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Mpls. FBI chief: Counterterrorism a priority

By Steve Karnowski

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The new special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis division has something of a head start on the job — he’s been here before, looking for ways to make the local operation work better.

Ralph S. Boelter, 48, has been an FBI agent since 1991 and worked in Boston, Los Angeles and at FBI headquarters prior to taking over Jan. 22 as head of the Minneapolis division, which covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Some highlights of his career included fighting gangs in Los Angeles and working in 2004 on the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame, a case that led to the current trial of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

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Meeting with reporters Thursday, Boelter said he plans no significant changes locally right now, though "invariably there will be some changes that I will make."

For about two years prior to coming to Minnesota, Boelter was an inspector at FBI headquarters. He said he traveled to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of FBI field offices across the country — including the Minneapolis office.

"I did come here to inspect the office, yes," he said. "As with all reviews, there’s a positive and there’s some areas that need to be tweaked." He declined to elaborate.

Boelter replaced Michael Tabman, who was recalled to headquarters last year amid an internal investigation. The FBI never disclosed the reasons for the inquiry.

Boelter is taking over a division that’s given rise to a couple high-profile whistleblower cases in recent years.

Agent Coleen Rowley went to Congress with her allegations that FBI higher-ups in Washington thwarted local efforts before Sept. 11, 2001, to get a search warrant for terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer and belongings. Moussaoui was arrested at an Eagan flight school 3 1/2 weeks before the attacks. For stepping forward, Rowley was named one of Time magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2002.

And just this week, a jury in Minneapolis awarded $565,000 in damages to former agent Jane Turner, agreeing her superiors retaliated against Turner for filing a sex-discrimination complaint against her supervisor. Turner also alleges she was retaliated against after reporting that a Tiffany globe paperweight she spotted on a secretary’s desk in the Minneapolis office came from Ground Zero. That complaint is still pending.

Boelter said local agents can be confident they can approach him with their concerns without jeopardizing their careers.

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"They can, they can," he stressed. "I’ve conveyed that. Retaliation just won’t be tolerated under me. So yes, they can. And I’ll continue to reinforce that."

Boelter said counterterrorism will remain a major focus of his division, though he wouldn’t give specifics of what’s been happening on that front here lately.

"There’s activity here that certainly warrants us being involved," he said. "But we have a lot of talent here as well, within the FBI and our partner agencies. We’re doing the best we can to address those issues."

One case that’s occupied much of the FBI’s attention locally in recent months has been the disappearance of two young brothers from outside their home on the Red Lake Indian Reservation just before Thanksgiving.

Boelter said it’s still not clear whether Tristan White, 4, and Avery Stately, 2, were kidnapped or simply wandered off.

"We continue to work that case," he said. "Nobody is more interested in finding those two children than us, than myself in particular."

The FBI searched the area intensely and has run down more than 300 leads in the case, he said, and a $30,000 reward is still being offered by the bureau and the Red Lake Nation. He said the FBI learned Wednesday that Clear Channel Outdoor will provide billboard space to further publicize the case. He also said the toll-free tip hot line is still open: 1-866-333-4969.

"I’m very frustrated," Boelter said. "These are two very young children. ... We carry the special burden of trying to find them and answer the questions. What happened? We’re not at a point where we can do that."

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