There's a new leader at the Boston Field Office of the FBI. Since late January, 45-year-old Joseph Bonavolonta is settling into his new role as special agent in charge after previously working in the office from 2013 to 2017. Bonavolonta has been with the FBI since 1996, and has also worked in the FBI headquarters in Washington and New Jersey.

WGBH News reporter Marilyn Schairer sat down with Bonavolonta to discuss his vision for the office, his aspirations and goals for the FBI, and his relationship with the community. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Marilyn Schairer: What are your goals for the Boston FBI office as the new special agent in charge?

Joseph Bonavolonta: What a lot of people don't know when they hear FBI Boston division, they tend to feel that it’s completely focused just on the state of Massachusetts. Our overall area of responsibility covers four states: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And as you can imagine, every one of those states is very diverse and with different types of national security and/or criminal activity. We are an incredibly target rich environment in this division, anywhere from national security threats such as counter-terrorism and counterintelligence, which don't get talked about as much or enough, as well as cyber threats.

On the criminal side, there is a huge focus on violent gangs, violent neighborhood-based street gangs as well as national-level gangs, cartels linked to drug trafficking organizations, as well as violent crimes. And on the economic crime side of things, we're one of the top financial sectors in the country. And with that comes a very robust economic crimes program that we have up here. We have a large intelligence analyst cadre up here — we get together and ingrain them with our operational divisions routinely. And it's all to come up with an overall strategy on how we best use our resources to combat these threats.

The other common denominator here is continuing to strengthen the partnerships with our federal, state and local partners. That's a huge resource multiplier and it's something that we must continue to drive forward, as well as engagement with our community outreach and the public/private sector.

Schairer: It sounds like such an enormous challenge. Is there a plan in place, or what are the steps that you're taking to achieve your goals?

Bonavolonta: There is a plan in place and one I mentioned before, that we have our intelligence cadre and our operational cadre that are completely ingrained with one another. The purpose for that is to scrub what are the biggest threats we have and how do we allocate our resources appropriately. So, for instance, on the national security side, we focus very heavily on the counter-terrorism and the counterintelligence programs. Counter-terrorism with the primary focus being on homegrown violent extremists. On the counterintelligence program, you must look no further than this general area, an incredibly target rich environment. We are a huge innovation and technology hub. We have world renowned research and development universities, as well as over 600 clear defense contractors alone. That makes us a viable target for foreign nation states trying to steal our secrets and our technology So, for those reasons we put a significant amount of time and effort into figuring out how do we allocate these resources.

Schairer: What about some of the homeland security threats. What can you pass along to the public about an increased number of threats, either domestically or internationally, and how can you allay some of the public fears, especially coming off the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing?

Bonavolonta: Homegrown violent extremists, that continues to be the primary focus for us up here. And the reason for that is the terrorism threat has morphed significantly since 9/11. You look at Al-Qaida, ISIS, but also the homegrown violent extremist threat. And what that really is, and the reason why that is such a concern, is because you're dealing with individuals who often may not have a direct or in many cases, do not have a direct tie to a foreign terrorist organization.

However, through online social media and through that type of exploitation, they use propaganda and they self-radicalize.

So, there's not a lot of time, there's not a large window there to react. And so that's why when it comes to looking at that threat, we rely very heavily on our community outreach. We rely very heavily on our messaging and we also rely heavily on the, “See Something, Say Something” monitor that you heard us say many times in the buildup to the Boston Marathon. And that's a phrase that's been used often in the public. But the reason why we use it often is it's effective and it works.

Schairer: How comfortable do you feel that the federal government, the FBI and those that need to be, are prepared to deal with some of these threats, whether it's a cyber threat, whether it's intelligence or hacking?

Bonavolonta: We are prepared to counter the threat, and there's been several recent examples that have all been made public, even just in the last year to three years alone, as far as far as certain homegrown violent extremists who have been stopped prior to going out and acting.

As far as the on the counterintelligence side, we've made significant progress in that realm. We must keep staying engaged and keep working them, because all it takes is for one individual to be successful.

Schairer: Back in December of 2018, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling talked about MS-13 being all but eradicated in Greater Boston. Can you confirm, deny or expand on that?

Bonavolonta: Well, I'd like to expand on that. So, as has been documented already, the FBI and Boston division in the United States attorney's office work together and among other agencies as well, and we put together some very significant cases against MS-13 in the last three years, to the point where it's culminated in an aggregate of more than 70 active members of MS-13 being charged.

Once again, that shows the importance that we're placing through our violent crime program and trying to disrupt some of these transnational level gangs.

That having been said, that was a significant disruption to MS-13. But when you're dealing with a gang that has the size and the scope of MS-13, we must remember, they're a transnational gang. And so, their purview is much beyond here and in this New England area. And you also look at how they have gone on record as stating that their goal would be to become the largest organized gang in the world. I would use the term that we have disrupted them here, but we continue to drive forward on active investigations. That is another example of a threat that we will not let our foot off the gas pedal, because it's just too important, it's too important of a threat.

Schairer: Finally, how do you reconcile your personal political views with that of the Trump administration?

Bonavolonta: For me, and for this division, and really for the for the FBI, there should be no conflict at all, as far as ever looking to intertwine any specific political beliefs with respect to the actual job that we have to do, which is very clear, and that is to keep the American people safe and to uphold the Constitution of the United States. That's our mantra. Plain and simple. So, when we go out and we do community outreach events and we try to engage in different sectors, whether it's public and the private sector, we're there. It's just to try to create a comfort level, so that it's not just this mystique of the FBI. But really the two areas that I've been tremendously focused on and I will continue to be moving in the future is really that community private sector and state, local and federal law enforcement engagement. We're in a day and age right now where that is vital for us to effectively combat these threats and to keep the citizens here safe, and that's what we will continue to do.