By: Mayar Zokaei
When I visited the FBI’s Portland Field Office in Oregon recently to interview Special Agent in Charge Kieran L. Ramsey, he greeted me with a salutation in Persian.
Some would consider a greeting consisting of a few Persian words by a non-Persian speaker to be impressive. However, Mr. Ramsey caught me off guard with not only how much he said, but with his superb delivery. I have rarely heard a non-native Persian speaker communicate so well in our language before.
It is no wonder that when he was named SAC in November of 2020 to succeed Renn Cannon (who retired in early 2021), many community leaders celebrated Mr. Ramsey’s arrival to Oregon. You won’t find too many leaders in federal law enforcement with a more diverse background than Ramsey. He started with the FBI as a special agent in Seattle in 1998, and then moved around to New Hampshire, Egypt (where he was based for 3 years and had regional responsibility for Egypt, Libya and Sudan), Italy, Iraq (when he was director of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, an interagency that sits at FBI Headquarters but is its own task force that works to develop strategies to recover U.S. national hostages held abroad) and FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Oregon is an intensely diverse state, and Mr. Ramsey has been a perfect fit. I was honored to sit down and interview Mr. Ramsey for Javanan Magazine.
Javanan: In one of your first television interviews after you were named SAC of the Portland field office, you stressed that you wanted to address hate crimes. How prevalent are hate crimes in Oregon?
Mr. Ramsey: Nationally, as an organization we know that it is an underreported crime, as some people are too scared to approach law enforcement when it comes to hate crimes. So, we had to raise awareness and encourage reporting. And it’s not just for a particular race, it’s for everyone, all communities. We have had positive impact there, but there is much more that I was concerned with when I got here.
We handle many things here; we have a tiered priority system of what we are supposed to be focused on. The FBI is a national agency, and we look at the country, but here, we are involved in supporting the Portland Police Bureau in trying to curtail the gun violence epidemic in Portland, and when we expand it out to the state level, we’ve had reporting down in Eugene, Bend, Medford, and more.
Another piece is the domestic terrorism aspect, unfortunately, Oregon is still plagued by far, far extreme left and far, far extreme right domestic violent extremists. On one side, anti-government, anti-authority, the other, you have racially and ethnically motivated extremists, the white supremacist violent extremist. In the summer of 2020, this city saw it for 163 nights, there was lawful 1st amended protected activity, but then you had efforts to burn down our courthouses as well.
We have really tried to make sure we are as postured and ready as we can be, looking at the intel picture, and when we can offer assistance to the local law enforcement, we do.
We have cybercrime issues as well. Some private companies, small businesses, we make sure to let them know that they should have encrypted their most sensitive data, have online copies, incident response plans… the community that reads your magazine, there are a ton of small business owners, they can easily be victimized via a fraud scheme in the cyber realm or perhaps they could be victim of ransomware, as we have criminal hacking groups. We have the Internet Crimes Complaint Center,
ic3.gov, and we encourage reporting of cybercrimes.
You greeted us with a welcome message unlike any other I have heard. I don’t want to tease our mutual friend Voviette Morgan (Assistant Director of the FBI), but you got her there! Our community in Oregon is comprised of very affluent and successful business leaders. How can they get involved with the FBI? How familiar are you with the Iranian community on a national level and local level?
Well, thank you. I speak other languages, and I feel like it’s good to know pleasantries for people from communities I am meeting or trying to get familiar with. I am familiar with the Iranian community nationally, but locally, it’s a community that I should be more familiar with, and that’s why we agreed to do this interview. I am constantly out there trying to make sure we meet all of the different segments of this community. I look at all of us as a big shared community, that’s why I say segment. Your readership probably goes to the same stores I go to, same parks and movie theatres… we are all a part of the same fabric.
I would love to meet more folks from your community to make sure we are engaged and to make sure people have a familiarity with the FBI. We have lots of programs to engage the community, we have a Citizens Academy every year, and I would love for someone to see this and be someone new who we haven’t engaged with and come join and see that it’s a peek behind the curtain. What we have with the Citizens Academy, the community can see what we are doing, how we are doing it and why we are doing it.
