One day after the disappearance of Jamie Rose Bolin, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation used "a well-known technique.” That's the way Michael B. Ward, the special agent in charge of the Oklahoma City division of the FBI, described it to me: "a well-known technique.” But that's what I appreciated about the opportunity to sit down with the Bureau's local leader as the FBI nears its 100th birthday in July. He was willing to share some insight — as much as allowed — about Oklahoma City as well as the 12 resident agencies, or branch offices, covered by the division throughout Oklahoma. In other words, he was willing to explain what is well-known to FBI agents but intriguing to me, such as the technique in the Bolin case.
Tried and trueWard said he wasn't a part of the Oklahoma City Division at the time of the 10-year-old's disappearance in April 2006. But as the trial neared, he was impressed as he reviewed the steps agents had taken. That included what he described as a "tried and true investigative technique.” The agents were working the case as a kidnapping and abduction. So they stopped traffic at an intersection near Jamie's home a day after the disappearance. "If people get off work at the same time, maybe you can say ‘Did you see you anything the day before?'” he said. Guess who was in one of the cars they stopped? "They were able to identify when they came across Kevin Underwood, that ‘Hey there's something about this guy,'” Ward said. This is where they had to be careful as they talked with him. "We balanced Underwood's right to leave at any time with a request to talk. Ultimately we were able to establish a rapport with him and walk that tightrope,” he said. A judge sentenced Kevin Ray Underwood to death this month for the murder of Bolin. Ward isn't about to say that all this was the doing of the FBI. He praised the cooperation and working relationship of various law enforcement agencies in Oklahoma. But when asked to give an example of work by the FBI's Oklahoma City division that he is proud of, Ward mentioned this case. "I know as we were getting ready for the trial I sat and talked with our assistant special agent in charge,” he said, "and I really studied what our agents did because my concern was ‘Did we have a misstep that's going to come back to haunt us?' And we didn't. "I thought it was an outstanding effort by a number of agents who worked that case.”
What are priorities?Oklahoma City is considered a midsized field office for the FBI. The division has about 125 agents and about 115 support employees, and has about 1,000 pending cases. So what are considered the priorities for those agents working in Oklahoma? The answer is straightforward: The priorities in Oklahoma City are the same priorities as in Boston, Dallas, Tampa, Fla., and others. They aren't the division's priorities, they are the FBI's top 10 priorities. Here are the top five priorities: Protect the United States from terrorist attack; protect the U.S. against foreign intelligence operations and espionage; protect the U.S. against cyber-based attack and high-technology crimes; combat public corruption at all levels; and protect civil rights. "Prior to 9/11 you could say that we kind of had the luxury somewhat of letting cases come through the front door,” Ward said. "And if we said, ‘Hey this is a great case, let's work this,' then we'd go out and run it until its conclusion. "Subsequent to 9/11, agents are required to have greater knowledge of the overall threat and must be able to articulate how a case ranks with regards to the overall threat before an investigation is initiated.” Robert Mueller became the FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001, just a week before the attacks against the U.S.
What happens here?How do counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence relate to Oklahoma? Think about agriculture, our many military installations and the federally funded research through colleges and universities. Then move ahead to the third priority, cyber crimes. Ward said counter-terrorism and especially counter-intelligence "go hand-in-hand” with computer intrusions when you think about information theft. But there's another aspect that involves predators who go online to seek out a child. The FBI has a statistic called a "locate.” A "locate” is the identification of a person who is engaged in cyber activity targeting children, and there's probable cause to obtain an arrest warrant or a search warrant, Ward said. "We were able to identify enough of those that we led the FBI in locates of predators in 2007,” he said. That fact may have been well-known among the FBI divisions, but to me it was intriguing and provided just a little more insight into the local office of this soon-to-be 100-year-old agency.