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Glitch blocks security e-mails

June 13, 2002

For months, one of the primary conduits of homeland security intelligence sharing for Brevard County Sheriff Phil Williams has been e-mail.

But in recent weeks, that steady flow of tips, findings and other information has been repeatedly interrupted by problems with the county's online server, prompting Williams to put in motion a plan to create a separate system domain for his department.

The most recent malfunction occurred Tuesday and Wednesday, but systems were operational again about 3:30 p.m. Thursday.

"Basically, we're depending on the county's system to get our information from the terrorism task force. Our e-mail is tied to the county through the clerk's office, and they're having some tremendous server problems," said Williams, the vice chairman for the regional terrorism task force.

Williams, concerned crucial bits of counterterrorism intelligence may have been lost or missed, wants a revamped system up and running for his department within a week.

A more realistic timeframe for the office to be completely independent of the county system would be a month, officials said.

The Sheriff's Office alone receives about 40,000 messages a day via e-mail, said Jim Stiles, the network administrator for the Sheriff's Office. Most of those messages sent Tuesday and Wednesday are believed lost, Stiles said.

Williams' growing frustrations with the erratic server were compounded Wednesday after learning from news reports of an FBI investigation in Orlando that possibly was linked to Brevard.

The federal investigation centered around the discovery of pre-Sept. 11 airline tickets, Islamic religious materials, a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight diary and numerous identification cards -- including one for Brevard Community College -- in an abandoned 1994 Toyota Celica. The car had been stored on an impound lot since February.

The driver has not been found and investigators would not confirm any links to Brevard County.

Williams did not elaborate on how the new system would be funded.

A new server and the software to run it would cost about $8,000, not including monthly fees and the rewiring of the 700 desk and laptop computers operated by the Sheriff's Office, Stiles said.

The slowdown that affected all of the county's online operations this week was blamed on a wiring problem in the Brevard County public library Internet system.

Sheriff's investigators could not access Internet-based mail or search engines such as Hotmail, Yahoo and Google. That meant access to other crucial outside sites also was cut off.

Roland Dupelto, who heads the library's computer operations, was "in the trenches" working to restore service for two days.

The cause of the shutdown was a bit of a mystery, he added, saying there were "multiple problems with the line," including intermittent signals and software and hardware configuration glitches.

The two-day cutoff made Williams aware of a major problem. "We've got to get a system we can rely on," he said.

Staff writer Brian Monroe contributed to this report. Copyright © 2002 FLORIDA TODAY.


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