National Geographic : 2005 May
CLARKSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA like an accountant (which he is) than a crime buster (which he used to be). He describes CJIS's "core line of business," fingerprints, and "our customers," 700,000 cops. Those customers use CJIS's computers to get instant background information about suspects. And according to the daily "success stories" circulated via e-mail to nearly 400 fingerprint examiners, they are happy customers. The fingerprint unit processes some 50,000 prints every day. With the help of computers that hold around 80 terabytes of information (a sin gle terabyte is the equivalent of a shelf of books about 20 miles long), in minutes prints sent from the field are compared with those in its digital archives. And while most of the "hits" are for garden-variety criminals, the unit helped make the case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the Washington, D.C., sniper suspects. "Each of these little babies can process about 6,000 transactions per sec ond" says Joe Mazzie, Data Center operations manager, pointing to a row of computers that look like double-wide refrigerators. "And we have 12." Mazzie, a local who traces his ancestry to Stonewall Jackson, has a head full of interesting numbers. Some of the busi est days for the gun-buying system, he notes, are Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. "Some people have very different ideas about what a romantic present is," he says with a wry smile. As we leave, Steve Fischer motions down a hallway. "You ready to go to the gift shop?" he asks. "There's a sale on J. Edgar Hoover watches." D As one shift leaves, the next begins (above), keeping the FBI humming 24 hours a day.Yet the center's 986 acres patched together from a reclaimed strip mine, rolling cow pastures, and an old graveyard (below) -still hold remnants of a slower time. WEBSITE EXCLUSIVE Find more 26306 images along with field notes and resources at nationalgeographic .com/magazine/0505.