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FBI agent sees posting as highlight of career Robertson in charge of FBI's Buffalo office

James H. Robertson's career as a crime buster has put him up against mobsters, crooked cops and one of the most brutal dictators in the world. And he is a crack shot, too.
Now, the 51-year-old agent heads all FBI operations in Western New York, as the latest special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI office.

Since joining the FBI in 1989, he has:

* Worked in a task force with the Chicago police, investigating a Chicago Mafia group known as "The Outfit."

* Cracked down on mobsters and bribe-taking cops in Grand Rapids, Mich.

* Traveled to Iraq to help coordinate the huge investigation that led to the conviction of former dictator Saddam Hussein for crimes against humanity, and his hanging in late 2006.

* Served as the primary sniper in a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team in Chicago. Thankfully, he said, he never had to shoot anyone.

In the Buffalo office, Roberston says, counterterrorism, cracking down on city street gangs and investigating government corruption are the agency's top priorities.

Robertson said he first thought about becoming an FBI agent when he was a kid and his grandparents bought him a book called "The Story of the FBI."

"I grew up in Detroit, and my dad was a Detroit firefighter, and he always pushed the idea of going into public service," Robertson said. "That book fascinated me. I've always been interested in the fight between good and evil."

Robertson, a Marine Corps veteran who still carries himself like a military man, arrived here Aug. 24 to replace Laurie Bennett, who received a promotion to FBI Headquarters in Washington.

After working at FBI offices in Chicago; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Baghdad; and Cincinnati, his most recent assignment was as a section chief of the FBI counterterrorism section in Washington. Every day for 20 months, he oversaw FBI counterterrorism investigations all over the world.

One of the cases he watched closely was the attempt of the U.S. government to persuade Yemen's government to turn over Jaber Elbaneh, a former Lackawanna man who faces charges here as one of the alleged recruiters of the "Lackawanna Six."

The FBI lists Elbaneh, 43, as one of the world's 24 most-wanted terrorism suspects. Elbaneh is believed to be in his home country of Yemen, and Robertson said he has doubts as to whether Yemen's government will ever turn him over to American authorities.

"He'll never return here without the help of the Yemen government, and that is tenuous at best," Robertson said. "Yemen wants to be cooperative, but their government is very unstable, and some of their citizens will be angry with them if they help the American government too much."

Robertson worked closely with the military when he spent six months in 2005-2006 as the FBI counterterrorism division's on-scene commander in Iraq.

He describes Hussein as a sadistic, power-mad dictator whose worst crimes against humanity may never be known to the public.

"The case that he was convicted on, and was hanged for, was one of about eight cases we were preparing against him," Robertson said. "That one case only scratched the surface of his brutality."

He has spent his first three weeks in Buffalo meeting with his staff and others in the region's law enforcement community.

Robertson said he is still getting to know the lay of the land, and he declined to comment on any of the FBI's ongoing investigations, including the probe into City Hall involvement in the Sunset One restaurant loan deal.

Robertson said he is concerned about inner-city gang violence in Buffalo and Niagara Falls and will work closely with local police agencies to provide FBI help.

Robertson and his wife, Laurie, also a Detroit native, have two daughters.

"Getting this assignment and coming to Buffalo is the highlight of my career," Robertson said.

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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