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KCBS In Depth: The Role Of The FBI In The Bay Area

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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the lead agency, nationwide, for everything from violations of federal civil rights, hate crime prevention, color of law abuses, human trafficking and security.

How does that translate in the Bay Area – home to pockets of crime, gang warfare and iconic structures that authorities consider potential terror targets?

“Well, there’s a lot of lines to be drawn with regard to our local and state law enforcement partners as well as our federal law enforcement partners,” explained FBI Special Agent in charge of the San Francisco division, David Johnson.

Johnson’s office covers 15 counties, and is one of 56 regional offices nationwide. Johnson says the mission is, generally, the same, in each regional office.

“With regard to our local and state law enforcement we’re looking at purely violations of federal law, which will usually be differentiated from state laws. And those run across the gamut in terms of potential violations. So it could be something counter-terrorism related, counter-intelligence related, criminally related such as violent crime, gangs, white collar crime, securities fraud, civil rights. And just a whole different plethora of federal statutes that we’re responsible for investigating.”

“On the federal side, we have different jurisdictions than (the U.S. Department of) Homeland Security, Secret Service, and we try to stay in our lanes and make sure that we’re focused on the issues and the violations that we need to be focused on,” he added. “Of course we will provide assistance whenever requested, so whether it’s local or state law enforcement agencies, if they’re asking for our help and we have unique capabilities that we can provide to them, and the same holds true for our federal partners.”

The FBI also has to draw a careful distinction between crime prevention and stepping on citizens’ civil rights.

“Absolutely,” said Johnson. “For the FBI, from that perspective, we are responsible for following the rule of law. That is one of the core components of the FBI and that’s what we have to do, so we have an obligation, for example with regards to counter-terrorism matters, to prevent the next terrorist attack here in the United States. But at the same time we have a responsibility to do that in appropriate fashion, one that is of course legal and one that is in accordance with the Attorney General’s guidelines and internal FBI policies, which further restrict what it is we can and cannot do.”

“So we’ve got various levels of oversight and the bottom line is that we have an obligation to balance our enforcement operation or obligations with our responsibility to follow the rule of law.”

Despite the similar mission shared by all 56 divisions, Johnson recognizes there are some geographical issues inherent to each.

“Being here in the Silicon Valley, there are a lot of high technology companies here obviously, there are a number of energy laboratories here in the area, there’s just a lot of information that people would like to get a hold of. Not only other foreign governments but also corporations and individuals that could use it to gain a competitive edge over the United States so whether it’s computer intrusions, whether it’s individuals looking for proprietary information for a particular company that they can use, just having that sort of research and development and technology here in the Silicon Valley, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, makes it a very target-rich environment and one that a lot of folks are interested in,” said Johnson.

Gang problems also exist in the Bay Area, particularly in Oakland. The FBI is still deeply involved in that type of street crime.

“Absolutely,” stressed Johnson. “So from a national perspective we have a national gang intelligence center, which is responsible for collecting a variety of gang-related information and intelligence and pushing that out to law enforcement agencies throughout the country and actually throughout the world.”

“Oakland,” Johnson continued, “we took a good look at what was being done in Oakland and I decided that we needed to do more. I think Oakland Police Department’s done a fine job trying to address their violent crime and gang threat over there. But, I realized or I believe that the FBI, we could do more to help Oakland and so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve restructured the violent crime resources that we have here in the division, we’re trying to search additional resources into the East Bay. We also have a couple of safe streets task forces and we’re trying to enhance them to allow us to better address that threat.”

You can hear KCBS In Depth, a weekly half-hour news interview, Saturdays at 5:30a.m. and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on KCBS All News 740AM and 106.9FM.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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