Head of Mpls. FBI has Counterterrorism Background
The new head of the FBI's three-state Minneapolis division said Friday that battling terrorism is among his top priorities for the office, which recently handled the high-profile case of Somali refugees convicted of sending money to a group on the U.S. terror list.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Chris Warrener said his background - including overseeing terror financing investigations - makes him a good fit for the FBI division that oversees Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. He noted that the office handles cases as diverse as counterterrorism and computer crimes, to white collar crimes and investigations on American Indian reservations.
"We have a lot on our plate," he said.
Warrener took over as special agent in charge of the FBI's Minneapolis division a month ago, replacing Don Oswald, who retired to return to practicing law. Warrener has been with the FBI since 1988, and most recently ran the terrorist financing section of the bureau's counterterrorism division. In that role, Warrener said, he oversaw investigations into the flow of money to terror groups.
While the job was intense, he said: "It gave me exposure to all the major terrorist groups we have to deal with."
In recent years, agents in Minneapolis have been investigating the recruitment and travels of young Somali men who left the state to fight with al-Shabab in Somalia. More than 20 young Somali men left Minnesota to support the group, and two women were convicted last year of terror charges for raising money for the organization.
After those convictions, some local Somalis expressed fear that they too could be swept up in a federal investigation. And a local bank stopped facilitating money transfers to Somalia, fearing the funds could end up in the wrong hands.
Warrener said he is sympathetic to Somalis who saw their way of sending money home disrupted. He gave assurances that the FBI doesn't monitor all the money flowing overseas on a large scale.
"We're not going to open up an investigation of somebody sending money to family members," he said. "If we receive information that somebody is sending money to al-Shabab, that's the type of thing we would investigate."
He also said the Somali community is not targeted by the FBI, and he knows only a small segment of the community was involved. He declined to discuss potential threats in Minnesota, but said the investigation into the travelers is ongoing.
Warrener said his top priorities are in line with those of the FBI nationally, with an emphasis on counterterrorism. He said he'd like the office's investigations to be intelligence driven, and the goal is to determine the greatest threats and risks, and fill in the gaps.
"We're working really hard to figure out what could potentially be a new target," Warrener said, adding that partnerships with local law enforcement and other agencies are key to prevention.
He also wants to do more outreach in the private sector, such as educating businesses about risks they face and the importance of notifying authorities so those threats can be neutralized.
Warrener said cases on American Indian reservations are a priority for North Dakota and South Dakota. He said he would work with tribes and the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address issues there.
Warrener, a native of Rock Tavern, N.Y., began his FBI career investigating violent street gangs and counterintelligence issues. Since then, he has held many positions and worked cases from narcotics to counterterrorism. He's been supervisor of the New Mexico Joint Terrorism Task Force, and was an assistant special agent in charge in Kansas City, managing national security and intelligence programs.
He has a law degree from the University of Oklahoma.
The 54-year-old faces mandatory retirement in three years, and believes he'll finish out his career in Minnesota.
"I think I'm a good fit," he said. The Minneapolis office is "very diverse. You have everything here."
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