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FBI agents in Abu Dhabi help fight cross-border crime

Gary Price and Ernest Herbert carry FBI badges, but their job descriptions are significantly different here than in the US.

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Gary Price (left) and Ernest Herbert, two local FBI agents.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Gary Price and Ernest Herbert carry FBI badges, but their job descriptions are significantly different here than in the US.

"I have no law enforcement authority here," Special Agent Price said.

Instead, the duo are go-betweens for local and US law enforcement. He said, "We work closely with UAE government officials to share information that protects the two countries."

They also offer training at the request of local authorities. The training involves many aspects of law enforcement, including ways to combat white-collar crime, violent crime, forensics and counter-terrorism.

In addition, the agents coordinate the Middle East Law Enforcement Training Centre in Dubai, which offers week-long courses for law enforcement personnel from around the Gulf.

Local authorities

Local authorities choose the topics and dates, and FBI specialists come from the US to teach the courses.

Since its establishment in 2001, the centre, co-sponsored by the FBI and Dubai police, has conducted about 40 courses dealing with money laundering, computer crimes, intellectual property rights, kidnapping, auto theft, homicide, financial institution fraud, terrorist financing, hostage negotiations and more.

The globalisation of crime, especially financial and internet crime, places the agents in a pivotal position.

"The UAE is an important crossroads for business and, as a result, also for crime," Price said of the potential for fraud or abuse in the banking system. With the help of local officials, they routinely seek to investigate bank records and track financial transactions linked to the US.

When internet crime is traced back to the US, the agents are also able to help. Just months ago, a prominent UAE citizen received a cyber threat from a location in the US.

Local law enforcement officials contacted Price and Herbert, who enlisted agents in the US to conduct an investigation. The man was arrested, charged and is now facing imprisonment.

About working with local authorities, Price said: "I truly enjoy working with the Emiratis. They are professional and very gracious."

There are, however, obstacles. According to Price, a federal law that regulates "international judicial cooperation" is often misinterpreted to be a roadblock to investigations. "There is not a timely, quick way for law enforcement response because of the bureaucratic process," he said.

Law enforcement mechanisms do not always translate across cultures and borders, Herbert said in a similar vein. "Things are run differently here than in the US, so we have to do things differently."

When FBI agents are on international assignment, they assume the title of Legal Attaché in their respective embassies.

Price and Herbert are successors to three other agents since the Abu Dhabi office opened in December 2003. They cover both the UAE and Oman. In the region, the FBI also has agents posted in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

During his tenure, former FBI director Louis Freeh pushed to expand the bureau's international presence. It now has offices in 62 countries.

This worldwide network of agents is a necessary countermeasure against the growing nexus of international crime. "Just as there are no borders for crime and terrorism, there can be no borders for justice and the rule of law," current director Robert Mueller told the US Senate in March.

Progress

"Twenty years ago, the idea of regularly communicating with our law enforcement counterparts around the world was as foreign as the internet or the mobile phone. Today, advances in technology, travel and communication have broken down walls between countries, continents and individuals," Mueller added. Price and Herbert embody this prog-ress.

Mueller became the dir-ector one week prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The FBI began as a special agent force in 1908 and received its current title in 1935. Since its genesis, the FBI has seen its share of success and failure.

Though it has successfully foiled numerous plots, conspiracies and espionage attempts, it has been criticised for shoddy investigation tactics and ignoring intelligence reports that could have prevented past attacks. Regardless, it has survived a century of challenges.

The writer is a journalist based in Abu Dhabi.

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