Image: Nes/Getty Images

Image: Nes/Getty Images

UQ graduate looks back on the moments that shaped his FBI career

Fred Bradford has spent his career on the secret frontline of US national security operations. As a Special Agent with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), he’s thwarted spies, served in active warfare and has brought terrorists to justice. After more than 20 years of service, the UQ MBA graduate has handed over his badge, and caught up with Contact to reflect on his career.

Warning: this story contains images and elements that some readers may find disturbing.


The morning of 11 September 2001 was meant to be another ordinary day in New York City. People enjoyed a cup of coffee with their breakfasts, hugged their families goodbye, and took the subway into work as they would any other Tuesday morning.

That all changed at 8.46am when a passenger plane carrying 92 people crashed into the World Trade Center.

There are few events that remain as clear in the world’s memory as the September 11 terrorist attacks. People remember exactly what they were doing when it happened, and can recall – in heavy detail – the precise feeling of watching the footage as it came streaming in across the news.

The disbelief was palpable. America was a nation in grief and alive with outrage, and it became very clear, very quickly, that these attacks would be met with the full force of the pain they had caused.

For UQ graduate and FBI Special Agent Fred Bradford (Master of Business Administration, ’93) – and for the world – things changed in a moment, and they would remain changed forever.

"My mother phoned from northern Virginia and woke me about 6am, telling me to turn on the TV. Within seconds I was watching a live broadcast of the burning north tower of the World Trade Center when another jet hit the south tower," Bradford told Contact.

"It was clear that instant this was a coordinated attack. The thought then was how many more aircraft were still to hit, and where. I threw on some clothes, sped to the FBI office, and walked into a room being hastily set up as a crisis centre just as the Pentagon was hit.

"When I later spoke with my mother that day, she eerily recalled hearing the enormous roar of that flight at low altitude as it headed for the Pentagon."          

The annual Tribute in Light on the anniversary of September 11 in lower Manhattan in New York City. Image: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images.

The annual Tribute in Light on the anniversary of September 11 in lower Manhattan in New York City. Image: Gary Hershorn/Getty Images.

The point of no return


Before the September 11 attacks, Bradford worked in the financial crime department at the FBI.

But with the shift in US national security priorities following the attacks, he – like many of his colleagues – was immediately redirected into counter-terrorism. He would never return to his old department for the remainder of his career.

“September 11 and the days afterwards were arguably some of the most visceral I’ve experienced in my life,” Bradford said.

“On September 10, 2001, I was a criminal investigator working bank robberies, embezzlements, casino fraud and healthcare fraud. That all changed that Tuesday morning.

“After the attacks, I never worked a criminal case again. I went straight to national security and counter-terrorism, as did about two-thirds of the staff in our office.


“Literally, through the course of one day, the national priority when it came to law enforcement changed to counter-terrorism, and I would argue has stayed very heavily focused on it since.”

September 11 remains the single deadliest terrorist attack on US soil, with 2977 fatalities and more than 25,000 injuries.

At 8.46am, American Airlines Flight 11 was crashed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower. United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9.03am. At 9.37am, American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the western façade of the Pentagon. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania at 10.03am after crew and passengers overwhelmed the hijackers.

Bradford lost one of his closest friends in the attack on the Pentagon.

“Dan Shanower was a Navy commander. He was at the Navy command centre at the Pentagon when it took a direct hit from the jet,” Bradford said.

“Over the next several days, we eventually found out that he was among the dead, and that was very difficult. It was very, very personal. My mother attended his burial in Arlington National Cemetery and I spoke at his Memorial Service in his hometown of Naperville, Illinois.”

Special Agent Fred Bradford's FBI credentials.

In the days following the disaster, the FBI discovered that all four pilots and other members of the hijacking group had been in and out of Las Vegas multiple times in the months leading up to the attacks. Bradford, who was stationed in Las Vegas at the time, was immediately funnelled into the project.

“The hijackers had taken multiple long-distance flights across the country to Las Vegas and stayed a couple of nights each time. We think it was exploratory on their part,” Bradford said.

“We believe they were trying to understand how the protocol played out on the aircraft: when the best time for attacking the cockpit would be, the rhythm of a transcontinental flight.”

In the following months, the FBI trawled through thousands of phone calls and emails in an effort to unravel this complicated international plot.

