Kessler on priorities, painstaking investigative work

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 12, 2001
Television and movies often portray the work of the FBI as more glamour than reality, according to a veteran agent of 29 years.
James E. Kessler Jr., special agent in charge of the Jackson Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said making arrests may seem exciting, but follows hundreds of hours of leg work and fact-gathering.
Personal pain
In an editorial board interview with The Meridian Star, Kessler discussed his career, today's FBI's priorities, and the personal pain felt when an agent turns into a mole for a foreign county.
While he declined to offer specifics, Kessler said the FBI worked on the Comcast case in Meridian, a case now scheduled for trial on March 26.
Public trust
Many of the cases investigated by the FBI involve violations by people in elected or appointed political positions.
Kessler noted that this office had recently completed its case of corruption in the Jackson Police Department. In one instance, an officer was actually escorting drug dealers through town while on duty  at least the officer thought so.
Broad base
The Mississippi office of the FBI is one of 56 field offices across the nation, with the national headquarters located in Washington, D.C. Kessler has 70 agents working across Mississippi in 10 satellite offices, including two agents in the Meridian office.
It's the job of the FBI to gather the facts, build a case and then make the arrest, said Kessler. Once it gets to court, he said the U.S. Attorney's office takes over.
Plea bargains and special deals which allow people to get off on lesser charges provided they testify against others are decisions left up to prosecutors, he said.
Focus on individuals
He added that an FBI's investigation usually focuses on the illegal activities of individuals, not groups. For example, the FBI may not be looking at the overall activities of a militant group or perhaps the Ku Klux Klan, but will focus on crimes that individuals who are members of these groups might commit.
Kessler noted that KKK activities of the 1960s led to the opening of the FBI's office in Mississippi. Before that, investigations were centered out of New Orleans.
Drug violations also take up a great deal of the FBI's time.
Kessler said that in almost every FBI investigation, illegal drugs are somehow involved.
Very angry'
In Kessler's mind, the arrest of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen on charges of spying for the Russians was most upsetting.
Kessler has been in the FBI since April 10, 1972. Originally from West Virginia, he graduated from Marshall University with a degree in accounting and is a CPA and a public accountant. He has worked in offices all over the country.
Then in 1998 when the Brady Bill became law and the instant background checks were need before someone could buy a gun, it was his job to set up the center that did this work.
In 1999, he received an Excellence In Management Award from the U.S. Attorney General for his work. He then received his assignment to direct the Mississippi Field Office.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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