A previously undisclosed unit in the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been using surveillance tools and big data to help identify suspects for the United States’ most heinous crimes. Forbes revealed that the secret unit, the Multimedia Exploitation Unit (MXU) has so far cost $35M.
Forbes got hold of information about MXU, which was launched in 2016, through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The documents disclosed details about the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) handles MXU’s operations.
According to the documents, MXU aims to “process and exploit multimedia assets” in order for the bureau to use bulk data to create leads for investigation.
In performing its investigations, MXU uses technology from Mitre Corporation, a non-profit government laboratory composed of a small team and tasked on creating cutting-edge innovations.
Forbes also noted that Mitre was the largest service provider for MXU as around $20 million was allocated toward the skunkworks lab.
Aside from Mitre, the secret unit has also been tapping Azimuth Inc., a small security firm in West Virginia. Azimuth helps in creating technology for “bulk multimedia search” and “image clustering.” The firm received $15 million from the secret unit.
Azimuth’s services help the FBI combine faces and objects flagged by recognition tech to create an easily digested tool for data processing.
The two companies have been working with MXU since 2016 as shown in the first contracts handed to them by the unit.
The FOIA documents revealed very little about the secret FBI unit. It did state that it was headed by Sam Cava, as of late 2018. Cava was the former leader f the Department of Defense’s Biometrics Fusion Center, which aided the army in using surveillance tech.
The center focused on monitoring activities of prisoners of war, military detainees and other people considered national security threats. It also used facial recognition and worked with the CJIS back in the 2000s.
Forbes got in touch with retired FBI chief Chris Piehota, who confirmed that MXU is a small division specializing in building software that can analyze videos and photos involving major crimes.
Piehota said, “If you’re collecting terabytes of video, information from a horrific scene or a horrific event, the MXU comes in with their tools.” He also stated that “they help investigative personnel make that footage usable” and that they parse out so-called non-pertinent footage.
They are also in charge of providing analytics and identifications related to the investigation. Basically, such tech was “key” to mass shootings in the US.