Home News Stories 2005 June Searching FBI Records Past and Present
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Searching FBI Records Past and Present

Searching FBI Records for Clues
Past and Present


FBI employees doing records checks by hand

It’s 1957 and our “Service Unit” gets the following request:

“In about 1928 the Bureau received a letter from a magazine editor. The name of the magazine is known; however, the name of the editor is not. Only fragmentary information concerning the contents of the letter is known. ‘Find the letter’ is the request. It is somewhere among 5 million files, the key to its location being in approximately 46 million index cards, millions of abstracts, a knowledge of records management procedures used by the FBI in 1928, and an unlimited number of reference books and publications.”

Whew! That’s a lot of manual searching to “find the letter” that could make or break an FBI case!

Today, the FBI has dozens of computerized systems that enable us to find investigative information at lightning speed. Many of them are connected and accessible throughout the world from secure computers. Here are just a few examples:

Putting Terror on the Run. The Investigative Data Warehouse provides a single access point to more than 47 sources of counterterrorism data and 100 million pages of international terrorism-related documents for our agents and analysts. Searches that took days to finish now take minutes, and major projects that once took months can now be done in just a few days.

Intelligence at Our Fingertips. IntelPlus—created in 1994—stores more than 42 million scanned documents and photos from FBI cases. It enables us to run fast full-text searches and to quickly and easily share intelligence among field offices, FBI Headquarters, and multi-agency task forces.

Finding Fingerprints…Fast: We’ve got nearly 50 million criminal fingerprints and corresponding criminal histories on file, and they can be searched and matched electronically in minutes by federal agents and local officers—thanks to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, or IAFIS. We processed our first prints through IAFIS in July 1999 and our 100 millionth last month.

Genetic Fingerprints, too: More than 2.5 million DNA profiles from 174 labs around the country are housed in a national database and shared electronically through our Lab’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, enabling searches that help link crime scenes and identify suspects nationwide. Through April, CODIS has aided nearly 24,000 investigations and helped link DNA profiles from crime scenes to convicted felons over 16,000 times.

These systems—and many more like them—are improving our ability to share intelligence, solve crimes, and prevent terrorist attacks every day.

And what happened in the 1957 search described above? The letter—dated 1922—was found and delivered in time!