KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A state-of-the-art computer forensics lab funded by the USA Patriot Act opened Wednesday in Kansas City.
The Kansas City lab is the third facility to become operational of the five planned across the nation. The other two are in Dallas and San Diego, and similar labs are planned in San Francisco and Chicago.
While the lab is intended to track down evidence of terrorist activity, it also will be used to investigate computer crimes that range from child pornography to online fraud.
"We're talking about the whole gamut," said Jeff Lanza, a spokesman for the Kansas City office of the FBI. "Violent crimes, terrorism, kiddie porn, fraud, anything."
Fourteen full-time forensics examiners from 11 different agencies in Kansas and Missouri will look for evidence in computers and other digital media in support of criminal investigations.
The examiners will be able to retrieve files from computers that have been erased, encrypted or damaged.
Officials say criminals have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of computers for wrongdoing. Threats range from stealing credit card numbers from retailers to transmitting photos of child sex to causing massive disruptions in the nation's financial, communications and energy networks.
"The FBI assesses the cyberthreat to the U.S. to be rapidly expanding as the number of actors with the ability to utilize computers for illegal, harmful and possibly devastating purposes is on the rise," said James E. Farnan, deputy assistant director of the FBI's cyberdivision.
The $2 million lab and the other four like it are a result of the Patriot Act, which was approved by Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Before the attacks, CIA Director George Tenet warned that terror groups -- including al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah -- were using computers to further their causes.
FBI special agent Tom Maiorana, who is director of the Kansas City lab, says the city was chosen for one of the regional labs in part because of the extent area agencies already work together to collect computer evidence in criminal cases.
The lab also will serve as a training ground for smaller agencies across Kansas and Missouri that want their staffs to be able to retrieve and process digital criminal evidence.