How To Curate The FBI 'Most Wanted' List

Apr 11, 2012
Originally published on April 11, 2012 7:51 pm
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It's been nearly a year since the death of Osama Bin Laden and the capture of Boston gangster, James Whitey Bulger. Catching up with them left two spots empty on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list and it's taken until now for one of those slots to be filled.

Just this week, the FBI updated its list with the name of Eric Justin Toth. Toth is a former D.C. area private schoolteacher wanted on child pornography charges, so why did it take almost a year to find another person who qualified for the list? What does it take to be considered most wanted by the FBI?

To help us understand, we're going to talk to Kevin Perkins. He oversees the folks at the FBI who put together the Most Wanted list. Kevin, thank you for coming in to talk to us.

KEVIN PERKINS: It's my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So why has it taken so long to find another criminal who meets the criteria? And how do you fill the shoes of Bin Laden and James Bulger?

PERKINS: Sure. Well, actually, it's a little more complex than I think a lot of people might imagine. On any given day, the FBI's looking at almost 2,000 different fugitives around the country from different cases. But, really, what we're looking for on the 10 Most Wanted list is an individual that meets two criteria. The first one is that they are a present threat to society, whether it's a crime of violence or, in some cases, terrorism with Bin Laden and the like. So a threat to society.

And the second one is that we're looking for people that we think, with the public's help, we're going to be able to capture in a rather quick period of time. People such as Mr. Toth, who I believe, with the public's help, we're going to be able to find.

CORNISH: Help me understand how someone like Osama Bin Laden makes the list, then. I mean, did you really think we'd be able to help you find him or, I mean, how does that work?

PERKINS: Sure. With Bin Laden, he went on the list in 1999, prior to the 9/11 incident. Bin Laden was indicted criminally in the southern district of New York for his actions involving the explosions and the terrorist attacks on our embassies in Africa. Our list isn't just for the United States. It's published around the world in many different languages and, at that point in time in the late '90s, we thought it was a good opportunity, perhaps, to get the information out about who he was and why we wanted him.

CORNISH: When you look at that list over the years, what does it tell you about what the priorities are for the bureau or just for the investigative community?

PERKINS: Sure. I think the list is reflective of the evolving nation in which we live. When it first came about, you know, 60 years ago, it was really focused on kidnappers and violent criminals.

CORNISH: And it started under Hoover. Correct?

PERKINS: It started under J. Edgar Hoover and, in the 1950s, the post office was really the center of a community. People went to the post office every day, businesses, citizens, and they would go in. And what did you see in the post office? FBI Wanted posters.

Well, if you roll the clocks forward to today, how are we trying to catch these folks today? We're using social media. We're using mass media markets. That's today's post office, so the list has evolved with different types of criminals on it. You know, we've had terrorists. We have organized crime figures. We have Mexican drug traffickers. And now, we have a pedophile and we have a second position that's vacant and we will be filling that in the not-too-distant future. We're in the final stages of vetting that.

CORNISH: Kevin Perkins, thank you so much for talking with us.

PERKINS: It's been my pleasure. Thank you.

CORNISH: That's Kevin Perkins. He's the acting executive assistant director of the Criminal, Cyber and Response branch of the FBI. He spoke to us about the 10 Most Wanted list.



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