VDOT hosts FBI seminar

Published 8:48 pm Saturday, September 8, 2012

Secret wiretaps, national security, weapons of mass destruction and public corruption all were topics of discussion at an FBI seminar in Suffolk Friday.

It was the first seminar the bureau has held in Suffolk as part of its Aware.Prepare.Prevent campaign. Held at the Virginia Department of Transportation location at 1700 N. Main St., it originally was intended for VDOT employees but was opened to the public, because there were extra seats available.

“This was created to provide awareness to the public about existing threats,” said Vanessa Torres, community outreach and media specialist for the Norfolk FBI division.

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A VDOT employee who is an alumnus of the FBI’s citizens’ academy requested the seminar and selected the topics, Torres added.

Chief Division Counsel Phil Mann briefed the participants before the lunch break on the effects of the Patriot Act and foreign surveillance.

He included the difference between a criminal wiretap and a wiretap of a suspect terrorist under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The difference is that a FISA wiretap follows a person from phone to phone, for example if they frequently switch phones to thwart a wiretap, while a criminal wiretap is attached to a particular location, like a suspect’s house.

Mann also focused on dispelling popular notions of the FBI, such as that it monitors library activity.

“When you go to the library and check out things, the FBI is really not interested,” he said, adding that the rumor mostly got started because of a newspaper article in another state about the FBI seeking records on one particular library computer a criminal had been using. The story was later retracted, he said.

The Patriot Act also has made it easier for agencies to share information.

“There were legal concerns that made it difficult to share information,” he said. “The Patriot Act has made it easier to overcome those hurdles.”

Torres said the FBI wants to continue having seminars in Suffolk. Groups wishing to host a speaker from the FBI should call Torres at 455-2595 or email vanessa.torres@ic.fbi.gov.