelligence expertise to investigate national security [computer] intrusion cases.” Five of the agents told investigators “they did not think they were able or qualified” to investigate such cases, the audit said.

The audit attributed the agents’ lack to cyber skills in part to the FBI’s rotation policy, in which agents are transferred among field offices without assessment of their cyber skills. As a result, a cyber agent may be transferred to a field office and perform work not related to his or her expertise. And the agent replacing the cyber agent may have no special cyber knowledge or training.

“Because national security intrusion cases are technical and require a specific skill set, few new cyber agents can effectively assume responsibility of an open national security intrusion investigation. In 4 of the 10 offices we visited, agents told us they had been assigned cyber cases that exceeded their technical capabilities”, the audit found.

The IG also found that the forensic and analytical capability in the field offices was “inadequate” to investigate cyber attacks and that many of the special agents assigned to the cyber teams do not receive appropriate training.

Among its recommendations, the IG suggested that the FBI change the rotation policy to ensure properly trained cyber agents are available at all field offices and establish a cyber intrusion specialty within the cyber career path. The FBI concurred with both recommendations.

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