In a city often described as sleepless, the man in charge of Seattle's FBI office may be taking sleep deprivation to a whole new level. "There's a lot of cases that stay on my mind at night. There's a lot of stuff that's potentially volatile out there." said Frank Montoya Jr.
Montoya is weeks away from retiring and, for the first time, spoke to KIRO 7 about an undercurrent of potential terrorism in Seattle.
"There are individuals in this community who are either interested in traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIL or to plot and plan terrorism here in this country. It's aspirational at this point."
Montoya says there is direct communication between these local individuals and ISIL. Using encrypted apps, like WhatsApp and Telegram, the conversation between the aspiring and the converted has never been more difficult to trace. "The ease with which that communication, with which social media facilitates that communication has been a major challenge for us. Thank you Mr. Snowden," said Montoya.
In February, Seattle's Joint Terrorism Task Force arrested Army deserter Daniel Franey on weapons charges at his home in Montesano. Investigators say he praised ISIL as the "best people on earth" and talked of plans to attack a Seattle-area military base. It's one of many potential terrorist threats being investigated by the FBI. "It's been steady over the past two years, around a little over a hundred," said Montoya.
Two years ago, Hinda Osman Dhirane was arrested in Kent. Investigators said she was funneling money to the Al Qaeda-linked extremist group, Al-Shabab, in Somalia.
At the time of her arrest, her husband said, "That's a lie. I can't believe it."
Montoya said repairing the Seattle FBI's fragile relationship with the Somali community is a top priority.
"We're going to go into these neighborhoods. We're going to build relationships. Sometimes we're going to arrest people, especially if they're plotting to commit an act of terror. I'm not saying that the Somalis are a problem. I'm saying that there are issues out there. There are challenges out there that affect all of us. Certain communities have been very sensitive about our activities relative to counter-terrorism activities. There is a lot of rhetoric out there about how they're the cause of all our problems in this country. Well, that's just absolutely untrue."
When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a "complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States, Montoya said it affected his agents' ability to work with Muslim communities. "Sure it does. First of all, it scares those communities. They wonder what's gonna happen next."
Montoya does not normally discuss policy, but when asked if the Trump proposal is a good idea. "Absolutely not, absolutely not. This is the home of the brave and the land of the free, right? And the vast majority of these individuals, they're coming here to escape a worse place. It just creates more fear in our own population about so-called outsiders, so called foreigners. Really, we're a nation of foreigners."
It's not just foreign threats on the FBI's radar. "Another individual on the domestic terrorism side of things, so not necessarily internationally terrorist in nature, but Schuyler Barbeau, someone that you're familiar with," said Montoya."
Earlier this year, KIRO 7's Dave Wagner spoke with Barbeau who is being held on weapons charges in the federal prison at SeaTac. Barbeau is a former Army demolitions expert and was a bodyguard for Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Barbeau admits to threatening law-enforcement, but maintains he is no danger to the the public.
"Not to the public. Only to those who wish to do harm. The only people I'm a threat to are people who have evil intents, you know, bad guys if you want to call them that. I consider myself to be a protector of people, like a sheepdog against the wolves," said Barbeau.
Barbeau once called Timothy McVeigh, "my hero." In a recent letter to Wagner, Barbeau said that statement was only for "shock and awe."
Montoya isn't taking any chances. He investigated the Oklahoma City bombing. "One of our biggest challenges is that this is a free country and the First Amendment protects a lot of written and spoken behaviors and rightly so. Absolutely rightly so. But it sometimes makes it difficult for us to be able to draw that line,"
Barbeau is part of the Patriot Movement and frequently quotes the Constitution. In his letter to Wagner, Barbeau writes "the war is inevitable." Montoya responded, "they are distorting the Constitution and yes, they can be a threat to this country."
As Montoya says goodbye to the FBI, he's hoping for a better night's sleep and calm waters for the people on Puget Sound.
"I don't want to alarm the community when there's no sense in alarming them. It's also one of those things that could explode tomorrow, and I mean that literally as well as figuratively, and I don't know if we can prevent that from happening."
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