“Do you want to be an FBI Agent? Part 1” highlighted the backgrounds of two former FBI Special Agents, their differing career paths, salary, and job aspects. Bucky and Chris Cox continued to chat, revealing more agency specifics and notes about a wide range of cases that the FBI oversees, in Part 2. Take a look:
FIELD OFFICE PERFORMANCE
Every field office undergoes performance reviews. The FBI is a statistic driven agency. Among other things, internal inspectors count the number of arrests and convictions at each office, looking for reasonable numbers of completed cases, and how efficiently they were concluded. But, the type of crimes is taken into consideration. While a specialist in bank robberies might clear 10-15 cases a year, white collar cases such as bank fraud, health care, or telemarketing can take longer to investigate and prosecute because of their complexity and the fact that they may be occurring in more than one State. Agents also have to prove that the suspect knowingly and willfully committed the crimes.
There are mandatory reports to be written after a case is completed. The standard rule applies: “If there is no paperwork, it didn’t happen.” Forms MUST be filled out so that people can be prosecuted and a decision can be made on what parts of the evidentiary findings can be more solidly prosecuted and whether the case will be tried in a federal or state court.
If you think this is a 9 to 5 profession, it’s not. There are many wakeup calls in the middle of the night because an agent is on duty 24/7. FBI agents may be called to other States or even to other countries beyond the home base if the case takes them there. If you are counting on a permanent posting in one city, look elsewhere for a career.
When applying to attend the Academy, you won’t be able to hide anything in your background and will have absolutely no secrets from your employers. Because of Robert Hansen, an FBI agent who was a spy for the Russians on and off from 1979 until 2001, there are now polygraphs administered at the beginning of the application process as well as several times during a career in order to avoid further infiltrations by a foreign agent. Your personnel file is available to the Defense Attorney that represents the suspects (defendants) in the cases you work on, so if you have Lack of Candor (you lied or covered up a mistake during your career) in your file, you can be discredited on the stand in court. Agent credibility is essential for successful prosecution of the case.
The FBI’s Wide Variety of Cases
After 24 hours, kidnappings that cross state lines come under FBI jurisdiction – use of the telephone or email can make it an interstate crime. The FBI is called in (usually by the police) because of their expertise, resources, ability to negotiate, and quick access to required warrants. The FBI can’t tell families whether to pay any ransom or not, but there is surveillance on the payout if that choice is made.
FYI – In general, international kidnappings are handled by negotiators working for the big companies whose employees have been snatched.
If the FBI is the lead agency, the teams will arrive after First Responders have secured the scene. If the mail is involved, then Postal Inspectors will work the case as well, but if not, then the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) unit and an Evidence Response Team (ERT) will be involved. There is some negotiation between the different agency teams so that no duplication of effort occurs.
DEATH ON THE JOB
People see agents depicted as tough and resilient, but let’s face it, field work can be dangerous. Chasing and apprehending fugitives sometimes includes guns and shooting. Bank robberies and other crimes can involve hostages and lethal force.
DUPLICATE DRUG INVESTIGATIONS
It doesn’t often happen, but various other government agency investigations might target the same or overlapping drug cartels. Blue on blue conflict can be very risky, so big cities have de-confliction rooms. Before a big bust, someone checks a database for scheduled buys, so that law enforcement agencies aren’t tripping over each other at the scene.
COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
For people doing the day-to-day work, it’s not about the politics, but agents are cast in the same light as Senior Management. That can happen even if the agents personally might have nothing to do with what’s unfolding in Washington, DC or elsewhere in the world. The FBI played no part in the Rodney King events, but after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, a big bank case came up. A juror on that case said, “If the LAPD can lie, so can the FBI” and that works both ways.
WHITE COLLAR CRIME
White-collar crime refers to fraud perpetrated because of a desire for financial gain. Some scams have cost companies/investors billions of dollars and wiped out entire life savings. Among others, the FBI has investigated cases involving money laundering, securities and commodities fraud, bank fraud and embezzlement, election law violations, telemarketing fraud, and health care fraud. They have worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Treasury Department to catch the worst offenders.
