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[ISN] Clever Officer Receives Award


By Arielle Levin Becker
Courant Staff Writer
September 22, 2007 

NEW BRITAIN - The New Britain police department's computer crime expert 
was stumped. The state police's lab couldn't help. Even the FBI didn't 
have the answer.

But Lt. James Wardwell kept searching, trying to find some way to 
infiltrate a stack of erased rewritable CDs he just knew once contained 

And eventually, thanks to a network of computer investigators, a Google 
search and some college kids blogging about how to restore their lost 
mp3s, Wardwell found a way to recover the data and developed a new 
technique in the process.

The evidence Wardwell recovered helped secure the conviction of a city 
man who filmed himself sexually abusing children, crimes a prosecutor 
said were the most extreme and diabolical he ever handled.

Last month, Wardwell's work earned him the Case of the Year award from 
the international High Technology Crime Investigation Association, an 
honor that he said recognized a willingness to ask for help. "I could 
not have ever even come close to doing this if I hadn't reached out to 
everybody else," he said.

The plaque hangs on the wall behind Wardwell's desk, but he might prefer 
if it weren't there. It's bittersweet to receive an honor for working on 
a case in which children were brutalized, he said. "If I could redo 
history, my preference would be that the whole thing never happened," he 

It began with evidence seized from city resident John Kaminski. Police 
had some incriminating evidence, but they believed there was more on a 
stack of rewritable CDs. Problem was, the CDs had been erased.

None of Wardwell's data recovery techniques helped. He spent a day at 
the state police lab and consulted the FBI, but to no avail. He reached 
out to other computer crime investigators, but no suggestion worked.

But the problem stuck with one of them - Special Agent Jim Butler of the 
FBI's New Haven division's computer analysis response team. A Google 
search led him to a website that college students used to discuss ways 
to recover deleted mp3s.

The students' method wouldn't solve the problem, but it led Wardwell to 
create a similar technique. The key would be tricking a computer into 
reading the CDs, which appeared empty, by burning a small portion of 
another file onto them.

The work broke a cardinal rule of computer forensics: Don't change the 
original evidence. Unlike working with blood or drugs, where testing 
destroys a bit of the evidence, investigators in computer forensics are 
trained to change nothing - they make copies instead. But the computer 
couldn't read Kaminski's CDs, making them impossible to copy. "In this 
case, it was either break that taboo or not get anything," said Butler, 
now the president of the Connecticut chapter of the High Technology 
Crime Investigation Association.

Wardwell spent at least two weeks practicing the technique with other 
CDs. When he was convinced it worked safely, he created an empty file 
and began burning it onto one of Kaminski's CDs, stopping as soon as the 
first part of the file was burned. That allowed the computer to read the 
CD without destroying what was on it before. From there, he could 
recover the data using standard software.

It was early in the morning when Wardwell first saw the videos on the 
CD. "There was a feeling of triumph, saying `Yes, I got it,'" he said.

"But then, starting to see the contents of the data, it was horrible. I 
had to walk away."

He left it for the day.

Wardwell is no stranger to horrific images and brutal cases. Computer 
crime cases aren't all about Internet predators or child pornography, 
but they're a portion of the workload that Wardwell said he will never 
get used to. "You just have to know when to walk away," he said.

The Kaminski case stands out because it was so brutal, he said.

Kaminski was accused of sexually abusing three siblings, aged 9, 8 and 
6, after drugging them with sedatives and filming the assaults.

He pleaded no contest to six counts of first-degree sexual assault last 
year, at age 51, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

At Kaminski's sentencing, prosecutor Paul Rotiroti said, "Of all the 
sexual assaults I've ever handled, this is the most diabolical, the most 
extreme and the one that most exemplifies pure evil."

Kaminski has since filed a federal lawsuit challenging the search that 
led police to the evidence. A Superior Court judge previously ruled that 
the search was legal.

Copyright © 2007, The Hartford Courant

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