U.S. Senator Herb Kohl made the case to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller III today for the need to keep a robust local FBI presence in Wisconsin. The FBI proposes closing three of Wisconsin's six Resident Agency offices (RAs) in Kenosha, Wausau and La Crosse. Kohl has voiced concern that if these closures go through, the Western District of Wisconsin will lose half of its FBI offices, with agents in Eau Claire and Madison responsible for more than half of the state. Kohl raised his objections with Director Mueller during a December 14, 2011 hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee; Director Mueller indicated that he would welcome additional information from Senator Kohl before finalizing the FBI's plans.
"Agents in these local RAs are the eyes and ears for the FBI in their jurisdictions. And, as we know, rural areas are not immune from threats that the FBI is most focused on, such as terrorism and other serious criminal enterprises. If these closures occur, hundreds of additional miles will separate the remaining RAs and the communities they must serve," Kohl wrote in a letter to Director Mueller.
Kohl reiterated his opposition to the proposed closures because the geographic distance "will be so great as to limit the FBI's ability to respond to top priority issues including terrorism threats and threats to critical infrastructure, drug trafficking, gang violence, and financial fraud. "
Kohl noted that agents in Wausau can drive to the northernmost central counties and the Lake Superior border with Canada in nearly half the time it would take agents from the next closest RAs in Eau Claire and Green Bay. The FBI has suggested that the Eau Claire RA could cover the La Crosse RA's jurisdiction. However, it takes nearly two hours to drive the 90 miles from Eau Claire to La Crosse under ideal weather conditions. These trips will only be made more difficult, and may at times be impossible, during the winter months. Furthermore, at least doubling the amount of territory for which a single RA is responsible may place an undue burden on that RA, especially when coupled with the risk of severing valuable community ties.
"This distance will sever the well-established partnerships with local law enforcement and the relationships with Wisconsin's tribal nations that the Department of Justice and FBI have long made an effort to nurture, and leave large parts of Wisconsin underserved by the FBI," Kohl continued.
Kohl also raised his concerns with Attorney General Eric Holder during the Senate Judiciary Committee's Department of Justice oversight hearing last December. Kohl is second in seniority among Democrats on the Judiciary Committee.
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The complete text of Kohl's letter is below:
February 1, 2012
The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535
Dear Director Mueller,
I am writing to ask you to reconsider the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) proposal to close three of Wisconsin's six Resident Agency offices (RAs), in Kenosha, La Crosse, and Wausau, as part of its "Strategic Placement of Facilities Initiative". As we discussed last month at the Judiciary Committee's FBI oversight hearing, I strongly object to these closures and ask that you modify the proposal to ensure that they do not have a negative impact on Wisconsin. At the hearing, you said that you would consider additional information and review the decision. Based on reports from local and federal law enforcement officials in Wisconsin, I have detailed specific information to supplement my November 10, 2011 letter to you. I look forward to continuing our dialogue and working with you to modify the proposal.
As I explained in my November letter, I oppose these closures because the geographic distance between the remaining RAs and the communities they serve will be so great as to limit the FBI's ability to respond to top priority issues including terrorism threats and threats to critical infrastructure, drug trafficking, gang violence, and financial fraud. This distance will sever the well-established partnerships with local law enforcement and the relationships with Wisconsin's tribal nations that the Department of Justice and FBI have long made an effort to nurture, and leave large parts of Wisconsin underserved by the FBI.
Agents in these local RAs are the eyes and ears for the FBI in their jurisdictions. And, as we know, rural areas are not immune from threats that the FBI is most focused on, such as terrorism and other serious criminal enterprises. If these closures occur, hundreds of additional miles will separate the remaining RAs and the communities they must serve. For example, agents in Wausau can drive to the northernmost central counties and the Lake Superior border with Canada in nearly half the time it would take agents from the next closest RAs in Eau Claire and Green Bay. Your office has suggested that the Eau Claire RA could cover the La Crosse RA's jurisdiction. However, it takes nearly two hours to drive the 90 miles from Eau Claire to La Crosse under ideal weather conditions. These trips will only be made more difficult, and may at times be impossible, during the winter months. Furthermore, at least doubling the amount of territory for which a single RA is responsible may place an undue burden on that RA, especially when coupled with the risk of severing valuable community ties.
Over your nearly 11 years as Director of the FBI, you have emphasized the importance of the FBI working closely with its state and local law enforcement partners as well as community groups and businesses. The agents working in the RAs slated for closure have developed close working relationships with these groups. If displaced, the agents would be unable to maintain these close working relationships by virtue of geographic proximity. As you know, agents in local RAs are critical partners with local law enforcement, leveraging resources to combat terrorism and other serious crimes that are in the FBI's interest to investigate. In addition, the Department of Justice has made strengthening law enforcement relationships with tribal nations a special priority and local RAs in Wisconsin have played an important role in those efforts.
