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Justice Department unveils second cybercrime unit

By Drew Clark, National Journal's Technology Daily

The U.S. attorney in the high-profile eastern district of Virginia has announced the 
creation of a cybercrime unit that will operate in conjunction with the FBI's 
Washington field office to investigate and prosecute cybercrime, particularly computer 

The effort is the second such cybercrime unit created within the Justice Department 
and the first since Attorney General John Ashcroft's July announcement for plans to 
create 10 Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) units. It will focus on 
protecting Internet service providers, defense contractors and others in northern 
Virginia from computer criminals, U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said on Monday.

"The cybercrime unit will be focusing on any violation of criminal law in which the 
use of a computer plays an integral part in the commission of a crime," said McNulty, 
the first Bush administration U.S. attorney to be confirmed by the Senate.

The unit "will actively pursue those who hack into computer systems, shut down or 
disrupt Internet service, or launch viruses and worms." It will "join the fight 
against cyber terrorism, which threatens to disrupt the electronic systems of 
hospitals, utilities, banks, government and other key institutions," he said.

Although software piracy and digital copyright violations also will fall within its 
ambit, McNulty said he expects fewer prominent intellectual-property cases than in 
northern California, where the Justice Department, the FBI and the Customs Service 
established first joint task force in 1999.

"Here, we are more on the infrastructure and facilitation side," McNulty said in an 
interview, speaking of the prominent role played by Internet service providers in 
northern Virginia, including America Online, the country's largest. As a result, 
hacking cases are more likely to emanate from the unit of six full-time attorneys, he 

Its unit's importance also likely will be amplified because of the increasing profile 
of the eastern district of Virginia. The district court has a reputation as a "rocket 
docket" for its speedy disposal of cases, and its generally conservative nature and 
close proximity to Washington have led the Bush administration's Justice Department to 
put increasing responsibility on McNulty.

For example, the first criminal prosecutions stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist 
attacks on the United States are being tried in the district.

"This district will naturally draw the Department of Justice" to cases on computer 
crime that they are closely following, as "they reach out and look for a district" 
that could win convictions against cybercrime, McNulty said.

Because almost all Internet traffic flows through the jurisdiction, the eastern 
district could assert authority over an increasing range of computer crimes, he said, 
deploying a more conventional crime-fighting analogy from the world of drugs.

"There are suppliers in Miami and buyers in Manhattan. The mistake they make is to 
come through the eastern district on the way."

McNulty also identified fighting cybercrime as one of his top four priorities, along 
with combating gun violence and drug trafficking. He has created specialized units for 
each area as a means of keeping prosecutors focused.


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