Q&A: Sacramento’s new FBI director talks cybercrime, older dogs

Monica Miller has worked in military intelligence for the U.S. Army and served as the FBI’s senior officer at the CIA over counterespionage personnel. She’s also investigated white-collar crime and public corruption cases. This summer, she brought her expertise to Sacramento to battle cybercrime, gangs, mortgage fraud, political corruption and white-collar crime as special agent in charge of the the FBI’s Sacramento field office – the first woman to ever hold the job.

Miller, 51, supervises 305 agents and civilian employees over a vast portion of California that stretches from Bakersfield to the Oregon border. Miller said the FBI must cut approximately 10 percent of its budget – or $700 million – and 3,500 positions worldwide through attrition by 2015 unless Congress appropriates more funds. Starting in January, all FBI personnel could be facing nine-day furloughs. When Miller’s not fighting crime, she adopts old dogs.

Describe your background.

My father worked off shore on a variety of oil rigs, and my mom was an executive secretary for an oil company. I was the first one on either side of my family to go to college. I joined the Army, served in Korea and Huntsville, Ala., as a counterintelligence agent and in 1989, at age 26, I went through the FBI Academy.

A Cajun from Louisiana with Spanish, French and German roots dating back to German settlers who came in the 1720s, I feel right at home crossing the Yolo Causeway through the rice fields. I made gumbo on Nov. 17, and my voodoo worked – the Saints beat the 49ers.

What poses the biggest threat to the Sacramento region?

Violent criminal gangs and drugs continue to plague the area. Sacramento’s quite the crossroads for gangs shipping drugs from Mexico north. Gangs have always taken root in California, but our multiagency task forces have been very successful here in the valley. The gangs don’t stay in one county or one city. They have tentacles coming from the L.A. basin up Interstate 5 and across Interstate 80.

Methamphetamine is the drug of choice. We have found that not only is it manufactured here or comes up from Mexico. It’s gotten to the point where a lot of people are recommending people not vacation down there. We’re looking at organized violent gangs and their possible links to drugs, human trafficking, crimes against children and identity theft.

What are your other challenges?

Mortgage fraud undid the stability of our entire nation. Stealing intellectual property undermines our ability to have jobs. Silicon Valley falls into the San Francisco FBI’s territory, but defense contractors and suppliers to Silicon Valley are here. The cyberthreat is up and coming. Our adversaries in that arena are finding ways to hack in and get U.S. secrets, either defense secrets or proprietary information from some of our high-tech companies. We must protect against them disrupting our banking industry, infrastructure, even our satellites.

We have to balance civil liberties such as free speech and the right of assembly against credible threats. In the Boston Marathon bombings, it’s not illegal to buy pressure cookers. On national-security matters, we have to get permission for electronic surveillance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. After 9/11, the amount of transparency and collaboration is unprecedented. I briefed the CIA director biweekly on sensitive matters such as the NSA, FBI and CIA.

What was one of your most memorable cases?

In 1996, when we were investigating “deadbeat dads,” a doctor who didn’t want to pay child support or taxes and was spouting anti-government rhetoric ended up pointing a shotgun at us in Coushatta, La., after the Waco standoff in 1993 and Ruby Ridge in 1992. We waited him out for six days, and he got six months for being a deadbeat dad and eight years for pointing a gun at us. Hostage negotiation is something I believe in. He ended up spending eight extra years in prison on what began as a misdemeanor.

How do you relax?

I drink lots of water, get eight hours’ sleep and I adopt geriatric dogs. Everyone wants a puppy. I adopted a 10-year-old blond Cairn terrier named Abby. She’s 14 now and very spry. Older dogs are perfect – they wake up, they eat, they walk, they sleep. They’re housebroken, quiet and the neighbors love them.