FBI Agent in Charge – Bob Holley on Counterterrorism

By:  Brandon Carter, Intern at Niagara Foundation

On Thursday, May 29th FBI Special Agent in Charge of Chicago Bob Holley paid a visit to the Niagara Foundation for a Global Family event discussing international and domestic terrorism, as well as gang activity in the city of Chicago. Bryan Murphy, an Assistant Special Agent in Charge at the FBI Chicago, accompanied Holley. Some Niagara members were also invited.

The small space created the perfect atmosphere for guests at the roundtable discussion to give an insightful analysis on Holley’s presentation. A native to Indiana, Bob Holley has been no stranger to Chicago. He started work in Chicago in 1995 before moving elsewhere temporarily. There are 56 FBI field offices in the country and Chicago is the fourth largest. Holley is responsible for the northern one third of Illinois and has about 25% of his agents assigned to gang activity, a size paralleling the amount of Chicago police officers involved in the same field.

The discussion was set into motion as Holley described the number one priority to security as counterterrorism. He believes that after the attacks of September 11th, the threat of terrorism has increased. While it was previously believed that the death of Osama Bin Laden would bring a decrease in terrorism, it has created the opposite effect. Bin Laden was a linchpin of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). After his death, the terrorist organizations that were working alongside or under AQAP were flung into disarray, causing them to become smaller and less predictable. AQAP is currently the most significant threat as a terrorist organization, for they have maintained their general structure after the death of Bin Laden. While Holley discussed the threat abroad, he also warned of the threat of homegrown extremists, pointing to Anwar Al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American citizen who the CIA connected to AQAP before he was killed in 2011. Many homegrown terrorists take inspiration from Awlaki’s videos, and these are frequently people who are the most untraveled and stay out of the counterterrorism radar. The domestic terrorists that do travel have frequently gone to Syria in recent times. Civil war has made the country easy to enter, and it is a place where one can be trained to conduct terrorist attacks and then return to the United States. The concern of domestic terrorists going to Syria to train in this manner has been a concern of equal weight in Europe and America.

In response to Holley’s his statements, Robert Pape, expert in suicide terrorism and professor at the University of Chicago, presented the analogy of suicide bombings and lung cancer. Suicide bombings are a lung cancer created by the smoking, which is military occupation. Pape went on to explain how occupation is one of the underlying causes of terrorism. After leaving 10,000-30,000 soldiers in the Arabian Peninsula after the first Gulf War, America upset many of the locals under occupation and inadvertently created a means for Osama Bin Laden to recruit new members for Al Qaeda. A conundrum was thereby presented: How could America effectively combat terrorism without inspiring new radicals? This has also been a conundrum applied to confronting gang activity.

From L to R: Beth Ford of CAPS Chicago, Mevlut "Hilmi" Cinar of Niagara Foundation, Brian Murphy of FBI Chicago, and Sherif Soydan President of Niagara Foundation

From L to R: Beth Ford of Chicago Police, Mevlut “Hilmi” Cinar of Niagara Foundation, Brian Murphy of FBI Chicago, and Sherif Soydan President of Niagara Foundation

Gale Kryzak, dialogue specialist and Niagara member, argued that an old paradigm of control seems to reside in modern efforts against gangs and terrorism, and added that she does not believe this is working. Beth Ford, CAPS Chicago Police Deputy Director, added to this statement with her belief that gang violence and terrorism ultimately come from the same source. She advocated for more grassroots community involvement to ensure that potential gang members or terrorists have the resources to steer them away from violence for the underlying causes to terrorism and gang activity have always been poor access to public resources and a lack of education. While sting operations and arrests have frequently been used to combat both gang violence and terrorism, communities are in need of a new approach.

The issue of preventing homegrown terrorists from radicalizing was also a point at issue made by Holley. Many homegrown domestic terrorists become radicalized through the Internet. Holley explained that radicalization doesn’t always require traveling abroad or even outside of one’s home. It can happen through the computer with the click of a mouse. After being asked by Tom Homburger, a lawyer in Chicago, how can one control the man on the computer, Holley replied “We can’t without changing our constitution” giving credence to the complexity of counter terrorism and important balance of civil liberties and security.

The forum proved to be very in depth and full of rich material from the experienced guests. While the world contains the threat of gang violence and terrorism, one can take solace in knowing individuals who are unafraid to engage the topic in open discussion are approaching the issues carefully.


The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.