Friday, April 18, 2014
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Former Cumberland resident Peter Bickmore, second from right, spends time with friends during a gathering in Yarmouth. From left are Sgt. Michael Edes of the Maine State Police; David Goodman, with the Tampa (Fla.) police; John Kyle, owner of Pat’s Pizza in Yarmouth; and Lt. Milt Calder of the town of Cumberland police.
Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer
As large as the FBI is, it often has fewer agents on the ground in a given city than the local police department. But overnight that can change, as it did when bombs erupted at the Boston Marathon in April.
Bickmore was working when he saw news coverage of the attack almost immediately after the blasts.
Within minutes, the FBI set up a command post in Washington, D.C., to support the work of agents in Boston. It's a methodical, systematic process -- not frenetic and filled with emotion, he said -– but is followed with a diligence that leads to 24-hour work days and weeks with no breaks.
"Pete's even-keeled, doesn't get emotional about stuff," Edes said. "He's very analytical" in dealing with high-stress situations.
Most of Bickmore's federal work involved violent organized crime, including drug distribution networks.
"We try to look at large-scale organizations that are hurting particular communities," Bickmore said. "We try to disrupt and dismantle them. We try to choke them off at the neck, not just put them in jail, but seize their assets."
At various times, Bickmore was stationed in Providence and Boston and was the assistant special agent in charge in Ohio. He was rotated through FBI headquarters twice.
For five months in 2008-09, he was stationed in Iraq, working with special forces to conduct criminal investigations on foreign fighters and their superiors. Some were already in custody. For others who were hiding out in Iran or Syria, arrest warrants were issued. If the targets ever slip up and are identified, they can be arrested and tried, he said.
There's a lot Bickmore can't talk about publicly.
On the use of NSA data mining to thwart terrorism: "That's all a real fine line. Our job as FBI agents is to protect people's civil rights, but you're damned if you do, damned if you don't," he said, referring to the conflict between protection of privacy and providing safety.
Bickmore earned the bureau's third-highest medal, for Meritorious Achievement, but it wasn't for police work. He was off-duty one day in 2007 when he resuscitated a teenage car crash victim in the middle of a four-lane highway outside Boston.
Bickmore credits his success to the strong support of his family, including his two daughters, who grew up in Maine.
Throughout his travels, Bickmore always maintained ties to his home state. And despite his FBI experience, he always kept in touch with his friends in Maine law enforcement, said Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams.
Now he'll take over security for the Cleveland Browns football team.
"This job he's going into is extremely high-profile," Edes said. "There is a lot riding on the line for any NFL organization. This is not a retirement job. He'll be putting in 60 to 80 hours a week."
And it will make use of Bickmore's strengths, Edes said.
"Any time you're traveling, you have to be able to network," he said. "He can come into Foxborough, when the Browns are playing the Patriots, and he has to be able to network and communicate with state police and Foxborough police, all the involved departments."
Bickmore also likes watching football occasionally, but he's not a fanatic. He won't be starstruck or intimidated by NFL stars, his friends said.
But when referencing his new job to his law enforcement colleagues the other night, he did describe them as "the Superbowl-bound Cleveland Browns."
The Browns haven't won a playoff game since 1994.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: