CHAMPAIGN – Trying to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks, public corruption and the fallout from organized gangs are the top three priorities of the FBI, said an agent who's responsible for most of Illinois .
Addressing the statewide Crimestoppers convention Friday in Champaign, Stuart McArthur, special agent in charge of the Springfield division, discussed what the FBI considers "emerging threats," although he said his talk could have been dubbed "there's nothing new under the sun."
"Things morph into different appearances, but when you get down to it, the nature of the threats stays the same," said the 20-year employee of the FBI.
Prior to his FBI service, McArthur, 48, served in the Navy for 11 years, including several years as a pilot who was deployed to the Persian Gulf.
In the FBI since 1990, his duties have included drug enforcement, coordinating investigations targeting Mexican and Colombian drug cartels; counterterrorism; and for four months in 2008, was sent to Afghanistan as the FBI's on-scene commander embedded with U.S. military and coalition forces.
His conversations are peppered with the alphabet soup of task force acronyms.
He said joint cooperation between state, local and federal authorities is much more common since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York's twin towers. McArthur was serving a search warrant not far away when the planes crashed into the packed buildings.
"There are now 107 joint terrorism task forces spread around the country," he said, including eight in his division.
McArthur has been the special agent in charge of the FBI's Springfield division since October 2009. That division has offices in Springfield, Champaign, Peoria, Moline and Fairview Heights and covers everything south of Interstate 80 – 45,000 square miles, 84 counties and 3.5 million people.
The FBI's top priority since 9/11, McArthur said, has been to protect the U.S. from terrorist attack, not solve attacks after they happen, he said.
He called 2009 a busy year for the FBI, giving brief synopses for the conference attendees on 11 terrorist cases that involved the disruption of attacks. He called the Internet a great recruiting tool for terrorists and said the threat of "cyber-attack" is growing.