New Minneapolis FBI Chief talks about terrorism

6:01 PM, Aug 22, 2012   |    comments
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BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - The new Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI's Minneapolis Division brings a wealth of experience to the upper Midwest assignment.

J. Chris Warrener, 54, joined the FBI in 1988. He became the local Special Agent-in-Charge in early July of this year.

"As you probably know," Warrener explained from his new office overlooking the Minneapolis skyline, "the FBI has pretty broad missions; a lot of different violations. Back in the 80s, a lot of our emphasis was on criminal investigative matters. In the early 90s, I spent, at the Washington field office, the majority of my time working violent street gangs.

"After 9-11, like a lot of agents, our focus shifted into the area of counter-terrorism," Warrener continued. "I first began working counter-terrorism in the Albuquerque division and since that time, I would say, that has kind of become my 'specialty', if you will, but I have sort of been a 'jack-of-all-trades', I guess you might say."

The father of two sons whose wife is also an FBI agent, said Minnesota is a "great place" with "a lot of good jobs here," but adds "we still always have concerns about white collar crime, public corruption, violent street gangs and crimes on Indian reservations."

The Minneapolis Division includes coverage of all of Minnesota, North and South Dakota.

Warrener admitted that there are investigations underway involving gang activity, possibly including the reservations, but declined to be specific. His expertise in counter-terrorism is expected to be a plus in gathering intelligence in Minnesota's large Somali community.

"Going forward, our main goal is prevention," said Warrener. "We do not want to see people traveling overseas to commit Jihad... What can we do to prevent young people from getting radicalized? When they do become radicalized, if we are able to get onto it early, what can we do to disrupt that type of activity?"

Warrener said his agency is very involved in outreach to the Somali community. "It is important that we make that distinction (law-abiding from bad-intentioned) and that the FBI not be viewed by the community as their enemy."

The difficulties in wire transfers of money to family members in Somalia is a well-known issue to Warrener. Since Somalia has no central banking system, money service businesses called Halawas are the standard way to send money to distant relatives. Such services, however, have been used in the past to fund cash to groups with ties to Al Qaeda. Two Somali women in Minnesota were convicted in federal court in 2011 for such activity. As a result, U.S. banks have dropped participation in facilitating the use of halawas to transfer money, which has angered local Somalis.

"It is definitely a challenge that they are going to face going forward," said Warrener. "From our standpoint, the money service businesses are not a focus...I am very sympathetic to the Somali community. The vast majority of Somali-Americans are hard working. They are trying to make a life here in the United States and they are trying to support family members overseas."

Warrener insisted that Somali leaders do not want to be "associated with terrorism. I am hoping that we can work together to prevent a perception that the Somali community supports terrorism."

Warrener's stay in the Minneapolis post has a time limit. He said he will face mandatory retirement in three years at age 57. "I think, initially, our retirement system was based, like many police departments, on the idea that you want a young, sort of vital workforce. You probably do not want 57-year-olds out chasing criminals, but age is a relative thing. There are probably many 57-year-olds that are in good or better shape than people much younger."

Chris Warrener's wife, Gayla, is based on the East Coast with their two sons, 17 and 20.

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