That community outreach aspect, including our Teen Academy, our alumni associations where they can stay involved… there are any number of community organizations that we need to engage with, and pointing them to the ways they can get involved, how they can come together and help us find solutions, is an important first step.
Would you be open to the possibility of speaking to Iranian community leaders here in the greater Portland area?
I would love nothing more than going to meet a new group or new community members that I haven’t met before so that they can get to know the FBI. It’s a still a challenge in this day and age to make sure people appreciate what we do and why do it. Everything we are doing is for the benefit of community safety, for national security.
Getting young people interested in public service, that has dissipated since 9/11, we want to get more young people in here, especially from a diversity perspective, from communities like yours. We have so many different roles, professional staff, intelligence analysts, language analysts, when we have recruiting events, people are surprised to learn about all of the different job roles. You may not have a badge and a gun, but you are contributing as much as anybody else when you work in the FBI.
What other messages do you for the Iranian community nationally, and maybe specifically, in Oregon?
My hope is that through this effort, they see us, we see them, and we have that engagement. There are so many things that I know could affect the Iranian communitt, that might be of interest to the FBI in helping to protect them, helping secure their business, and even just protecting their community members on the streets. We want to help enhance your segment of the community and we want that engagement in a real, substantive way. My hope is that, again, if someone is reading this, and thinking that they haven’t really heard of the FBI in Oregon, or wherever they are, they can see that there are a lot of different ways to engage with us.
When we do these interviews, our objectives and motives at Javanan Magazine are to show the humanity of those people like yourself who work with the FBI and other law enforcement, that you and your colleagues are just like everyone else. I showed my wife a photo of you before our interview, and she commented that you’re so young. She, like many, has a misconception that every person who works in your position is someone older, near retirement age, who fights crime all day. They don’t know that in many ways, you’re just like the community you serve, that maybe you like sports, or some of the same things all of us enjoy.
Well, to some of the people here, I am the old guy! We have some here who weren’t even born when I started working here. But yes, I am a big sports fan, my family has adopted the Portland Timbers, we were watching the playoffs last season, and we are big international soccer fans.
We are diehard Roma fans, as I spent some time working in Italy, and of course, we are Barcelona and Arsenal fans. We at the FBI are just like other members of our community.
Tell us about your family.
When I worked in Seattle, I was dispatched to New York a week after 9/11 for some work. I came back and told my wife that we had to have kids. I did the same thing after working in Iraq. I told her we really needed to start a family. That time, she relented. I said that I had seen the absolute worst when humanity goes wrong, and that we needed to counter that with raising good humans. That is why we started a family.
Your diverse background and experience make you one of the best in your field. Do you see the FBI as the last stop in your career?
Probably, but I am very honest with my team here, I have no idea what’s next for me. I have always been about timing and opportunity. If you had told me 20 years ago, I was going to live in Egypt or Italy for 3 years, I would’ve said you’re out of your mind. Or if you had told me that I would be a part of this major event in world history, or that major event, I would have said that would never have happened. But all of this experience, has just been humbling.
Your readers are encouraged to contact us at the FBI either online via tips.fbi.gov or ic3.gov, or call our national or local telephone lines. We have people in the FBI who can help anyone who speaks almost any language. ****
Mr. Ramsey is a graduate of Northeastern University (Boston), where he met his wife. He also holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University (Washington DC). Mr. Ramsey gives much of the credit for his long and accomplished career to his wife, who knew what Ramsey’s aspirations were early on in their relationship and implored him to pursue what he wanted to do, but to make sure it was an adventure. The couple has 2 children. He has been on the job for 20 months as SAC in Portland and in 2023 will celebrate 25 years of service to the FBI.
Special thanks to the Kathryn D. Ballew (FBI Office of Public Affairs) Katherine Zackel (Public Affairs Officer, FBI San Francisco) and Dixon Land (FBI Public Affairs Specialist) for facilitating this interview.
Photos by: Micah Goldstein
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