National Geographic : 2005 May
CLARKSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA secretive, but information. Hidden away in these gently:.. rolling hills, barely a half mile from a busy interstate highway, is the world's most sophisticated depository of clime data, as well as the largest repository of finger prints anywhere on the planet. "len miles northeast of the town of Clarksburg (birth place of Stonewall Jackson) and 250 miles froill Wash . ".. ington, D.C., it's here, thanks to the powerful West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, that the FBI put its National Crime Information Center, its Brady Act gun check headquarters, its Uniform Crime Reports data center, its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, as well as super-sophisticated computers to keep it all humming. "If Osanla bin Laden tries to buyagun at Wal-Mart, 0VOOO we'll know about it," says Fischer. Most of the CJIS operations, including its nearly 3,000 employees, are in a sprawling, three-story building that rises, sphinxlike, on a landscaped hillside in the middle of a forest. Everyone who works here has a top secret clear ance. There's no sign on the interstate that announces the complex, only a cryptic notice that Exit 124 will take you to Jerry Dove Drive (named after all FBI agent, a native West VirgiIliail). Such Caution is )list the way the FBI wants it. And it's why I was never out of Steve Fischer 's sights. No one lives at CJIS, but it's a 24-7 operation with a day-care center, a 600-seat cafeteria, a bank, and a fitness center-although many employees make the whole place a fitness center, using their off time to engage in brisk, determined walks along miles of hallways under soaring atritlnls. It semis like an ordinary office park until I visit 41. the post office, where mail handlers wearing plastic gloves a sit tender biohazard hoods in a sealed room. Or until I T notice a plaque with the pictures of 34 "FBI Service Mar-,,; tyrs" killed in action--including Jerry Dove himself, slainrF in one of the bloodiest shoot-outs in the bureau's his tory, a Miami bank robbery arrest that went awry in 1986. In the visitors center I hear the pop-pop-pop of gun fire, but Its Dilly a Slnltllated I"ircarms Training System demonstration for some local police-and as close to real crime as this center gets. (I take "the test," firing my Clock .22 at a screen where a suspected bank robber is going for a rifle and, after scoring three "disabling" shots, am pronounced By night Paula Clelland "very trainable" by FBI It. Julian Galford.) trains to secure her third The real crime work here is done amid cubicles and in front of Toughman women's boxing computer screens. "My job is to arrest the numbers and torture them title. By day she tracks until they Confess," Sam Berhanu, all econometrician who runs the Crime health-care fraud with the Analysis Research and Development Unit, says with a laugh. "No Miranda Financial Crimes Intelli warilings" Bel"hanll'S unit helps produce the thick annual report, "C rime Bence Unit. "My Job" Clel III the United States," that makes headlines every year as local cringe land says, "has given me agencies crow about (or hide from) their cringe-fighting numbers. a lot of confidence as a Upstairs, Berhanu's boss, Michael Kirkpatrick (since retired), talks more mother, a wife-and athlete;'