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Massive FBI computer overhaul is put on ice (again)

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The FBI has once again suspended work on parts of a massive computer overhaul that many say is vital to fighting crime and terrorism.

Putting the project known as Sentinel on hold has alarmed some on Capitol Hill because the upgrade was considered vital to shoring-up deficiencies in key areas, The New York Times reports. Several years ago, FBI computer systems were so poor that many agents couldn't send or receive email and had difficulty getting case histories or tapping other databases.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, agents in Florida had to send their counterparts in Washington, DC photographs of the hijackers by overnight mail because they couldn't send email attachments. Sentinel has fixed many of those problems, but the system is still considered sub-par in key areas.

The suspension is the second roadblock the upgrade has faced. In 2006, Lockheed Martin was brought in as the project contractor after it stalled under Science Applications International Corporation. FBI officials said the earlier project had to be rebooted because problems had grown too big to be fixed.

The FBI characterized the most recent suspension as a minor setback that is based on lessons learned the last time around. But Congressional officials warned it was a "red flag" and would waste taxpayer money. ®

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