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Originally published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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New FBI computer system finally tracking cases

A computer system to track cases finally worked for the FBI. After years of delays, the nation's premier law enforcement agency and its 13,000 agents are abandoning paper-based case management for electronic case files.

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON —

A computer system to track cases finally worked for the FBI. After years of delays, the nation's premier law enforcement agency and its 13,000 agents are abandoning paper-based case management for electronic case files.

Sentinel, as it's called, makes new case information and intelligence available more quickly to agents and analysts. And the search capabilities seem impressive, at least to a group of reporters who watched a quick run-through of the technology at bureau headquarters on Tuesday. Sentinel was put on line for all employees on July 1.

Originally, Sentinel was expected to cost $425 million and be completed by December 2009. It ended up at $451 million and 2 1/2 years overdue.

It's been a long, hard road to the 21st century.

Seven years ago, FBI Director Robert Mueller scrapped the Virtual Case File, Sentinel's $170 million computerized predecessor, after consultants pronounced it obsolete and riddled with problems.

A computer overhaul became a priority after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Members of Congress and the Sept. 11 commission said modern computers were critical to enabling the FBI and intelligence agencies to connect the dots of disparate evidence and prevent attacks.

Sentinel has been a frequent target for the Justice Department's inspector general.

In 2010, the IG recommended that the FBI reassess the program's requirements, including one that it integrate millions of records from the largely paper-based system.

The longer Sentinel takes to complete, "the more likely it is that already implemented hardware and software features will become obsolete," the IG said at the time. The transfer of old case files from paper to digital records is still under way.

Jeffrey Johnson, the assistant director of the FBI's information technology engineering division, led the effort over the past two years to make Sentinel work. He said one obstacle to overcome was that some agents were skeptical that a new system would be an improvement. Now, more than twice as many FBI agents and employees are using Sentinel each day as ever used the flawed previous computerized case management system.

On Tuesday, the director called the deployment of Sentinel an important step forward for the FBI's information technology. Mueller himself uses the system.

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