MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The new head of the FBI in Minneapolis said Tuesday that health care fraud and counterterrorism will be his top priorities as he takes over an office that he says has been presented with a “unique counterterrorism threat.”
Donald Oswald was appointed special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division earlier this month. In an interview with The Associated Press, he addressed issues including the ongoing investigation into the recruitment and travels of young Somali men who left Minnesota to possibly fight with a terrorist group in their homeland.
The Minneapolis office of the FBI has been the center of that investigation for the last few years.
“Obviously there is a unique counterterrorism threat presented in this division. That will always be the division’s priority,” he said. He added that the travelers’ case is: “like a big spider with a lot of legs, and there are a lot of moving parts. There’s a prosecution that we are preparing for, and it keeps us active. But it keeps everything ongoing at the same time.”
In recent years, roughly 20 young Somali men left Minnesota to possibly support the al-Shabab in Somalia. When asked Tuesday if more men might be leaving, Oswald said: “We have concern that there are others that are thinking about it, and those are the cases that we need to stay on top of.”
He said many counterterrorism investigations are classified so he can’t give details. He didn’t discuss specific threats or investigations in Minneapolis, and said he’s still learning about the situation in the area.
Oswald, 52, hadn’t been to Minnesota before taking his new role as special agent in charge, a job he called the “pinnacle of an agent’s career.” He’ll oversee the agency’s operations in Minnesota as well as the Dakotas.
A native of New Jersey, Oswald joined in the FBI in 1992 and started working to solve bank robberies in Los Angeles. He also investigated public corruption in New York, then put his law degree to use as a lawyer for the bureau.
He spent time at FBI headquarters, and in 2003 went to Miami where he supervised the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force. Two years later he became assistant special agent in charge of the Miami Division’s Field Intelligence Group, which included surveillance operations. He most recently served as chief inspector at the Office of Inspections.
In Minneapolis, he’s taking over for Ralph Boelter, who left earlier this year to become the deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division. Boelter was at the helm when the travels of young Somali men first came to light, and as he managed the investigation in Minneapolis he became well known for his outreach efforts into the Somali community.
Oswald said those efforts will continue.
“I suspect because of the tremendous Somali population that is in our area that we will have plenty to stay on top of,” Oswald said. “That’s why outreach is so crucial to our goal here. It’s knowing, being trusted by the community, that helps us actually endeavor to stay on top of the threat that’s out there for us.”
Oswald hasn’t met with members of the Somali community yet — though he’s done outreach with the Citizens’ Academy and has been meeting with several local and federal law partners. He said within the next month, he’ll attend both a conference of Somali leaders and a youth conference to educate them about the FBI.
He also plans to put a greater focus on health care fraud investigations, with hopes of doubling the number of agents dedicated to investigating those matters, likely by transferring people to new positions.
In the Dakotas, he said, fighting crime on Indian reservations will be a priority, and with limited FBI resources, he’ll work on building task forces with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to get the job done.
Overall, he said, he’s taking over an office that’s running well. While he’ll probably tweak things as he goes along, he said right now he’s sitting back and taking it all in.
“Believe me, every day is like drinking water from a fire hose, and learning the job, learning the area, learning the people — it’s very exhilarating and exciting,” he said.
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