FBI Special Agent Eric Jergenson (CJ, MS '95) credits the professors and staff in the HBSSW Criminal Justice Department for his extraordinary achievements in international counter-terrorism. "What they passed along to me was invaluable in terms of future success," says the Oshkosh, WI, native.
Jergenson (seen on right in the photo), who works international counter-terrorism in the FBI's Denver office, played a significant role in thwarting a 2009 al Qaeda suicide bombing attempt that U.S. Attorney General Erik Holder referred to as "one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11, 2001." The case continues to generate interest, as it was the first known instance of core al Qaeda operators plotting within the United States since 9/11. It is often cited in the current debate over domestic intelligence gathering.
For his work preserving the safety of the nation and its citizens, Jergenson received a 2010 Attorney General's Award for Exceptional Service from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The plot centered on three al Qaeda operatives who planned to blow themselves up in the New York City subway system during rush hour around the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the twin towers. One of the men, Najibullah Zazi, 24, was living in an apartment in Aurora, Colorado, near the Denver airport, and working as an airport shuttle driver. On September 10, 2009, Zazi rented a Chevy Impala, packed a suitcase with homemade explosives and drove 1,100 miles to New York City.
Meanwhile, Denver and New York FBI personnel quickly and accurately put together the players, the plot, and the target of Zazi's unpredictable activities and prevented the attack.
Back at the FBI's Denver headquarters, Jergenson came to know Zazi better than anyone else on the bureau, as he interviewed Zazi for 20 hours, extracting information that the FBI deemed highly valuable. "Everyone should know that al Qaeda operatives are here in the U.S. and they blend in," Jergenson says. "Without the very, very hard work by many people, the attack would have occurred and it would have been devastating." In addition to deaths and injuries, the attack would have delivered a severe blow to the U.S. economy, on outcome which al Qaeda has historically sought, he adds.
"I wouldn't be here today had it not been for Stan Stojkovic, Rick Lovell and the program," Jergenson says. "With a career in the FBI or any local, state or federal law-enforcement position, you can truly make a difference."
Photo by Chris Schneider