Jim Jasinski joined Silicon Valley-based Fortinet one year ago to help the computer security technology product maker build its U.S. government market presence as vice president of federal business development for supply chain.
Jasinski previously led the federal and state systems business at 3M Cogent and entered private industry in 2000 after a long FBI career that included leadership roles over a fingerprint system modernization program and other procurements.
In this conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Jasinski charts his journey at the FBI and describes his education there on how federal procurements work, plus his views on the role of industry in network security initiatives at agencies and how companies can help the public sector balance new technology adoption with legacy system maintenance requirements.
ExecutiveBiz: What have you focused on since you started with Fortinet early last year?
Jim Jasinski: I was hired to focus on Fortinet’s federal opportunities. Fortinet is a highly successful cybersecurity provider, whose success is built upon several unique capabilities and competencies. This success had to date focused primarily in the commercial sector, but easily transfer to the federal sector, which is the largest single cybersecurity market in the world.
ExecutiveBiz: As your background includes 22 years at the FBI, can you give a brief overview of your career there?
Jim Jasinski: I was in the FBI for almost 24 years. My first office was the Pittsburgh field office. From there I was reassigned to a satellite location which the FBI designates as an “Resident Agency.” These are smaller offices that report into the larger field office. Because staff is limited at RA locations, I had the opportunity to work a wide variety of investigations.
As a result I was involved in a number of interesting investigations ranging from political corruption, national security and criminal cases. I knew though that under FBI policy at that point, I was going to be transferred to what the FBI called a “Top 12 Office,” or one of its 12 largest FBI offices. Essentially, this meant assignment to the New York City field office as most “first office agents” were reassigned there.
Though the work would have been fascinating, most agents lived one to two hours away from the office to afford housing. When you calculate that the average agent works approximately 10-hour days, there was little time left outside for outside the office. Recognizing this, I applied for a position to FBI headquarters, primarily because it was not NYC. I was lucky and was selected to work at HQ in the litigation department as an agent/attorney.
At HQ, I worked on Freedom of Information Act litigation requests made by outside parties. This work dealt with disputes regarding whether the data being withheld was appropriate or inappropriate for public disclosure. As a part of this assignment, I became involved in an extended case defending the FBI against allegations occurring 20-to-40 years in the past. As a result, I flew around the country interviewing long-retired agents.
This was a fascinating experience that provided me a historical perspective of not only the organization, but also the experiences of the investigators from that earlier period. After doing that for a couple of years, I was reassigned to the FBI’s contracting organization for 14 years, eventually assuming the role of chief contracting officer. The FBI has a centralized procurement process where both covert and overt contracts are handled at headquarters.
This assignment was not only an education about the federal procurements, but because of the scope of the procurement process involved classified and covert contract activities throughout the FBI. I still recall those days as the most interesting time of my career. Among the overt contracts were two major programs that received attention from the press.
After a briefing to the director on their status, I was reassigned to take over the direct program manager role for the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. It was an effort to modernize and computerize the fingerprint files. IAFIS was a concept that was first envisioned in 1989 but only took off after West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd agreed in about 1992 to secure the required funding for the project.
The initial phase of the project went operational in 1999. Sen. Byrd’s interest in the program prompted the relocation of the division from HQ to Clarksburg, West Virginia. The project required the construction of a new physical facility and the design and implementation of a whole new fingerprint matching system, one that was orders of magnitude larger than any then existing system.
The system went operational on schedule and within budget. As a part of this effort, to ensure interoperability with state and local criminal databases, as well as with other countries, we worked with NIST in developing standards for fingerprint systems and promulgating those standards with the end users.
Upon completion and deployment of the full system, I retired from the FBI in December 2000.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you summarize what experiences from your long FBI career you lean on most at Fortinet?
Jim Jasinski: Success for the FBI and any investigation is dependent on cooperation. The cooperation has to be built on a sense of trust with each and every party, whether it is a government entity, a private citizen, a commercial enterprise, or any other independent organization. Trust enables the accurate and open exchange of ideas, status, and challenges.
The effort to understand what is or isn’t going on in order to give a fair portrayal requires an open exchange of data and information between different organizations and people before coming to an honest conclusion. However, full disclosure is neither practical nor desirable for a number of reasons, such as competitive, legal, or personal.
Therefore there is always a balancing act in assessing and using information. The same thing holds true in the cybersecurity world. There has to be consistency in how you treat people, clear communication of one’s goals, processes in place to support those goals and people, and proven solutions or products that you can provide to the end user.
ExecutiveBiz: How should agencies think when adopting new technologies and at the same time maintain the legacy tools they already have?
Jim Jasinski: It is an evolutionary process in achieving that balance between measures and countermeasures. Just picture it as a competition between measures and counter measures, just like a rectangle and a parallelogram. We all want the corners squared as in a rectangle, but technology and progress is always uneven, and progresses as a parallelogram.
Companies and individuals have to constantly evolve their positions to achieve the squared corner, even if it lasts but a nanosecond before the quest starts again. Otherwise, eventually the system just falls upon itself. You have to balance the evolution of that technology while ensuring that you are bringing your existing database or legacy systems with you.
ExecutiveBiz: What is industry’s role in that process?
Jim Jasinski: The government establishes goals and objectives with industry responsible for their execution. When we built the fingerprint matching system IAFIS, the private sector did the development work, but the establishment of standards for it to work in a cohesive system was done through the government because it required a public policy perspective. Essentially, the government does the “what” and industry does the “how.”
ExecutiveBiz: What other areas in network security do you see the most potential for public-private sector partnerships?
Jim Jasinski: In establishing a system that allows for a secure and competent exchange of data and information without having unacceptable risk to any of the organizations or individuals participating in the process. Referring back to the IAFIS project, what fingerprint data was exchanged was up to the rules and concerns of the originator, but ownership always remained with the contributor. It is a balancing act of cooperation and safeguards.