New Mexico’s FBI chief retires

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By Carol A. Clark

Friday marked the final day of service for Special Agent in Charge Thomas C. McClenaghan of the Albuquerque Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Directing staff against parties and farewell fanfare, McClenaghan left the large red brick headquarters building in much the same way he conducted his distinguished 25-year career - with quiet professionalism.

“Tom is such a complex individual,” said FBI Chief Division Counsel Stephan Marshall. “He detests speaking in public, but he is better at it than anyone else I know. He is the most laid-back quiet guy in the room, unless he feels someone is mistreating one of his agents, at which time he becomes more than a little ferocious. It has been a privilege to work for Tom.”

Deborah Burns agreed. She is the criminal assistant special agent in charge at the FBI. “Tom afforded his staff the autonomy and support to succeed in their positions,” Burns said. “He was incredibly astute in accessing situations and swift in his actions to resolve issues. In short, Tom was not only an excellent leader but an agent's agent. We will sincerely miss him.”

Supervisory Special Agent Darrin E. Jones worked for McClenaghan for about a year and a half as an FBI supervisor and his public information officer.

“Tom McClenaghan took his job as SAC very seriously and, quite frankly, he was damn good at it,” Jones said. “However, in contrast to many senior executives, Tom never took himself too seriously and was always quick with a joke or to point out the irony of a situation. He was able to walk that fine line so you were comfortable going to his office with a question, yet you certainly didn’t want to be summoned there. I really enjoyed working for him.”

Joining the Bureau

In his third year of law school, McClenaghan realized he didn’t want to practice law as an attorney. That very day he scanned his college bulletin board and saw a notice indicating FBI recruiters were holding interviews at his school that afternoon.

“Back then they were looking for a lot of attorneys and I did very well in initial testing,” McClenaghan said.

He entered the Bureau through Columbia, S.C. in Jan. 22, 1984, following graduation from law school.

Austin Bureau

McClenaghan went on to serve as a special agent in the Austin, Texas Bureau. He recalled one of the memorable cases of his three years there involved Albert Lee Thielmann.

“He placed a bomb on an American Airlines flight to kill his wife and kids,” McClenaghan said. “At the time, American Airlines put all luggage in big aluminum bins and because of that the bomb didn’t ignite...”

Thielmann was convicted and received 40 years in prison for his foiled plot.

New York City Bureau

McClenaghan moved into foreign counter intelligence in the New York City Bureau. It was all classified work at the time but his job was to counter the efforts by foreign spies who were located in the area.

Because of the work he did in that office, McClenaghan earned an award from the director of central intelligence and was promoted to supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.


McClenaghan began his three years at headquarters doing country specific investigations in foreign counter intelligence. His job was to support field offices in their investigations.

McClenaghan later became the bureau’s first Weapons of Mass Destruction Program manager in charge of all WMD cases throughout the FBI from 1991-1993.

After his first boss retired, Robert Hanssen became McClenaghan’s boss. Sensing all was not right with Hanssen, he began dealing directly with Hanssen’s boss. Hanssen didn’t appear to mind.

He was later convicted of spying for Russia and sentenced to life in prison.

Houston Bureau

McClenaghan transferred to the Houston Division where he served as supervisor of the foreign counter intelligence squad.

“In January of 1995 I was asked to take over a violent crime major offenders squad and basically worked reactive matters such as bank robberies, kidnappings, crimes aboard aircrafts, extortions and gang matters,” he said.

McClenaghan spent five years in Houston. He was the agent in charge of the notorious Raphael Resendez Ramirez case in 1999. Ramirez rode the country on freight trains killing people.

He’d spot a home near the tracks, jump off, rob and kill and jump back on the train.

Albany Bureau

In 2000, McClenaghan was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Albany, N.Y. office. He handled several violent crime cases. Sept. 11 occurred during that time.

“It was particularly difficult in that office because so many employees had relatives who worked in the Twin Towers,” he said. “Thankfully, they all got out before the buildings collapsed – 9/11 changed everything.”

Anchorage Bureau

McClenaghan was promoted to Special Agent in Charge of the Anchorage, Alaska Bureau in 2002, during major security concerns surrounding the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

It provided 25 percent of oil to America and he said the fear, because of its remoteness, was terrorist attacks.

McClenaghan and his agents also launched code name “Polar Pen” to investigate corrupt state legislators, which expanded to eventually bring down U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.

New Mexico Bureau

The top position in New Mexico opened up in 2005.

“My wife’s family is from Texas and she was born in Albuquerque,” McClenaghan said. “I thought it was a good opportunity to get her closer to home.”

He had three main goals when he took the helm Sept. 12, 2005:

• Continue to increase the number and quality of public corruption cases;

• address the state's growing gang problem; and

• bring in a regional computer forensics laboratory.

McClenaghan accomplished all three and much more while overseeing his office of more than 200 special agents and professional support personnel.

New Career

On Monday, McClenaghan started a new career as vice president and Benefits Integrity Manager for Health Integrity in San Antonio, Texas.

The company has a major contract from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department to investigate Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

He is in charge of the investigative branch overseeing some 30 investigators covering Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Final Thoughts

McClenaghan said he will miss the people at the FBI most.

“They could work in the private sector making much more money, yet they stay with the bureau for 20 to 35 years and do it for the love of the job and service to the country,” he said.

What he won't miss is, “Those calls in the middle of the night.”

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com, 662-4185 ext. 25 or visit her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.