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February 16, 2005

FBI Hope New Computer System Will Help Track Down 'Al Kayda'

Fbi_thumbA state-of-the-art computer system will soon allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to engage in complex computing tasks, including input, computation and analysis. A 1400 mile network of pneumatic tubes will allow the agency to communicate with input engineers in the field.

Agents hope new technology may help track down Al Kayda, wherever he is

By Fred Burlingame

Fbi_triology_1 WASHINGTON, DC—Personnel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are in a state of high excitement these days as they await the unveiling of a state-of-the-art computing system. Some of the best brains in the country have spent years designing the machines that will soon power the extensive investigation operations of the FBI.

When the Trilogy 36,000 is finally activated, the agency will be able to perform tasks that have long lain outside its reach, including complex computation of numbers containing as many as 10 digits.

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No small operation
Installing the powerful Trilogy 36,000 has proved no easy feat for the many scientists, engineers and computer professionals involved in the FBI upgrade project. The “electronic brain” weighs 5 tons and measures 51 feet across and can perform 5,000 operations per second. The magic behind this dazzling machinery: a dense network of electronic tubes.

‘The machine in operation is spectacular to see,” says Dr. Stan Seeber, the FBI’s director of computational analysis. “Thousands of neon lamps flash on and off, while relays and switches buzz almost continuously. It is truly a site to behold.”

A dazzling demonstration
Fbi_agent_1 Employees at the FBI’s headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover building here in Washington gathered recently for a demonstration of just what their new Trilogy 36,000—already christened by some as “the genius”—is capable. Select employees were invited to submit questions for “the genius,” which were then inserted on punched cards or tapes. Then, if all went well, an answer emerged from the Trilogy’s slot.

The first question was a relatively simple one, at least by “the genius’” standards. “What is 1,098,765,432 times 4,867,348,297?” asked one agent. Within minutes, the Trilogy dazzled the crowd with an answer:    5.34807405 × 1018.

But then came a real stumper: “Where is Al Kayda?” read the card submitted by agent Robby Mueller. Lights flashed, and a loud buzzing filled the room as “the genius” thought long and hard about the answer to this difficult question. Then, a setback. From the Trilogy's answer slot came the following solution: 5.34807405 × 1018.

“We’re still working out some kinks,” says Dr. Seeber.

Connected by pneumatic tubes
While it may be hard for most Americans to imagine the kind of advanced technology behind a machine like the Trilogy 36,000, some of its processes may be more familiar to them. Tips and information that arrive at the FBI will be transmitted to the agency’s key punch center in Dover, PA, home to 1400 input specialists. These experts will then translate the many tips that the agency receives on a given day onto cards that “the genius” can easily read.

And how do the cards reach the Trilogy 36,000? By pneumatic tube—the same technology that allows most Americans to deposit their weekly paychecks at the local branch of their savings and loan.

“The Trilogy 36,000 is going to transform the way we do business around here,” says agent Mueller. “The days of us running around like chickens not knowing what our people in the field are doing are over. With this new technology, we will be able to do our jobs: transforming bits and pieces of that information into intelligence that can be acted upon in compressed time frames and disseminated to the people who need it.”

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