Mark James, United States Marshal
Wed, 11/09/2022 - 4:29pm admin
As a recap, my previous article about Mark James covered his WSHS (Class of 1974) and
college experiences and detailed his career with the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) from 1978 until 1987. While working undercover for the MSHP, he partnered with numerous federal agencies, and in 1987 the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) recruited him as a Special Agent in the Kansas City office. After five years, ATF promoted him to Resident Agent in Charge of the Omaha Field Office, where in 1995 he investigated the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
In 1995, Washington D.C. beckoned, and Mark became Chief of the ATF Intelligence Division and the senior executive responsible for the complete overhaul and oversight of ATF’s intelligence organization. In this capacity, Mark led the intelligence support response for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing during the summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and the subsequent manhunt for the Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Rudolf. Until he was captured, Rudolf was listed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list.
Long days and sleepless nights could have been in the job description for the ATF Intelligence Chief position. Mark recalls thirteen-hour days that started at 4 a.m. Moreover, he could receive telephone calls from a 24-hour worldwide operations center at all hours of the day and night to alert him about emergencies around the globe.
At his home, he had a triple-encrypted telephone that he could communicate with the CIA, the National Security Administration (NSA), or the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). In 1996, Mark recalls being alerted about the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia and the downing of TWA Flight 800 that mysteriously exploded over the Atlantic Ocean shortly after takeoff from Kennedy International Airport, killing all aboard.
In another noteworthy event, Mark ran the intelligence support for a “sting operation” resulting in the arrest of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) operatives who were trying to acquire Stinger Missiles for Osama Bin Ladin. (Mark confirmed, “Yes, the one and the same, before he gained international infamy as the mastermind behind attacking the United States.”) In the sting operation, ATF undercover agents posing as international arms traffickers set up a sale of the stingers to the foreign agents and arrested them in the United States where they were prosecuted.
As part of his duties in this sting operation, Mark said, “I had to literally go to the Pentagon and sign on the dotted line to check out and take responsibility for the stingers (minus their payload, of course).” Interestingly, Mark added, “The violation of the law was the guidance systems in the missiles not the warhead.”
During his five years as ATF Intelligence Chief, Mark led the intelligence division teams in response to numerous other high-profile cases, including the Columbine shooting, international drug trafficking, and plots against the United States. CIA Director George Tenant designated him as an Intelligence Fellow. And in his limited spare time on weekends, Mark earned a Masters of Science in Strategic Intelligence degree from the National Intelligence University.
In January 2001, Mark returned to Kansas City ATF office as the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Kansas City Division—the senior executive responsible for all Agency operations in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas. But the events of 9-11-2001 happened, and the Agency tapped Mark to develop an intelligence operation supporting ATF’s response to the explosion sites at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
In the fall of 2002, an unknown sniper was randomly shooting people in Washington D.C. In Kansas City, Mark watched the investigation on TV, knowing his colleagues in the D.C. area were on the international media hot seat while trying to identify who was responsible.
After about a week of the terror in D.C., as he drove from his office in Kansas City to a business meeting in Springfield, his cell phone rang from a 202-area code number—Washington D.C. He swallowed hard before answering the phone—he did not anticipate good news. It was the Deputy Assistant Director, his immediate supervisor, on the other end.
The deputy asked Mark how fast he could get on a plane to Washington. Mark says, “I told him I could fly out in the morning. He told me the Director wanted me to be one of two ATF Incident Commanders to head the DC Sniper Investigation and to get on a plane that night. So, I turned around and drove home, packed a bag, and caught a plane to D.C. that evening.”
When Mark arrived at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, an ATF agent met him and drove him to the Command Post in Rockville, Maryland, and a non-stop windmill began. Mark says, “The fear in Washington was palpable. You could feel it everywhere, and the entire metro area was paralyzed. They even moved high school football games two states away to be played.”
It is hard to imagine, but over the next week, the task force identified the snipers from nearly 800,000 tips, located them, and arrested them. A year later, Mark returned to Fairfax County, Virginia, and testified in the murder trial of John Mohammad, securing his conviction and ultimately his death penalty.
In 2005, while Mark was still the SAC in the ATF Kansas City office, Missouri Governor Matt Blunt appointed him director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety (MDPS). For two years, until his retirement from ATF, he had both titles, and I asked how could he wear “two hats.” Mark explained that he was “on loan” to the State of Missouri pursuant to the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which allows for the assignment of federal civilian employees to eligible non-Federal organizations for a limited period of service.
The MDPS comprises eight different agencies, including Alcohol and Tobacco Control, National Guard, Capitol Police, Highway Patrol, State Emergency Management, Division of Fire Safety, Veteran’s Commission, and Gaming Commission. Additionally, the Office administers the Homeland Security Program and various state and federal grant funds. As Director, Mark says his proudest achievements were creating the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC), which provides law enforcement information to all state enforcement agencies and developing a statewide interoperable radio system for the MSHP.
In 2010, after over thirty years in law enforcement, Mark’s career took a dramatic change of direction to the field of education. He became chancellor of the Metropolitan Community College (MCC) overseeing operations across the five-campus system in the greater Kansas City area until 2017.
According to an MCC press release, “Under Chancellor Mark James’ leadership, MCC became more visible in the Kansas City area as he envisioned and championed a branding campaign. . .. [and] created a Public Information Office consisting of television and print media veterans to share student and employee success stories with the public, and agreed to a co-branding partnership with the Kansas City Royals baseball team.”
As a college chancellor, it might seem that the days of rough and tumble excitement had left Mark’s life—not so. In September 2010, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon was to appear on the Penn Valley Campus to give a speech on high-speed internet access. Prior to his arrival, a student attacked one of the college deans and began stabbing him in the neck trying to slit his throat. The governor may have been the intended target.
The associate vice chancellor told a Kansas City Star reporter, “Mark was the first guy on the scene to tackle and hold him down.” Of the incident, Mark says, “All I can say is my years of training, experience, and martial arts kicked in, and I ran to grab the guy. He pulled the knife out of the dean and attempted to stab me in the chest. I was able to deflect his thrust and catch his wrist at the same time and lock it tightly to my chest, taking him to the floor where I pinned him in a wrist bar until the police finally arrived.” Mark jokes that he had to enter higher education to get in his first knife fight.
After eight-plus years at MCC, he retired for what he thought would be the end of his professional life. But in 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Mark to be the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri. Confirmed by the U.S. Senate and appointed in 2018, Mark served until 2022, when he retired and turned in his gun and badge.
Mark said, “The position of U.S. Marshal is the pinnacle of a law enforcement career. It dates back to 1889 when President George Washington appointed the first U.S. Marshals. I consider it the greatest of honors and privileges to have served in this capacity and to truly finish my professional career wearing America’s gold badge.”
When he talks about his career, Mark modestly references Forest Gump, the character from the book and movie who manages to be present at numerous historical events. But with Mark James, it wasn’t fictional.