Top FBI Agent in Milwaukee Under Investigation
We spoke to Teresa Carlson late last year about life as a federal agent.
Teresa Carlson, the special agent in charge of the Milwaukee division of the FBI, has been transferred to a temporary assignment in Washington D.C. as she's under investigation for attempting to influence the testimony of an agent under her command. The agent was to testify in the lawsuit of a military veteran who had lost his hand in a training accident and who was fighting to go to work as a "G-Man" anyway.
We talked to Carlson last year in her office about her work in the white collar crimes unit in Chicago and later in counter-terrorism. Read the original Q&A here or some outtakes from the full transcript, below.
On the start of her career in the FBI ...
I was a new agent in Chicago, I started my career working violent crimes. I did that for a year, and then I moved over to where I wanted to be, which was
working in public corruption. The public corruption squad in Chicago has a lot
of history. There has been a series of major public corruption cases [coming out of the unit] for the
last 30 years, and that was the squad I really wanted to be on. And that’s how I ended up getting there. They
had this big undercover case, Silver Shovel, and they wanted to do a legislative,
undercover component. And because I had the experience working in a state
legislature, that’s how I was able to get onto the squad.
On investigating a major corporate fraud case ...
I was a supervisor in Birmingham, Ala., when the corporate fraud crisis hit,
we had the HealthSouth corporate fraud case, which was the first CEO ever indicted under the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation. That was a big, big deal,
and particularly for that to come from a small office like Birmingham. Usually,
those major cases you would see in New York, San Francisco, Chicago. To this
day, it’s still a really big deal to have a case of that magnitude made by a
small southern office.
On the Sikh Temple shooting ...
spent four-plus years in New York, and New York is used to dealing with a
crisis. A command post goes up very quickly. But in a state like Wisconsin, which is a relatively safe, low threat
state, a mass casualty, active shooter situation was a
really big deal. We had 30 different departments that showed up that day. We had twenty-seven local departments plus the state, the ATF, and the FBI, so trying to
organize [them] and setup an
effective command post was a tough thing. It’s never pleasant to show
up at a scene where you have mass casualties, and it’s particularly disturbing
when it’s a place of worship.
Michael Page wasn’t from here. He traveled around a lot. [We had] to make
sure we could get to all of his contacts and make sure there wasn’t somebody else
out there that associated with one of these white supremacist groups that’s
looking to do another attack, or that was responsible for [Oak Creek] attack. It’s so key in those first 24 to 72 hours to make sure there’s not somebody
else out there who’s planning a like attack somewhere else. We worked 12 hours
on, 12 off for the first week until we were sure there was nobody else out
On the FBI's role, post-9/11 ...
We've had to focus more on being threat-driven. We've hired a lot of intelligence
analysts. We have more language capabilities. We have a greater outreach
internationally. We've beefed up our capabilities overseas. We've opened up
what we call Legat offices, which are legal attaches all over the world. We
have to figure out what the threat is before it reaches the United States, so
we have to work in the international world. We've had to improve our
relationships with the CIA and other members of the national intelligence
community, so we share information more readily. If you look at our history, we
were started for white collar [crime], and for a while we had the Capone and the gangster
era. We put that to bed, and we had the Cosa Nostra organized crime era. We
had the drugs and gangs era. We had the corporate fraud stuff, and in the last
10 years, international terrorism has really been the big focus.
On the role of counter-terrorism in Milwaukee and Wisconsin ...
may not have the same types of target or vulnerabilities. There may not be something
in Milwaukee [terrorists are] targeting in the same way they targeted the World Trade
Center or the Pentagon or something like that. We don’t have the Pentagon here,
but we still have to be vigilant, and in the last couple years, we've found
that people are moving into quieter areas. Somebody might not be planning to
attack something in Wisconsin, but they might be living and planning their
attack here. Maybe they’re going to attack somebody in Chicago, so they’re
going to live here and plan here in Wisconsin.
On the FBI and the Milwaukee division's preference for remaining low-profile, when possible ...
we are very quiet. We tend to work hard and quiet and let our work stand for
ourselves, but sometimes if you have a massive crisis, the public needs
information; so we’re sort of forced to be public.
On who makes the ideal FBI candidate ...
one stereotype that is true about us is that we hire Boy Scouts. We want the
people who have good reputations. You have to have a top secret clearance,
which means you've been good. We also like people that are highly motivated,
have a lot of initiative, a lot of flexibility, because you never know when
you’re coming to work where the next big threat is coming from.
On life as an FBI agent ...
at cocktail parties, you’re the most interesting person, unless you live in
D.C. When you’re doing your headquarters tour, which [all agents] have to do, then
you’re not interesting at all because at every cocktail party, it’s, ‘What
branch of the government do you work for?’ And everybody works for the
government, so then you’re just another boring government worker. In most parts
of the country, you have the most interesting job, so everybody’s always like,
‘Oh,’ and they have whatever misconceptions they have, or they don’t really
(photo by Adam Ryan Morris)