In the autumn of 2002 – a year after the attack – Bradford was called into FBI headquarters for a temporary job in telephonic analysis.

“Even then, we were still working the phone numbers of the September 11 attackers and greater al Qaeda syndicate,” Bradford said.


“We went as far back as we could go, well into the 1990s, just to figure out how long this plot had been cooking.”

At the same time as the US was refocussing its national security efforts on counter-terrorism, the FBI moved to ramp up its domestic operations in counter-intelligence.

Prior to the attacks, there were few counter-intelligence operations in Las Vegas, as most were focused on cities like New York and Washington D.C. where the majority of embassies and consulates were housed.

This quickly changed after the September 11 attacks.

“After September 11, we decided to look at foreign counter-intelligence in Las Vegas, as well as our increased counter-terrorism operations, and it was unbelievable how much foreign government-directed activity was happening in southern Nevada,” Bradford said.

This is an image of Special Agent Fred Bradford's FBI credentials.

Special Agent Fred Bradford's FBI credentials.

Special Agent Fred Bradford's FBI credentials.

FBI investigators gather outside the Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017 after a gunman killed 59 people. Image: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images.

FBI investigators gather outside the Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017 after a gunman killed 59 people. Image: MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images.

When all hell broke loose


On the evening of 1 October 2017, Bradford had been trimming a rosebush in his garden when his wife received a text from a friend about automatic gunfire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on the Las Vegas strip.

As Murphy’s Law would have it, Bradford’s FBI car was at the mechanic's at the time with all his body armour and long-barrelled weaponry. All his loan car had was a spare set of lights and a siren.

Bradford grabbed a spare FBI raid jacket and a shotgun from his house and sped down to the strip with sirens blaring, unaware of the horror he was about to descend on. He later found out he had arrived only 10 minutes after the final shot. 

An image of Special Agent Fred Bradford running to his vehicle from home the night of the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting. Bradford said his wife, Dani, was convinced it would be last time she saw him alive.

Special Agent Fred Bradford running to his vehicle from home the night of the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting. Bradford said his wife, Dani, was convinced it would be last time she saw him alive.

Special Agent Fred Bradford running to his vehicle from home the night of the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting. Bradford said his wife, Dani, was convinced it would be last time she saw him alive.

“What I went into was absolute chaos,” Bradford recalled.

“I could see people being thrown into the back of pick-up trucks to try to get them to hospitals. No one could have conceived this as being one shooter from one location.

“Like all of us responding that night, I had no idea what we were going into. I thought all hell had broken loose.”

The shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival remains the deadliest mass shooting in US history, with 59 victims and 868 people injured. The specific motive of the shooter – Stephen Paddock – remains unknown.

An image of Special Agent Fred Bradford (far left) on the cover of Real Vegas one year on from the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting.

Special Agent Fred Bradford (far left) on the cover of Real Vegas one year on from the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting. The cover is a tribute to the first responders.

Special Agent Fred Bradford (far left) on the cover of Real Vegas one year on from the Route 91 Harvest festival mass shooting. The cover is a tribute to the first responders.

By the time Bradford returned to the FBI offices by 5am the next morning, the FBI had already established a fully operational command post to investigate the shooting.

Over the next 19 days, Bradford – who managed the post – coordinated the logistics of the 1000 or so FBI personnel coming in and out of Las Vegas as the bureau sought to understand how such a tragedy had occurred and if other perpetrators were involved.

“The shooter was one of those very meticulous people. Over the course of 10 to 11 months, he had methodically planned the attack,” Bradford said.

“About a week prior to the Route 91 Harvest festival, he’d taken all of his weaponry, ammunition and tools into a room at the Ogden Hotel in downtown Las Vegas.

An image of Special Agent Fred Bradford at a Las Vegas memorial site for the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting victims.

Special Agent Fred Bradford at a Las Vegas memorial site for the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting victims.

Special Agent Fred Bradford at a Las Vegas memorial site for the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting victims.

“Investigations revealed that he may have originally targeted the Life is Beautiful Music and Art Festival. Because of his flawed thinking – and thank goodness it was flawed – he couldn’t book the room he had absolutely obsessed about at the Ogden, which would have overlooked the entire audience of the festival.

“So, he took the stuff back down from the Ogden and then ran it up to the Mandalay Bay hotel a week later to do what he did.

