New FBI head Jill Sanborn says terrorism still a concern

Published 9:12 am Monday, June 18, 2018

By Peter Cox

MPR News/90.1 FM

The new head of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI has been on the job just eight weeks — time she’s spent traveling the state and region meeting new agents, meeting with community leaders and planning ways to diversify her office.

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Jill Sanborn comes to Minneapolis after spending the last two years heading all overseas counterterrorism investigation for the FBI. It’s an area of expertise for Sanborn, who joined the FBI in 1998.

Sanborn, who was raised in Montana, began her career in Phoenix, working on bank fraud and hacking cases, but after 9/11 she began working in counterterrorism. Sanborn was part of the Counterterrorism Division’s Fly Team — a mobile team that quickly deploys around the world — in 2006. While in the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, she helped oversee the FBI’s response to the San Bernardino attack.

When asked why she took the Minneapolis job, Sanborn said the office has a “great reputation around the bureau.”

Sanborn is confident the office can handle difficult cases, especially after its work on an ISIS recruitment case that ultimately led to prison sentences for most of the nine young Twin Cities men who were convicted.

“I think this office is probably well equipped because they’ve learned things from the cases in the past,” Sanborn said. “I think the biggest thing this office is probably well equipped with because of those earlier cases is the relationships they’ve built with the community and our state and local partners.”

Sanborn said she didn’t plan for big changes to the office. She said she plans to “bring some of the philosophies that I feel strongly about, which is transparency, collaboration and communication and continue to do those and do those with the folks in this office. My hope is they hold me accountable and I keep doing them and that those around me do the same.”

One area she’s hoping to improve is in diversifying the staff at her office. The Minneapolis Division will hold a diversity agent recruitment event in early August.

The FBI has come under scrutiny from President Trump and others for how it has handled investigations during the 2016 election.

Sanborn said that has been tough for some within the agency.

“I think anytime that you are painted in a negative light in the press it’s difficult,” she said. “But what I can tell you from my experience throughout the bureau, and this field office is no different, is we have a workforce that’s laser-focused on getting ahead of the threat, protecting the communities we serve and when we have victims, it’s really the victims and doing those victims’ justice is what motivates the workforce.”

Sanborn replaces Rick Thornton, who is now the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’ vice president of law enforcement and operations.

“Minneapolis has a great reputation around the bureau of being a great field office,” she said. “I had some interaction with this field office in some of my earlier case agent days, so I already had a really sort of fond experience and a bond I had built. But I’ve always sort of raised my hand to try different things, I’m a big believer in diversity and so one of the things I’ve tried to do to my career is not limit it to one specific geographic region.”