Federal, State Agencies Form Cyber-Crime Strike Force in Va.


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Federal and state law enforcement agencies are joining forces to combat computer crimes, officials announced Thursday.

The Cyber-Crime Strike Force will have a staff of seven investigators: four from the FBI, two from the state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore's office and one from the Virginia State Police. They will work out of the Richmond FBI office, which has a computer lab from which online undercover investigations may be conducted.

Three attorneys from Kilgore's office and one from the office of U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty will prosecute the cases in state and federal courts.

The strike force also will work closely with the Bedford County Sheriff's Office, which formed its own "Blue Ridge Thunder" task force to track down online pedophiles in 1998.

McNulty said at a news conference that the partnership will help agencies share intelligence and bring computer criminals to justice more quickly.

"Cyberspace has a dark side," McNulty said. "This incredible technology is especially attractive to the criminal mind."

Kilgore agreed, noting that the Internet can be a sophisticated weapon for criminals as well as a virtually indispensable tool for law-abiding citizens.

"Criminals can raid bank accounts without even leaving home," Kilgore said. "... Worse yet, children can be preyed upon in our very own homes with a few clicks of the mouse."

Don Thompson, special agent in charge of the FBI in Richmond, said the strike force will go after hackers, scam artists, identity thieves, sexual predators and purveyors of child pornography. He said "protection of critical infrastructure and information systems" is among the FBI's top three priorities.

Thompson said that along with investigating crimes, strike force members will educate the public and businesses on cyber-crime prevention and the importance of reporting such crimes.

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