Alumnus and Chief Information Officer of the FBI Zalmai Azmi discussed how his job has changed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with a group of about 65 students and faculty Monday night in Duques Hall.
Azmi talked about his background as an Afghan native who immigrated to the United States in 1982, served as a U.S. Marine for seven years and then worked toward a degree and career in information systems technology. He received a master’s of science in management information systems from GW.
“One of the things that helped me quite a bit was going through the trenches with everyone else,” Azmi said of his career path. Prior to working in the FBI, Azmi worked for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and later for the U.S. Department of Justice.
Originally, Azmi was only slated to fill the post of CIO at the FBI for five months. “I thought, ‘I can find all of this organization’s problems, and I won’t have to fix a thing,'” he said. He was permanently appointed to his post in May 2004 and has worked to restructure the FBI. Information sharing is now as much a focus at the bureau as traditional investigation, he said.
The FBI has been reorganized four times since Sept. 11, Azmi said, adding that “With the realignment of resources comes the reorganization of information technology,” he said. “My job has been as much about technology as it has been about organization.”
Azmi also said that Sept. 11 caused a “fundamental shift” in the FBI. By presidential mandate, the FBI created a database of terrorist data, centralized it and made it available to all 16 members of the U.S. government’s intelligence community in 2003.
“Over the last couple of years, after the 9/11 Commission Report came out, our focus has shifted to information sharing,” he said.
Despite all of the information sharing Azmi deals with, he still believes in the importance of person-to-person communication.
“There is a human element to everything we do. Personal communication is essential,” he said, adding that he recognized it as a personal challenge early in his career and worked to improve his abilities. “I attended a lot of seminars. I forced myself to get out and talk to people.”
While Azmi’s lecture focused on the information technology challenges he has dealt with in the FBI, he also brought up some challenges technology presents the investigative agency.
“Twenty years ago, you would have to go halfway around the world to inflict pain on someone,” he said. “Today, you don’t even have to leave your easy chair.”