portentous tomfoolery

I’m simply flabbergasted. I’m at a loss for words, and extremely afraid of what other grave inefficiencies exist in the government if this is indicative of anything.

Internet untouchable for FBI agents in city

by Tracy Connor
Daily News Staff Writer

It seems as if every Manhattan prep schooler has one, but many of New York’s FBI agents are fighting crime and terrorists without an Internet-ready phone or even an e-mail account, the Daily News has learned.

Mark Mershon, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s 2,000-employee city office, blamed the technology gap on Washington budget constraints.

He said there’s a cost attached to assigning an agent or analyst an e-mail address with the official domain name – ic.fbi.gov.

“And as ridiculous as this might sound, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts,” he said when asked about the gap at a News editorial board meeting.

“We just don’t have the money, and that is an endless stream of complaints that come from the field.”

Mershon also revealed that only about 100 agents in New York have BlackBerry devices, which allow users to send and receive e-mail and access the Internet from their phone.

And just a few weeks ago, the New York office was notified that funding for its BlackBerry pilot program – designed to help the FBI better communicate with city, state and federal law enforcement – was being cut.

“I, with the help of others, raised a stink,” Mershon said, adding that BlackBerry funding has been restored.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) decried the penny-pinching.

“The FBI should have the tools it needs to fight terrorism and crime in the 21st century, most of all in New York City, and one of the most effective means of communications is e-mail and the Internet,” he said.

“FBI agents not having e-mail or Internet access is much too much a pre-9/11 mentality.”

FBI officials in Washington, however, insisted that agents are not at a disadvantage because of cost-cutting.

Spokeswoman Cathy Milhoan said about half the FBI employees don’t have official accounts because e-mail addresses are still being assigned.

By the end of the year, the entire bureau should have dot-gov mailboxes, she said.

As for the BlackBerry devices, she conceded funding for the pilot program was put in jeopardy because a lawsuit over the technology had threatened to make the machines obsolete.

Now that the issue has been resolved, the FBI intends to keep the 100 wireless gizmos in the budget – though there are no plans to issue them to more agents.

Those who don’t have them can use their regular cell phones, pagers and secure radios to communicate internally and with other agencies.

“BlackBerrys do cost money,” she said. “It’s the newest high-tech gadget, but it’s not the only way to communicate.”

Originally published on March 20, 2006

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