The FBI has an information problem—it often has too much of it. From tracking a terrorist group’s social media presence, a criminal organization’s email history or identifying illegal financial transactions, the FBI collects and must analyze massive amounts of data to find important clues needed for its investigations.
To help FBI agents sort through the voluminous information, Guy Demeter, the FBI’s first-ever data scientist, has developed technological solutions to organize the bureau’s data, allowing analysts to quickly identify the most critical evidence needed to bring wrongdoers to justice.
“He has greatly improved the national security posture of the bureau and the United States,” said Garland Garris, FBI unit chief and Demeter’s direct supervisor.
Demeter’s work has been used for a wide variety of activities, including tracking down child predators, identifying banks that were evading U.S. economic sanctions, assisting in counterterrorism investigations, streamlining visa security checks and guarding against internal threats at the agency. The success of his work and the increased use of data exploitation in law enforcement has prompted the FBI to hire a number of additional data scientists.
Demeter joined the FBI in 2010 as an intelligence analyst for the Counterterrorism Division. He has since developed many data analytic solutions and has earned a reputation for his expertise.
“I’m constantly getting calls from external divisions for him to create one-off solutions,” Garris said.
One of his first innovations was a tool to parse email headers, the portion of the email that contains information about email senders and recipients. When he learned that investigators were manually copying this information into Microsoft Excel, Demeter created a tool that enables investigators to complete this task in a matter of seconds instead of hours. Demeter also built a similar tool to comb through social media information used by terrorist groups, including ISIL.
The FBI has used the email header parsing tool to support dozens of child exploitation investigations, including one that found many individuals involved in child pornography. In a separate investigation, Demeter’s work helped identify 20 infant and prepubescent children who were later saved from further exploitation.
“The way his applications cull through email and social media is having a significant impact across the organization,” said Roger Stanton, assistant director of the FBI’s Insider Threat Office. “Every single field office across the country has been helped.”
Some of the tools Demeter built do more than just organize information—they automatically rank individual data points according to their relevance. Demeter developed an electronic communication prioritization tool to help national security analysts identify which emails were most likely to contain useful information. Using keyword indicators and semantic analysis, Demeter’s system organizes the information into high- and low-ranked emails.
According to Demeter, the tool points analysts in the direction of documents and communications that are most pertinent to a national security case. It is most valuable at the initial stages of an investigation, when time is of the essence and analysts are prioritizing information.
Not only did the email tool prove useful, he saved a significant amount of money. Initially, the FBI looked into paying a contractor to develop it. Instead, Demeter created the mechanism in less than three months at no additional cost to the bureau.
“He takes that subject matter knowledge and applies his technology skills to the data to help the investigators,” said Dale Killinger, a former FBI section chief.
The list of systems and investigations Demeter supports is extensive. He developed and oversees a batch-data processing system to determine if any FBI employees pose an internal threat to the organization, and he helped run checks on a major aviation security threat in 2014. He also created an application to improve how the FBI tracks its investigations so the agency can better understand where it is devoting resources.
“Guy has supplied his creativity and innovation to support a myriad of national security and criminal investigations,” said Killinger. “His work has led to exponential savings in manpower, highly efficient and accurate data analytics and increased national security for the U.S.”