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FBI cyber-crime lab opens in Orange

The $7-million regional crime lab will help law enforcement agencies analyze evidence from computers, cellphones and other digital devices.

January 06, 2011|By Nardine Saad, Los Angeles Times
  • Investigator Bill Vining of the Orange County Sheriff's Department displays thumb drives in disguise at the new Regional Computer Forensic Lab.
Investigator Bill Vining of the Orange County Sheriff's Department… (Katie Falkenberg / For the…)

A regional FBI crime lab where investigators can analyze evidence from computers, cellphones, cameras and other digital media opened Wednesday in Orange.

The $7-million lab is the third of its kind in California and the 15th in the nation and is designed to tackle the growing use of computers and the Internet to commit and conceal crimes, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said.

Mueller said Regional Computer Forensic Labs are intended to help local law enforcement agencies analyze evidence and have helped investigators throughout the country solve public corruption, fraud, gang crime and counterterrorism cases. The labs streamline resources and investigative standards across agencies, he said.

"There's no one agency that can be successful in addressing the threats of today," Mueller said. "This [lab] is a perfect example of how we come together and how we are far more effective than we would be individually."

The Orange County district attorney's forensic lab was incorporated into the new regional center.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said the evidence processed by the lab would speed up the process of bringing charges against criminals and taking them to court.

"We are in need of staying a step ahead of the criminals," he said. "We know that this resource and this sharing of resources is going to help us protect the community and save lives."

Six employees from the district attorney's former forensics lab have been added to the regional crime lab's 25-person staff of examiners, Rackauckas said.

The 21,000-square-foot lab houses about 25 workstations where evidence will be analyzed with specialized forensic software, which categorizes data found on computers and other digital media.

The lab also has investigative kiosks to extract data from cellphones, including text messages and information about incoming and outgoing calls. If phones contain geotagged photos, the kiosks can generate the latitude and longitude of a suspect.

"Almost every case in the FBI now has digital components," said Jason Weiss, director of the Orange County regional lab. "With facilities like this, we can help fight cyber-crime in a digital age."

Nearly every computer confiscated by officials in Orange County will probably go through the lab for hard-drive analysis, Weiss said.

Weiss said his lab has more space than the two other California labs — in Menlo Park and San Diego — combined.

nardine.saad@latimes.com

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