International crime thrillers make it seem so simple: espionage agencies work together to help James Bond or the Mission Impossible team catch the bad guy and solve the crime. All in about 90 minutes.
If only it were that easy.
Consuelo B. Carver, assistant legal attaché for Legat Moscow—the FBI’s sub-office in Moscow, knows better.
Speaking on Aug. 3 at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham, Carver discussed the obstacles and solutions that are part of combating cyber crime with the Russian Federation.
Legat Moscow works primarily with two Russian agencies: the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) tackles child pornography, software piracy and smaller hacker cases, while the Federal Security Service (FSB) investigates hacker cases of about $1 million or more.
Key to their involvement is the need for a Russian victim; without a Russian individual, group or corporation affected by the crime, the MVD and FSB will not step in.
In cases of child pornography, Carver said, the MVD works quickly to shut down sites. In fact, the Moscow city police force sent a team to the United States for a month to work on child pornography issues.
“That was a good indication they wanted to work with us,” Carver said. “Child pornography is a borderless crime that can happen anywhere.”
Other types of cyber investigations present more barriers. For example, Carver said, the MVD will alert the FBI to a YouTube video based in the United States that shows someone spewing hate speech. The Russians will assume it can be removed immediately.
“We’ll have to tell them about freedom of speech and unlawful search and seizure,” Carver said. “They’ll say, ‘But you don’t understand. Human lives can be at stake because of these extremist views.’ And we’ll have to say, ‘You don’t understand. We have a Constitution to abide by.’”
Other obstacles that slow down cyber crime investigations in Moscow include sluggish exchange of information and visa hold-ups that delay in-person meetings.
Perhaps the biggest needs are Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (MLATs)— agreements between two countries for the purpose of gathering and exchanging information in an effort to enforce public or criminal laws.
“We’re getting better at knowing what they need,” Carver said, adding that there have been a few “very good” MLAT cases involving multimillion-dollar, multinational hacker cases.
Practices that are contributing to a better working relationship between the FBI and Russian agencies include quarterly “Russian Organized Cyber Crime Threat Focus Cell” meetings with participants from the FSB, FBI, NASA, U.S. Secret Service and Department of Justice.
Joint investigations run more expediently when agents work face-to-face, Carver said.
“We had an FBI agent working right in the MVD offices on one case and it went very well,” she said. “We tried to keep the momentum going after that case was over. We invited them to send an agent to the U.S., or for us to send another agent to them, but a year has passed and it just hasn’t happened.”
Carver said having to constantly prod the Russian agencies is the only way to achieve progress in combating cyber crime.
“Our relationship with the FSB is good, but I can’t just call them and have them look into something quickly,” she said. “I can call, but then I have to write a formal follow-up letter.”