FBI officials share crime-fighting experiences

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By Carol A. Clark

ALBUQUERQUE — Sometimes they strike close to home.Terrorist incidents in Espaola and Santa Fe are included in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s unclassified annual Terrorism series, which summarizes terrorist activities in the United States.Two acts committed in 1998 and 1999 have been added to a chronological summary of terrorist incidents distributed Tuesday to participants of the 2008 FBI Citizens’ Academy, held in the Albuquerque headquarters building.Calling the incidents “acts of domestic terrorism,” the report states that on June 27, 1998, a wildfire originated by arson began in the Espaola Ranger District, 10 miles northwest of Espaola. The blaze, known as the Oso Complex Fire, reached within eight miles of Los Alamos and burned 5,185 acres of forestland, including Santa Fe National Forest and Santa Clara Pueblo land. The cost to suppress the fire is listed at $3,433,983.Five months later, the Albuquerque Journal received a letter claiming the wildfire was started as a statement against the killing of gray wolves by a local militia group, the Minutemen.In the other domestic terrorism act, the report states that a pipe bomb or Improvised Explosive Device (IED), was discovered in the mailbox of Forest Guardians in Santa Fe on March 19, 1999. The IED apparently failed to detonate because the cigarette intended to initiate the device burned out before lighting the fuse.Forest Guardians is a nonprofit group focused on stopping commercial logging in national forests, as well as other environmental issues.The FBI, U.S. Forest Service and the Espaola police arrested Raymond Anthony Sandoval Feb. 14, 2004, for the attempted bombing and for setting the fire. Sandoval plead guilty and was sentenced to 84 months in prison and ordered to make restitution payment of $3 million.

Need to know versus need to shareThe FBI continually evaluates and updates terrorism statistics and gives the public access to the details.“Terrorism is a mindset more than it is a crime,” Special Agent Robert Gaskamp said. “Shock and surprise is a common denominator in terrorist crimes ... whether Americans or foreigners – that’s the tactic they use.”Gaskamp has been involved in counterterrorism for nearly a decade and described the bureau’s efforts to combat terrorism in New Mexico. He explained the lengthy, multi-layered process agents go through to obtain authorization before tapping phones and conducting surveillance of individuals suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. Reports claiming the FBI places Americans under surveillance at random and with little or no oversite is simply not true, he said.Gaskamp cited some 13 layers of required authorization, including several internal nods followed by scrutiny from other entities and ultimately the Department of Justice and Congress. The media and the public also weigh in on the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which has been modified by the Patriot Act to include domestic spying.“Counterterrorism lawyers spend their time reviewing requests for FISA authority,” Gaskamp said. “There are a lot of checks in place to prevent abuse from happening and the FISA judge is the ultimate authority.”Gaskamp told participants his daughter has seen him cry only twice in her life: once when his father died and once when he got home from work on Sept. 11, 2001, and watched the news.“Now our number-one priority is threat-driven,” he said. “With terrorism, you don’t want us to sit back in our offices and wait for terrorism to happen and we don’t either.”Home-grown terrorists are the biggest threat in Albuquerque, he said. This type of person gets mad because the government or business or school isn’t doing something or because it is doing something.“The biggest change since 9/11 is the focus on intelligence,” Gaskamp said. “Before 9/11 it was a need to know; now it’s a need to share. The cop on the beat, the guy at Lowe’s, bank employees noticing suspicious transactions, intelligence from shoppers who see someone in line in front of them with suspicious items – there’s a Field Intelligence Group assigned to connect the dots.”The mission is to prevent attacks from happening and clearly, the FBI can’t be everywhere at all times, he said.He invites citizens to be vigilant and report suspicious activity immediately. Don’t worry that it may not be important, he said, because the bureau has experts ready to make that determination.“We’ve brought in 800,000 more law enforcement officials, (including all state, local and county officers) to help with this effort and we’d like to bring in every citizen in the United States as partners to let us know when they have information.”

Overseas: Poppies, mines and bombsAssistant Special Agent in Charge Bob Evans gave his final presentation April 8 before embarking on his new assignment in Colorado. He recounted his 100-day stay in Afghanistan last year and explained that the FBI joined overseas efforts three months after 9/11 to assist the Special Forces.“We’re there with permission of the Afghani government,” Evans said. “The mission is to prevent, disrupt and defeat terrorist operations before they occur. You get one cell phone number involved in terrorist activity and pass it to the NSA (National Security Administration) and it’s incredible what they can do.”While Evans said he thinks narcotics help fund terrorist activities, he said they didn’t go to Afghanistan to address the drug issue because they needed the cooperation of the locals to complete their mission. Poppy crops are everywhere, and Evans said work is being done to find a replacement crop for poppy and marijuana that would prove as economically beneficial to farmers.“In Afghanistan we were welcomed everywhere we went and the people told us, ‘Don’t leave – the Taliban are waiting’,” Evans said.Goats are a typical entr in the area and Evans said many of his colleagues took Cyprol for three days after eating anything outside the military base, adding that he didn’t, and suffered no ill affects.“I’m used to my wife’s cooking,” he joked.Evans showed photos of his trip to Afghanistan including the living and working quarters he occupied and areas basically leveled by IEDs.“Our bomb techs are in the most dangerous mission we have over there,” he said.Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT) Thomas Sparks is one of those agents.“We have about 170 SABTs and about 135 are there right now,” he said.Sparks talked about his experiences in Afghanistan and showed photos of Afghanis with missing limbs blown off by IEDs.“Much of Afghanistan is a mine field,” Sparks said. “They’ve pretty much cleaned up Iran. In Russia, the first things we saw were the same kinds of devices we saw in Afghanistan and Iraq.”Sparks told of an estimated 4,000-pound bomb parked and detonated in a vehicle near a police station that destroyed 36 Landrovers. He provided a smorgasbord of explosive and detection devices, demonstrating how several worked, and showed examples of IEDs found in New Mexico.For information about how to partner with the FBI in the fight on terrorism, access http://albuquerque.fbi.gov or call 505-889-1300.

Editor’s Note: Carol A. Clark is a student in the 2008 FBI Citizens’ Academy.