Jay S. Tabb, Jr., the FBI’s new Special Agent in Charge in Seattle, has the all qualities you’d expect from a high-ranking federal law enforcement guy: a strong foundation in leadership he credits to his military roots (he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for more than seven years); a bureau career that began in 1997 and saw him working in counterterrorism, critical incident response, violent crime and drug trafficking; honorary recognition for his tenure with the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (including the Medal of Valor and two FBI stars); and a direct, no-nonsense attitude paired with the self-assured confidence of a man who believes very, very firmly that he knows what he’s doing—and feels comfortable doing it.
“I consider myself to be a very trust-oriented leader,” Tabb said at a Tuesday press conference, where members of the Seattle Division leadership team gathered for Tabb’s formal introduction. “I am in favor of decentralized decision-making and centralized authority.”
Sharply dressed in a pinstriped navy suit and subdued red tie, graying hair neatly trimmed and ruddy face closely shaved, Tabb was a perfect portrait of FBI formality as he fielded questions regarding terrorism, immigration, hate crimes, the heroin epidemic and child exploitation (to name a few).
Tabb joined the Seattle Division in September, and in his short time here said he was most surprised by the number of child exploitation-related crimes—“child pornography, juvenile prostitution, etc. I had no idea the volume that we had here.”
He admitted he didn’t know why the area is such a hot spot for those particular crimes and wouldn’t comment on the specific volume of cases the FBI is currently investigating, but he did mention the number of leads the FBI receives on those violations “is not decreasing.”
When asked about hate crimes reportedly on the rise in Seattle following the election, Tabb claimed the FBI hadn’t seen a spike here. “I think there is mostly a slight uptick in hate crime reporting nationwide,” he said. “We take the allegations very, very seriously, but remember there is a difference between somebody’s hate rhetoric and somebody actually committing a federal crime.”
In between fielding questions about dark subjects, Tabb revealed a good sense of humor, calling on it frequently and especially when responding to questions about President Elect Trump, though he kept his remarks brief, saying the Trump Administration should “not really” have an effect or impact on the FBI’s ability to do its job but that it’d be premature for him to comment on what would happen to the "sanctuary" of Seattle if D.C. decided to force inquiries about any and all persons’ immigration status.
He seemed to get uncomfortable when the questioning turned to white supremacists being in Seattle, recent protests and the appropriate time to use flash bangs, and was reluctant to answer queries about those topics—but when the subjects of drugs, gangs and terrorism came up, Tabb seemed perfectly at ease.
With the Trump administration and recent uses of tracking technology that can monitor social media feeds, there are heightened concerns about the use of surveillance by police and the FBI. But Tabb said the FBI isn’t actively monitoring or tracking individuals online because they can’t. “We’d have to have predicated investigations on individuals to monitor such things.” Tabb said the FBI does work with social media companies on content flagging, however – the protocol is to flag content, remove that individual’s social media account, and pass the information along to law enforcement.
The Burlington Mall shooting, in which the suspect Arcan Cetin killed people in September, which Tabb called “a crime of passion, not a crime of terrorism,” could’ve been prevented if someone contacted the FBI directly about the suspect’s behavior on social media. “Some citizen saw those posts on Facebook and could have told anyone in law enforcement and potentially the outcome would be different.”
Tabb said the now-old terrorism era catchphrase, “if you see something, say something,” still holds true.
“I don’t think we are any better or worse than anywhere else in the United States right now in terms of safety from terrorism,” Tabb said. “With that, though, I live in the same community, and I use the same public transit, and I go to the same malls, and I go to the same restaurants, and I do that with abandon because I do think we live in a very safe and open society still.”