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FBI bomb technician tells Lodi group about his adventures overseas

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Posted: Thursday, July 9, 2009 10:00 pm

How many people can say of Afghanistan, "It's beautiful country; I'd love to get out there and just go camping"?

One such person is Robert Born, an FBI special agent bomb technician who visited Lodi on Thursday to speak to the Lodi Rotary Club. The Sacramento-based agent regaled about 45 people with tales of his investigations into well-known bombings, while also giving a glimpse into everyday life in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There is no shortage of explosives in Afghanistan - it's left over from the Soviet days. They will never run out of explosives," he said while showing photos of bombs.

But on the flip side, he said, the citizens of Afghanistan seem cheerful despite the open sewers, the never-ending search for food and water, and temperatures that range from 140 degrees in the summer to -20 degrees in the mountains during the winter.

"They have nothing in this country, and yet they're all smiling," Born pointed out as he showed photos of children crowding around U.S. soldiers.

Born was most recently in Afghanistan between November 2005 and January 2006, focusing on trying to track improvised explosive devices to their makers.

He wants to go back, but the earliest will be 2011 because other FBI bomb experts also want to go. Though bomb technicians stay in tents where water flows across the floor during the monsoon season, that doesn't bother him.

Born is one of 120 bomb technicians working for the FBI, which has about 120,000 agents. He's been based in Sacramento for 15 years, and previously worked in counterterrorism with the U.S. State Department.

He got his start with a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, following the military path taken by most of his family, including his father and brothers. An East Coast native, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton near San Diego, so when he got out of the military in 1985, he joined the San Diego Police Department for two years.

In 1987, he went to work for the federal government, and has since worked on cases that have sent him around the world. He helped investigate kidnappings and assassinations in Beirut in the 1980s, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, the 1996 bombing at the Olympics in Atlanta, and the 9/11 attacks - where his main task was to help conduct interviews.

In the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Born headed up the government's rewards program, which offered $2 million for the location of mastermind Ramzi Yousef. The reward was published extensively, including inside matchbooks in 11 different languages, Born said after his presentation. He also helped safely relocate the person who turned in Yousef and collected the reward.

Born lives in Sacramento with his wife, who he said has gotten used to his world travels, especially now that their children are grown.

They've been wine-tasting in Lodi, and he was also in Lodi several years ago during a terrorism investigation. He was only slightly involved - countless agents swarmed the area during the arrests of five men - because his focus is on explosives.

As for Afghanistan, the country clearly fascinates Born, as evidenced by the photos he showed the Rotary group. Club president Eric Daegling said he enjoyed learning about Afghanistan, a place he hadn't previously heard much about.

Much of the country is mountainous, with few roads.

"Before I went, there was an unasked question of, why haven't we found Osama bin Laden yet? Well, imagine something like this stretching from the Mississippi to the Pacific," Born said as he showed a photo of mountains stretching to the horizon, as viewed from inside an airplane.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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