Corporate Fraud is a serious threat to the economy and the FBI concentrates on cases that involve accounting schemes designed to deceive everyone about the true financial condition of a company. Agents specializing in white collar crime look for bogus accounting entries, and fake/illegal trades rigged to protect the trader or avoid regulation. They keep an eye out for insider trading, misuse of corporate property, and tax fraud.
LOVE IN THE BUREAU
Relationships have been known to begin within the agency, because not many people outside law enforcement understand/accept the demands of the job. For FBI couples that marry, if both spouses are street agents, the relationship is not an issue. But, if one or the other reaches management level, one can’t supervise the other. If a slot opens up where a spouse is posted, the other can apply, but there is no guarantee that the married applicant will get it.
WRITE ALL ABOUT IT?
Everyone must sign a non-disclosure agreement because they can never talk about classified cases. There is a special unit that handles whether or not an agent can write about something – all manuscripts must go through pre-publication review. The only cases that can be written about are those closed cases which are part of the public record. Also, former agents are not allowed to write about investigative techniques or their sources.
Besides being a top investigator, AN AGENT IS:
Ready to sign up?
Many thanks to Bucky and Chris Cox for generously sharing their time and knowledge about the details of the job of Special Agent in the FBI. 🙂
*Photo credits: official photos from the FBI
A few months ago, I had the privilege of chatting with two retired FBI agents, Bucky and Chris Cox. They had spoken at a Sisters in Crime event and their story was so interesting that I wanted to know more. Research for the FBI articles, “What Does the FBI Do?” “The Road to Quantico,” and “FBI Training at Quantico,” was nearly finished, but interviews with people that had actually done the job gave a human face to one of the most famous law enforcement agencies in the world.
They shared that as many as 14-16K FBI applicants from a variety of professions compete for 600 jobs. Your background skillset is important for the available slots, but the FBI will teach you what else you need to know in order to conduct investigations.
Bucky is former military and became a police officer while he worked his way through school. He wanted to be an FBI agent from the time he was 11 years old and his dream was realized when he went through a 16 week training program at Quantico in the class of 1973. There was lots of physical work during the instruction, but in actuality, most of the course was academic. His class was made up of all white males.
Academy training gives you a taste of what you will need to succeed and you also get an idea of what you like/want to do in the FBI. It’s possible to spend an entire career focused in one area of law enforcement (i.e. intelligence work) but often, agents might have 10-15 different jobs within the agency.
Bucky started with property crime in the L.A. office; one case involved someone ripping off lobster tails from shipments from Australia. Among his memorable assignments were:
Chris began as an English Lit Major in college. Upon graduation from college, she entered into a retail management program at a local department store, then became an assistant buyer for a year. She returned to graduate school and obtained a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work (MSW). Around that time, the work world changed for women due to legislation that was passed, and women were accepted into law enforcement. Chris entered duty with the FBI in 1978 at Quantico, becoming one of the earliest female FBI agents. Calling upon her experience as a clinical social worker, she was able to use those skills as an Agent, while conducting interviews to flesh out backgrounds and uncover motives. She worked in a variety of areas at the beginning, including organized crime and bank robberies, but was eventually assigned full time to foreign counter terrorism.
Chris is currently a retired member of the bar in: NY, NJ, CT, D.C., and the Supreme Court. While assigned to the Legal Counsel Division at FBIHQ, she handled internal administrative cases and also conducted legal research in areas affecting the FBI. On occasion, she worked with her counterparts at the Department of Justice if their cases reached district court level. She was promoted to Unit Chief at FBIHQ, then went to the field as a Squad supervisor, and finally, as an Assistant Agent in Charge (ASAC) of a large field office.
Read on for some nuts and bolts details they shared about working as FBI agents.
When does the FBI get involved in a case?
Crossing state lines during the commission of a crime is the main criteria for determining when the FBI can be involved. As a general rule, they are invited to participate, especially in kidnapping cases. They don’t storm into town and take over cases as some TV shows and movies would have you believe. The FBI frequently works with other agencies in providing investigative information, resources, and expertise to them. Of special note: the FBI and the DEA have concurrent jurisdiction in drug cases. This also happens when working with local police departments on bank robberies/bank burglaries.
