The next time investigators identify a suspected terrorist living or traveling in the United States, Christopher M. Piehota will be one of the first people they turn to for help.
Piehota, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Buffalo, is leaving later this month to become director of the Terrorist Screening Center in Washington, D.C., a multiagency organization best known for operating the Terrorist Watchlist.
For Piehota, it’s a return home of sorts, to a place he worked at before.
“To be honest, it’s one of the first lines of defense in our national security,” he said of the screening center.
“It was a great opportunity then and still is.”
In his first stint at the center, Piehota helped develop and maintain the watchlist, a database of suspected terrorists, and the center’s no-fly list, a list of people who are not allowed to travel into or out of the country.
This time, Piehota will be the guy in charge.
The center, created a few years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, is often credited with playing a key role in several high-profile investigations, including the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani later convicted of taking part in an attempted car bombing in Times Square in May 2010.
It was during Piehota’s first assignment at the center that Shahzad’s name popped up on a passenger list for a plane leaving New York City for Dubai. A quick check of the center’s no-fly list turned up Shahzad’s name, and he was arrested while still on the plane.
Piehota left the center for Buffalo in 2011 and soon found himself knee deep in a far different type of law enforcement.
During his time here, the FBI garnered headlines for several public corruption cases, including the prosecution of Buffalo police officers accused of cheating the state’s disability program and Buffalo parking enforcement officers charged with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in quarters out of parking meters.
He also oversaw a number of investigations into Buffalo’s street gangs, including a murder case that led federal prosecutors to publicly suggest that a man jailed since 2004 for the murders of two brothers gunned down in their Niagara Street apartment was not the killer.
The FBI, under Piehota, also was at the center of a criminal probe into an arson in Buffalo’s First Ward that he and others believe may be a racially motivated hate crime.
“I think we’ve had a visible impact on the community." Piehota said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good for Buffalo.”
His replacement has not yet been named.