“If he’d been in the Ogden, he would’ve had a much closer shot – perhaps 100 to 150 yards with more than double the audience size, as opposed to the 300 to 400 yards from the Mandalay Bay. We think the body count may have been three or four times higher.”

Image: DAVID FURST/AFP via Getty Images

Image: DAVID FURST/AFP via Getty Images

Enter the war zone


Bradford’s work in counter-terrorism also saw him undertake overseas postings, including several months engaged in active warfare with the US Army on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bradford and the other agents he was posted with in Iraq between January and May 2003 established the first FBI headquarters near the airport in Baghdad as the US rushed to collect and process intelligence. 

Special Agent Fred Bradford at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, on his way home to the US in 2006.

For Bradford, some of the intelligence hit too close to home.

“There was a trove of photographs we were going through that were coming out of the Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters, and I was seeing pictures of people standing on the Las Vegas strip,” Bradford said.


“These are obviously people who are connected to the Iraqi Intelligence Service and there they are, a year or two before, right in my home town.”

After surviving Iraq, Bradford found himself in another war zone between September and December 2006, where he and a handful of other FBI agents were embedded in the US Army Special Forces – the Green Berets – in the Kunar Province in Afghanistan.

His mission was to train the Green Berets in evidence gathering techniques, such as collecting DNA, fingerprints and gunpowder residue.

Special Agent Fred Bradford meeting with Afghan village leaders in 2006.

Almost a year after Bradford returned to the US, one of the Green Berets – Robert Miller – was killed in action after drawing fire to save his injured comrades in the same spot Bradford and his team had experienced a gunfight a year earlier. Miller was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery.

For Bradford, his time with the Green Berets was an honour few have been able to experience.

“I’d never been around a sharper group of men than that group,” Bradford said.

“For them to accept me, this FBI guy, as a part of their team was an incredible honour.”

An image of Special Agent Fred Bradford at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, on his way home to the US in 2006.

Special Agent Fred Bradford at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, on his way home to the US in 2006.

Special Agent Fred Bradford at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, on his way home to the US in 2006.

An image of Special Agent Fred Bradford Special Agent Fred Bradford meeting with Afghan village leaders in 2006.

Special Agent Fred Bradford meeting with Afghan village leaders in 2006.

Special Agent Fred Bradford meeting with Afghan village leaders in 2006.

This is an image of the UQ Business School.

The UQ Business School, which is home to the number one MBA program in Queensland and number one worldwide for student quality, as ranked by The Economist.

The UQ Business School, which is home to the number one MBA program in Queensland and number one worldwide for student quality, as ranked by The Economist.

Skills for life


Bradford retired from the FBI in July this year. And after more than 20 years of career achievements, there’s still an audible nostalgia in his voice as he discusses his time at UQ during the 1990s.

He accepted his offer to study a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at UQ in 1991.

“I had the best time of my life,” Bradford said.

“I looked at the UQ MBA program and it honestly looked the most interesting to me because you could pursue a particular strain, so I did the international business strain.

“I was the newest, big-mouthed Yank in the class at the time, and so those knuckleheads [in my class] elected me President of the MBA Students Association in 1991–92. We had this really great committee, so we could pursue all sorts of neat ideas.

“We put together a portfolio of the graduating MBA students’ resumes and printed a really slick magazine, which we sent out across the country to all the big corporations in Australia. We had a bunch of people get hired from that.”

An image of Fred Bradford's memorabilia from his MBA at UQ in the early 1990s. The image shows the cover of the UQ MBA yearbook from 1992 and the cover of a the Graduate School of Management Graduate Profiles 1992–93.

Fred Bradford's memorabilia from his MBA at UQ in the early 1990s.

Fred Bradford's memorabilia from his MBA at UQ in the early 1990s.

While Bradford ultimately pursued a career in the FBI, he said his learnings from his time at UQ were invaluable for his career at the bureau.

“The MBA teaches you that the financial element of anything is hugely important. International terrorists and spies can’t function overseas without money, and I learnt a lot about how international movements of money take place through the MBA program at UQ,” Bradford said.

“When I had to build teams in the FBI, I’ve always fallen back on what I learnt in that MBA program and the types of people to surround yourself with.

“I also – for the first time in an academic environment – was able to get a real international perspective on things and realise from daily first-hand interaction that people from different countries can think very differently.”

“Those are some priceless lessons.”