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Fender investigated 9/11 Pentagon attack

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

Almost everyone remembers what they were doing when the planes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
What Southwest Virginia native Doug Fender remembers about that day is how he spent the following weeks immersed in an investigation of the crime scenes, uncovering evidence that tied these tragedies to the terrorists who were responsible.
Fender is a former special agent and senior special agent bomb technician with the FBI.

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Whether they were at work, at school, at home or walking down the street, news of the attacks led people on a mad dash for the nearest media outlet. Workers cranked up the radio and refreshed news websites, while those at home sat horrified in front of the television.
Terrified, but at a safe distance.
And then there were those, like Fender, who were close enough to smell the smoke and see the buildings collapse.
Fender was taking a break from an administrative meeting at FBI headquarters in Washington D.C. when he looked out of the window and saw smoke drifting into the sky from Pentagon City.
He was informed about the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, and was instructed to move to an undisclosed location outside of the city.
As he headed towards the city limits, Fender said that he had to drive on the sidewalks to miss the floods of panicking civilians as fighter jets screamed over their heads.
While most Americans watched the drama unfold via the media, Fender was on the front lines finding answers.
For the next 45 days, he investigated the attack on the Pentagon.

Fender developed an interest in counter-terrorism at the start of his 22-year career. This interest took him to areas all over the world, where he assisted the FBI with a number of high profile bombings and terrorist attacks.
Fender is now retired from the FBI, and is settled in Southwest Virginia with his own company. His goals now are to teach what he learned to other aspiring agents with an interest in counter-terrorism.
He also is giving back to the institution that got him started by teaching at Wytheville Community College. “I’m an advocate of the community college system. It creates great opportunities for many individuals, and covers a huge service region,” he said.
His class, “Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism,” has been offered as a part of the criminal justice program over several semesters, and he confirmed that it would make a comeback in the Spring 2014 semester.
Fender credits the start of his career to WCC and Radford University, where he enrolled in criminal justice programs. After receiving his associate degree at WCC, he transferred to Radford, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1983 and a masters of science in criminal justice/safety studies in 1985.
“After grad school, I worked as a state magistrate for six years, then sort of as a natural extension in law enforcement, I moved from that job into federal law enforcement,” he said.
Fender joined the FBI in 1990, at a time when terrorism was beginning to show its face in the United States.
He was assigned to the Oklahoma City bombing attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, which resulted in 168 lost lives and more than 680 injuries. Working at the scene of that attack, he says, sparked his interest in learning more about terrorist and bombing defense.
He decided then that he would learn the ins and outs of being a certified bomb technician.
Fender learned his trade where all bomb technicians go to receive their credentials: at the Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Ala. He explained that all bomb techs have to go through a basic training program, and then receive additional specialized training to keep up with technological advancements.
“Bomb technicians are sort of a specialty within the FBI. There are only 100 or so agents who are certified,” he told The Gazette.
Fender’s training eventually led him to several assignments with a number of terrorist investigations, including the Atlanta Olympics bombings in 1996; the U.S. Embassy bombing in Tanzania, Africa in 1998; the Egypt Air Flight 990 crash in 1999; and the Sept. 11 attacks.
Fender was working in the FBI’s Atlanta Division the night a bomb exploded at Centennial Park during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Eric Rudolph would later confess to this bombing and three others, two of which Fender investigated.
Aside from the investigation, Fender was charged with recovering and diffusing more than 250 pounds of dynamite and improvised explosive devices (IED) components that Rudolph had buried. Fender explained that they used counter-charges to dispose of the explosives on-site.
Only two years later, Fender was sent to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar to collect evidence and conduct interviews after the embassy bombings in Africa.
Later, he was selected to join a government initiative in Afghanistan that worked on the recovery of IEDs. He and a group of other experts found and studied detonated IEDs, and created detailed reports of their mechanics. Knowing how these weapons worked gave an important edge to the American troops, he said.
Not all of Fender’s career involved acts of terrorism. He also worked as a regular agent for the FBI, and could take on any case that fell under the FBI’s jurisdiction, such as terrorism, bank robberies, kidnappings, white collar crimes, bank fraud and embezzlement, public corruption, civil rights and foreign counter intelligence.
This was one of the things he liked most about his job — that he never knew what he would be doing next.

Fender retired from the FBI in 2012, but he noted that he still works for the agency part time on a contract basis.
However, he has shifted his main focus off of the action side of his career, and has moved on to a new role as a consultant and teacher. After he retired, Fender launched his own consulting business, DFender Consulting LLC, which works as an umbrella over several recent projects.
Examples include his work as a senior consultant at C-3 Pathways, where he is involved with classroom instruction and simulation hands-on training, and as a controller and evaluator of Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) complaint exercises; and his counter-terrorism class for WCC’s criminal justice program.
His role with WCC came about as a way of giving back, Fender says. “In the interest of paying it back to WCC, I wanted to try to help out in any way that I could, and this was one area that they sort of had a void in [for their curriculum],” he said.
The class focuses on the understanding of domestic and international terrorism by investigating the patterns that have been shown throughout history. The class is available to criminal justice majors, as well as anyone who is interested in the subject, he says. The class was introduced with success in past semesters, but it was dropped for this fall due to a low number of registrants. However, he plans to offer it again in the spring.
When asked about the change in counter-terrorism in the past 12 years, Fender said that the efforts have improved tremendously since 2001.
“Since Sept. 11, the FBI has shifted more from a law enforcement agency to an intelligence-gathering agency. They have worked to prevent acts of domestic and international terrorism, and they have been successful in doing that,” he said.
And averted and prevented terrorist acts don’t always come to light in the media, he can attest to the fact that success happens — more than we know.
“I believe that we are in a much safer world now than we were during 9/11. Our intelligence has increased, and we have a better understanding [to prevent attacks],” he said. “If it hadn’t been for these efforts — knowing some of the things going on domestically and internationally — we might have had more events than we did.”
That being said, he noted that while terrorism acts are at a low at this time, that security is never lax. Those in the business of security are always prepared.
“To think we are immune to [a terrorist attack] is dangerous,” he said. “The threat can be anywhere, and just because we live in a rural area, that doesn’t mean we are immune.”

For more information about Fender’s class, check upcoming schedules at WCC’s website: www.wcc.vccs.edu.