While the FBI has reoriented its priorities since September 11th, 2001 to have a much greater focus on terrorism, we all know that terrorists know no boundaries and that they will seek out and exploit gaps in our law enforcement capabilities. Terrorist organizations have taken to the Internet to encourage individuals in U.S. cities large and small to radicalize and carry out attacks in their hometowns. You have also said that unaffiliated "lone wolf" extremists pose an equally serious threat. As we have seen, from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to the shootings at Fort Hood, rural areas can be precisely the places terrorists seek to plan and carry out attacks. While the RAs slated for closure cover rural areas, the agents in those RAs are on the ground and in the community, and most likely to be the first line of defense to prevent and respond to these threats.
The FBI plays an important role in protecting our critical infrastructure from terrorism and other threats. Many businesses and military installations that are critical to our state's and our nation's infrastructure security are located near the RAs proposed for closure. For example, Trane Incorporated has a plant in La Crosse that designs and manufactures cooling technology with nuclear and military applications. Dairyland Power, a decommissioned nuclear power plant just outside of the city, stores spent nuclear fuel rods. Three bridges span the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Minnesota, and a system of seven locks and dams control the river's flow. Fort McCoy, Wisconsin's largest military installation, is located less than 40 miles from La Crosse. The next closest RA in Eau Claire is 90 miles away. Volk Field Air National Guard Base is located less than 60 miles from La Crosse and would be 90 miles from the next closest RA in Madison. Local law enforcement and community members know to alert the RA when threats to infrastructure arise and the La Crosse agents can respond quickly. If these closures occur, the remaining RAs, if even alerted to a threat in the area currently covered by La Crosse, would have significantly longer response times.
As you have acknowledged in Congressional testimony, rural areas and small to mid-sized cities are not immune to serious crimes that fall under the FBI's purview, such as drug trafficking, gang violence and financial fraud. While drug trafficking has always been a pervasive problem in southeastern Wisconsin, law enforcement agencies in rural areas of the state are increasingly finding large trafficking operations in rural areas to evade authorities. You have also testified that gangs are "no longer limited to urban areas, but have migrated to more rural settings." New gangs have recently infiltrated the streets of La Crosse, for instance, bringing illegal drugs such as methamphetamines from larger cities. Financial fraud can occur anywhere - a $2.5 million dollar Ponzi scheme was recently uncovered with victims spread across rural Wisconsin and Minnesota. The people who live in less populous parts of Wisconsin have a right to expect the FBI to investigate these serious crimes in their communities.
Over the past three years this Administration has made it a priority to strengthen relationships with tribal nations, particularly in the area of public safety. When President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act in 2010, he said, "I intend to send a clear message that all of our people, whether they live in our biggest cities or our most remote reservations, have the right to feel safe in their community and to raise their children in peace and enjoy the fullest protection of our laws." Serious crimes on tribal lands are prosecuted primarily by federal law enforcement and therefore as the primary federal law enforcement authority in Indian Country, the FBI must maintain a strong presence. The proposed closures would prevent the Menominee Safe Trails Task Force, based in Green Bay, from effectively combating the rise of gangs, drugs and violent crime in tribal lands. Agents from the Wausau and La Crosse RAs often conduct investigations on behalf of the task force due to their proximity to tribal nations. If agents from other RAs cannot reach those nations as quickly or as often, fewer crimes will be investigated and fewer perpetrators will be brought to justice. The nations' trust in federal law enforcement will suffer as a result.
Closing the Wausau RA will seriously impair the relationships that have been established by this office and the two tribal nations within its jurisdiction. The Lac du Flambeau Nation is located 80 miles from the Wausau RA, but is 175 miles from the next closest RA in Green Bay. The Bad River Nation is located 150 miles from the Wausau RA, while it is 240 miles from the next closest RA in Green Bay. The Administration has made clear that combating violent crime in tribal communities and holding perpetrators accountable is a priority, but federal law enforcement remaining in Eau Claire and Green Bay will not be as effective if they are located so far away.
Further, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) specifically called on the FBI and other agencies to "enhance coordination of intelligence and law enforcement resources with tribal agencies" in its recently released National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy. According to ONDCP, criminals seek out tribal lands to traffic illegal drugs across the northern border because tribes often lack the law enforcement resources to go after them. There are two Wisconsin tribal nations on Lake Superior near the border, and the closest RA is in Wausau. The ONDCP's requirement that the FBI effectively serve the public safety needs of tribal communities will be difficult to achieve if the Wausau RA closes and the remaining RAs must travel great distances to reach the tribal lands.
I understand that the FBI plans to maintain the number of agents in Wisconsin and will move agents from La Crosse and Wausau to Eau Claire in order to continue to cover the La Crosse and Wausau RA territories. However, these assurances do not assuage the serious concerns raised in this letter about the ability of these agents to quickly respond to threats in both rural and more populated areas in Wisconsin. Moreover, these distances will inhibit the ability of the FBI to develop and maintain the close ties with local law enforcement and the community necessary to maintain the utmost vigilance in protecting the people, Native American tribes, and critical infrastructure in this large geographic area.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Again, I look forward to working with you to modify the FBI's proposal to ensure that our federal law enforcement officers have the tools they need to keep the people of Wisconsin safe.
United States Senator