Most of my professional career was spent doing incident response and digital forensics work. This work has a natural flow from data collection, to analysis, to outcomes and associated actions, and I spent most of my time in the analysis phase. I spent limited time doing field collection, and I was usually only told about outcomes after the fact. On Tuesday, February 2, 2021, two FBI agents were shot and killed trying to collect precisely the type of data that I and others in my line of work spend our days and nights analyzing. This sudden and tragic loss of life, and injury to others, reminded me that brave men and women are regularly risking their lives to collect the computers, phones, and other material that we then analyze from the relative safety of our offices and labs.
The CINA research portfolio is largely analytic. That is, given a bunch of data, how can we better tease out the connections, leads, and evidence to support the investigative and prosecutorial processes? Data is the fuel that drives our work, and it is the raw material from which investigations are conducted and cases are made. We are constantly asking for more data, processing the data we have, and figuring out how to work through some of the challenges around data collection and access. But our administrative challenges pale in comparison to the dangers faced by the men and women working on the front lines. After Tuesday, I will never look at a hard drive, cell phone, or usb stick the same way; I will wonder at what cost was this item collected? Our thoughts are with the families and colleagues of the fallen agents, and we are grateful to those who bravely face great risks and dangers to collect the data upon which investigations and justice depend.