Monday, February 22, 2010


Part I—Gang Investigations

Interview: Brian Parry
Consultant, FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center

My friend Brian Parry is currently a consultant  with the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center in Washington D.C.; and serves on the Executive Leadership Counsel—National Major Gang Task Force, providing direction and assistance to informational gang task forces representing fifty states, Canada and Puerto Rico.  Brian retired as Assistant Director of the California Department of Corrections in 2002, after thirty years of service. During his tenure at CDC, he supervised over one hundred staff members in eight field office and gang investigators in thirty-three prisons. These special agents handled investigations of parole violators, gang members, narcotics trafficking and apprehended fugitives. In addition, these agents conducted threat assessments, investigated officer-involved shootings, provided executive protection, and staffed the department’s criminal intelligence unit. Brian worked his way up the ranks of CDC, starting as a parole agent on the streets of Southern California. He brings a lifetime of experience to bear upon criminal prison gang investigations.

Gang violence has been the staple of many television shows, movies and novels over the years. One has only to pick up today’s newspaper or click on today’s news show to see some form of gang activity surfacing in our cities. Killings, robberies, drug rips. As a nation, we’ve almost grown to accept this gang epidemic as the cost of living here—unless you happen to live in one of the neighborhoods plagued by these thugs, become a victim of their violence, or become one of those on the thin blue line trying to protect us from them.

This will be the first of a two-part interview. Today we will focus on the challenges faced by law enforcement on the national and international level pertaining to prison gangs and criminal street gangs, and the transmigration of these organizations across our national borders. Since the early 1990s, when law enforcement began ejecting known gang members  illegally in the U.S. back to their native countries, a crisis began developing which has spread across national borders. These gang members  who acquired their criminal skills on the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York learned to cross national borders with their expertise and language skill. They are returning in growing numbers, bringing their drugs, human trafficking victims, and violence back to our cities.

Part II of this interview will focus on state and regional issues pertaining to prison gangs, and their affect on our communities.

Brian, it is a pleasure to have you visit us here today and provide us with insight into a growing national and international problem—transmigration of criminal gangs between nations. 

Q:  Many of our readers are writers and readers of mystery crime fiction. This fiction, however, is often based upon real life situations within our society, events we read or listen to on the news. With that in mind, what do you see as one of the most pressing issues regarding prison and street gangs on the national level?

PARRY: There are a couple of very pressing issues on the national level. The first one being the increased level of violence by gangs. The violence is fueled by the transportation and selling of drugs. The profits from drug sales is contributing to the increased competition and control of drugs in this country. Gangs and drugs go hand in hand. The second issue is gang migration. A number of prison systems are dominated by gangs from Los Angeles and Chicago. They in turn control street gangs. The third is the street gang imitation of Los Angeles based gangs. The Sureno gangs have proliferated across the country. Most of them are not from Los Angeles but are imitating the LA gangs.

Q: Tell us a about the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC). What is its purpose? Who is involved? What do they hope to achieve?

PARRY: The NGIC is a multi-agency organization designed to support on- going investigative and prosecution efforts of gangs across the country. The NGIC is run by the FBI but consists of nine federal law enforcement agencies including ATF, DEA, US Marshalls, Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Prison, US Army and others. The NGIC has three components: Intelligence, investigative and prosecution. The basic idea behind the forming of the NGIC was to coordinate and support a national effort to reduce violent gang crime by sharing gang intelligence and by providing investigative and prosecutorial support to agencies.

Q:  What are NGIC’s day-to-day operations like? If I was writing a novel and trying to capture my protagonist in this organization, what might I want to put down on paper?

PARRY: The NGIC is collecting intelligence on the most violent gangs in the country on a daily basis. This information is shared on a need to know basis. There are intelligence analysts assigned to the most violent gangs in the country. They collect intelligence from a number of sources and distribute the information. There are agents assigned to support and de-conflict active investigations. The lawyers provide additional support.

Q:  In your role as a consultant to the FBI’s NGIC, what do you see as challenges faced by this group in terms of prison and criminal street gangs? Other challenges?

PARRY: The challenges are many. There is an overwhelming amount of information about gangs. This information has to be gathered, analyzed and disseminated in a timely manner. There is no one national data base for prison and street gang information. And there are so many different and incompatible data bases in the country it is difficult to share the information electronically. And of course the fear that some intelligence will not be shared or the dots connected in a timely manner in order to prevent a violent act.

Q:  Can you share some of the successes of NGIC? Specific cases?

PARRY: In general terms the NGIC has supported a number of large, complex investigations of gangs that are considered transnational, meaning they operate in several states and in some foreign countries.

Q:  How did this transmigration-of-gangs problem come to be? Is it a global threat?

