Professor Brings FBI Expertise to Roanoke

Former Agent in Charge of Finding Osama bin Laden Teaches Counter-Terrorism at Roanoke

"FBI agents don't challenge you as much [as Roanoke students]," says Kevin Foust, former chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Osama bin Laden Unit after 9/11, current supervisor of the Roanoke FBI office and Roanoke College professor. Foust teaches the most sought after special topics course on campus - terrorism and counter-terrorism.

From Loan Officer to Special Agent

Foust graduated from Grove City College, Pa. in 1982 with a B.A. in political science and communications. He started out with an entry-level job in a finance company, selling investments and writing loans, but soon found out that he wasn't cut out for this kind of business. He switched to law enforcement because of the influence of his father who worked in the county courthouse. Foust became a deputy sheriff.

He landed a job as an FBI agent after a camping trip with a special agent. In 1997, he moved to work for the bureau in Jacksonville, Fla. as a street agent for the drug enforcement department. After four years, Foust transferred to the Washington field office, where he was reassigned to counter-terrorism in 1991.

"It is a shame that it took something like 9/11 for people to take terrorism seriously."

Terrorism wasn't taken as seriously at the time, with relatively few hijackings, bombings and kidnappings. The 1998 massive bombing of the military housing complex Khobar Towers located in Saudi Arabia "changed the way we do business," Foust said. Before, the counter-terrorism agent usually traveled by himself and worked independently with little or no supervision. With the growth of terrorist targets, agents had to start working in teams.

Foust supervised the PanAm Flight 103 and Egypt Air 648 investigations. He investigated the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing, but 9/11 was "the case to end all cases".

Shortly after the second plane crashed that morning, Foust was appointed in charge of the Osama bin Laden Unit. He grew from managing just a few cases to directing national and international efforts on al-Qaeda for the next five years. "Al-Qaeda is the biggest [terrorist] threat at the moment," Foust said.

From Osama to Roanoke

The traveling and responsibilities that his new position required made Foust realize what is more important in life. After his son stopped asking when his father will come home, Foust left the Osama bin Laden Unit for personal reasons.

Foust came to Roanoke for peace of mind. He started as a street agent, and after two years, was promoted to supervisor of the Roanoke FBI office, where he has been in charge of cases such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

An Extraordinary Class

Foust's career as a professor started as an invitation to speak at a few classes by Morgan Scott, a retired assistant U.S. Attorney who teaches criminal justice classes at Roanoke. A semester later there was a waiting list to sign up for Foust's class.

"Coach", as he is called by his students, supplements theoretical material with personal experience. Students hear about the time Ali Rezaq, the terrorist behind Egypt Air 648 was captured, when Foust was taken into the forest for a party by Russian Federal Security Service (former K.G.B.) and when George Bush visited the Osama bin Laden Unit. The professor talks about local events as well, such as the Virginia Tech shootings and Bill White, the Roanoke white supremacy leader. Students were able to participate in a telephone conference with one of the survivors of a terrorist attack of Egypt Air 648.

FBI Agents Don't Challenge as Much as Roanoke Students

"I am extremely impressed with the caliber of students [in the terrorism and anti-terrorism class]. I have found students to be extremely open-minded, intelligent and in tune with current events. They are not afraid to express their opinions," Foust says.

Despite his experience teaching anti-terrorism to state and local police and organizing terrorism instruction at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., Foust says that being a college professor is not an easy task.

"Students are far more sophisticated and informed than when I was a student."

With instantaneous access to information, the credibility of a professor is always on the spot. "I fear I'll get stale and really need to stay on top of things."

Foust is exploring the possibility to teach full-time when he retires as a special agent.