Field Offices and the Details of the Job
All 50 states have either a field office or a resident agent. There are squads within each field office and each supervisor will have at least eight Special Agents on a squad. The larger the office, the more specialized the jobs; the smaller the office, the more parts of the case you get to touch; Some offices are small offshoots of the field office, where four or five people and a secretary work arm-in-arm with the local police department and have more interaction with the public. In a larger office, you might be transferred or loaned between squads if your skill sets are needed for different cases. In addition to the 56 field offices and 350 satellite offices in the USA, the FBI has 60 international offices, called legal attaches, located in U.S. embassies around the world.
Good Surveillance requires at least five or six agents on the ground. In addition, some operations require agents in the air – the pilot watches the ground and the co-pilot watches for other aircraft.
We all see credentials being flashed by law enforcement personnel on TV. The FBI credentials must be carried by the agents 24/7 and they are told/trained to never give them up. There are career consequences to losing them.
Working at the FBI does not pay nearly as well as the private sector. Agents are paid on the GS (General Schedule) scale or SES (Senior Executive Services) scale. Incremental raises are based on years served. There is now a pay adjustment for the field office location (housing is MUCH more expensive in NYC than in Montana), as well as more overtime paid than there used to be for those round-the-clock hours needed on rapidly unfolding cases. The recent government shutdown seriously affected the FBI with mandatory furloughs and hampered its ability to work on all aspects of the cases currently under investigation. The FBI is a federal agency, so is paid in the same fashion and from the same coffers as other federal employees. A three month gap in paychecks may not happen often, but can be a serious consideration when looking at steady employment options.
Agents are trained to work the case in systematic ways. Among other strategies, they conduct interviews, knock on doors, circulate photos if needed, or collect/compare fingerprints. They continue to investigate until they and the DOJ attorney feel they have enough to successfully prosecute.
FBI are investigators who can make arrests after a thorough investigation indicates probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed the crime of which he/she is being accused. Before the arrest warrant can be issued, a US Attorney reviews an affidavit requesting the arrest warrant and then a Judge reviews and signs off on it if he/she agrees. There is an arrest plan, so that the arrest itself is conducted as safely and efficiently as possible. An agent does not make an arrest on his/her own. There are at least two levels of management involved in the decision.
Training never stops. Back in the 70s, the sixteen week course at Quantico touched on a little bit of everything, including classroom work, photography, tire casting, intelligence, and investigation of violent crimes. Now there are forensic teams in law enforcement, cybercrime affecting all of us, and world-wide terrorism. The training has evolved to meet today’s demands. Quantico training is not just for entering agents, however. If a class is being offered to active agents or the boss says ‘I need you to attend,’ agents can be selected for in-service training. There is some on the job instruction, but agents do go back to school for specialized areas or even refresher courses.
Bucky and Chris Cox continued to provide a wealth of details about working for the FBI.
Stay tuned for: “Do you want to be an FBI agent? – Part 2”
Photo credits: official FBI photos
Questions I get asked all the time:
1) What floats to the top of the favorite article pile for the year? (see below for the 2018 fave list)
2) Do writers gather material for their contest submissions at Kerrian’s Notebook? (yes)
3) Are the crime fans looking for information that explains a particular book they are reading or a movie they have watched? (yes to both)
Here are the top eleven most popular new posts for 2018. Why eleven? 10 & 11 were too close to leave one off the list. 🙂 Click on the links to read the posts for the first time or to enjoy them again.
11) “Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies” http://bit.ly/2QHcSdr
10) “Is That Poison in Your Tea?” http://bit.ly/2NNpIpb
9) “Sheila Sees a Body in the Brush Pile” https://bit.ly/2GQIUyi
8) “What Does the FBI Do?” https://bit.ly/2JivNuP
7) “Death by Freezing” https://bit.ly/2Dym0KS
6) “Parmesan Basil Veggies” http://bit.ly/2Le0Chf
5) “Crime Scene at the Beach” https://bit.ly/2Jp6eo8
4) “Stokes Basket Method” http://bit.ly/2NpGXw5
3) “The Road to Quantico” https://bit.ly/2y6NJUG
2) “Underwater Evidence & Body Recovery” http://bit.ly/2MbkcMo
and the most read new post for 2018 was:
1) “FBI Training at Quantico” https://bit.ly/2IwYyPU
Happy Sleuthing, everyone!