PARRY: Gang members started migrating to locate new areas for drug markets. Gangs are a global threat. There are outlaw motorcycle gangs operating across the world. There are several gangs operating in Central and South America. There are Asian gangs involved in drug trafficking and in human trafficking throughout the world with connections in the US.

Q:  Since 9/11, our country’s awareness of terrorist activity—both domestic and international—substantially increased. One can’t help but wonder if these transmigration issues might pose a threat to our country by terrorists using these same connections, same routes, followed by drug traffickers and criminal gang organizations. Do you see this as being a viable threat?

PARRY: Absolutely. Terrorists are aligning themselves with drug organizations who rely heavily on street gangs for their daily operations. We know that terrorist organizations are attempting to radicalize inmates and gang members in U.S. prisons.

Q:  What kind of criminal activities are these transmigration organizations involved  trafficking, weapons, alien smuggling, human trafficking? Other criminal activity?

PARRY:  All of the above.

Q:  Without giving away secrets, Brian, how do these gangs circumvent our nation’s border security?

PARRY:  I cannot discuss this in any detail but the US border is so vast it is almost impossible to secure 100%.

Q:  What kind of role do you play with NGIC? What are your contributions to this organization?

PARRY: I provide the link to the 50 state prison systems. My job is to set up an intelligence network between the NGIC and the 50 state prison systems to exchange gang intelligence. My 30+ years with the California Department of Corrections and my leadership role with the National Major Gang Task Force enabled me to identify the points of contact within the 50 state prison systems and begin an exchange of gang intelligence. I conducted a national survey of the most dominant gangs inside the prisons and compiled a Directory of points of contact and information about the most dominant gangs inside. This will hopefully assist with current and future investigations since so many street gangs are directed by prison gangs and 95% of inmates will be eventually released.

Q:  In a case we will discuss in Part II of this interview—Operation Black Widow—threats started surfacing against some of us working in that task force. I know you are familiar with these circumstances and issues. Along those lines, some of our readers are writers trying to create believable characters—good and bad—as they strive for authenticity in their writing. Our readers, when they pick up a novel, want to read something that rings true, that feels plausible. So, this question is divided between good and bad, between the goods guys and the bad guys. Let’s start with the good guys. What thoughts go through you mind when threats like these start surfacing? How do you and others handle the danger these criminal groups pose?

PARRY: The gangs have for years used threat, fear and intimidation against witnesses and victims in order to dissuade them from testifying in court. The gangs now use those same tactics against law enforcement. I have personally been the target of three confirmed threats to my life and one to my immediate family. In each of these cases a “Threat Assessment” was conducted to determine if the threat was real, the motive behind the threat and the possibility of the threat being perpetrated against me. Threats are not uncommon and are sometimes made to back the officer off or get the officer transferred to another case. Officers have to be very cautious when working. The presence of a threat only heightens the officer’s situational awareness.

Q: Now the bad guys. How plausible is it that these knuckleheads can reach from behind bars and seek revenge? Or cross borders to threaten the good guys? Has this happened before?

PARRY: Many threats are made by gang leaders from prison. And there is no shortage of gang members or wannabees who would want to enhance their individual reputation by attempting to kill a law enforcement officer. Although this hit was not called from prison, several years ago a young Hispanic gang member gunned down a California Highway Patrolman in front of a courthouse and in front of a number of witnesses. After being convicted the gang member admitted he did it to enhance his image with the gangs.

Thank you, Brian. On our next post on gangs, March 8th, we will explore prison gangs in California and Assistant Director Parry's experiences with CDC in facing these emerging threats.

QUESTIONS FOR READERS: What is your opinion on how law enforcement might be able deal more effectively with this growing problem of gangs?


Detective and novelist Mark Mynheir will join us on March 1st. and March 22nd to share two sides of his life with us. Next Monday, Det. Mynheir, a mystery writer with four published novels, will tell us about his latest, The Night Watchman, the story of Ray Quinn, a tough, quick-witted homicide detective. After losing the love of his life in an ambush, Ray struggles to survive his own physical injuries and severe depression until he's thrust into the case of his life. Switching hats, real-life Detective Mynheir will join us two weeks later to tell us about his job as a homicide investigator for the Palm Beach Bay (FL) Police Department and his career in law enforcement.

On March 15, best-selling novelist Brandilyn Collins joins us to discuss her latest novel, Exposure. Brandilyn, known for her trademark Seatbelt Suspense®, again brings her readers to the edge of their seats with another psychological suspense thriller. Kaycee Raye, a syndicated newspaper columnist, believes she is being stalked in her home town of Wilmore, Kentucky. Police appear skeptical as the story unfolds until the lives of several people are threatened. Kaycee must finally learn whether the threats are real or whether she is losing her mind. And, of course, time is running out. Join us as Brandilyn talks about the art of writing.

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