Hollings, FBI director to help celebrate today's grand opening
A state-of-the-art statewide computer lab designed to stay a step ahead of high-tech criminals will open in Columbia today. It's the first of its type in the nation.
Some of the leading state and federal computer crime-fighting experts in South Carolina have set up shop at the $5.6 million S.C. Computer Crime Center in an office building off Fernandina Road.
Agents and employees from SLED, the FBI and the Secret Service will work on everything from traditional theft to international cyberfraud and terrorism. Recently, they solved a case involving 20 identity thefts.
Robert Stewart, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, said the lab has taken years of planning and the millions in federal dollars delivered by U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings, Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee.
National FBI Director Robert Mueller and Hollings are scheduled to attend the 10 a.m. opening ceremony.
Similar computer labs have been built in New York City, metropolitan north Texas and San Diego, but the Columbia center is the first statewide center.
"With all of the opportunities the Internet has given us, it has also opened up a Pandora's box of new, high-tech tools that criminals can use to commit all sorts of crimes," Hollings said in a written statement.
The crime center will "help us beat these criminals at their own game," he said.
The $5.6 million was used to set up the lab. Eight SLED agents, two FBI employees and two Secret Service employees will work at the center, but be paid by their agencies.
James Scheitzer, the FBI's special agent in charge in Columbia, said it makes sense for agencies to share resources.
"The fact that this is a partnership is groundbreaking," he said. "The FBI hopes to do similar partnerships in Minneapolis and Los Angeles."
The idea for the center grew out of discussions Stewart and others had in the late 1990s with several agency directors who warned about cybercrime and terrorism.
About the same time, law enforcement departments across the state had begun to ask SLED for help with computer crimes.
"In one year, we got 80 requests for assistance," Stewart said. "SLED's mission is to provide assistance that other areas can't provide."
SLED set up a crime lab three years ago, but as cybercrime became more prevalent, Stewart realized he needed more resources and people.
Stewart's agency has been able to focus on computer crime as smaller law enforcement departments have set up their own laboratories to test drugs and other evidence.
But, it would take years for local police departments to set up a computer-crime center, Stewart said.
"We'll have everything here for local authorities who need assistance," Stewart said.
"Local law enforcement usually have someone who deals with computer crime. They can come here for assistance. This is our resource for all of them."