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Enforcing federal drug laws, in a state with legal pot

Special Agent in Charge of the FBI office in Seattle, Frank Montoya, Jr. (photo: FBI)

There's a new man heading up the FBI in Seattle. Special Agent In Charge Frank Montoya, Junior comes to this region from Washington D.C. where he worked for two years as a Detailee for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

"As part of my duties, probably the singular most important one over the last 13 months or so was to lead the Edward Snowden damage assessment," says Montoya.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a contractor for the agency until he disclosed thousands of classified documents. One year later, Montoya says they still don't know how much damage has been done.

Montoya gives no credit to Snowden for the national conversations going on now about how they gather intelligence.

"They were already going on before he did this. In fact, he's made the job more difficult because now there is a deficit in public trust," Montoya says. "We're not reading emails of grandmothers and grandfathers in Des Moines, Iowa, as an example. [...] We don't have a reason to. We don't have a legal authority to."

Snowden is now living in Russia, and the Washington Times reports he has plans to work with the government there on new anti-spy technology. Montoya is not surprised.

"In 2011, the Office of the National Counter Intelligence Executive published an economic espionage report and specifically named China and Russia as two of the countries that are engaged, in a big way, in economic espionage activities against this country," says Montoya. "The fact that he's there, that is tell tale in itself."

Another issue Montoya will have to tackle in his new role is the divide between state and federal drug laws dealing with marijuana.

Just the other day, Montoya was coming back from lunch when he says he ran into several college-aged people smoking marijuana in the alcove right outside the FBI offices in Seattle.

"I said, 'You do know where you're standing.' And it was one of those things where, they clearly had no idea," says Montoya. "It's not like I'm going to slap the handcuffs on them. I can't do that, right?"

It highlights the murky legal status of recreational marijuana in Washington State.

Montoya says the Justice Department is still working on their policy regarding pot in light of the legalization that has happened in Washington and Colorado. In the meantime, he says marijuana is not a priority for his office. But, the criminal activity that surrounds pot, especially violent or organized crime, will be strictly prosecuted.

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