“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
Sheila and Charlie Kerrian thoroughly enjoy their cross-country road trips, and besides taking loads of photos of the breathtaking landscapes, have met some truly intriguing people in law enforcement. There was the newspaper owner/editor Ava Logan; the psychic puzzler, Lexi Sobado; the 1880s midwife, Rose Carroll; the vegetarian detective, Becky Greene; and the time traveling sheriff, Will Denton – an eclectic bunch of crime fighters to be sure.
This trip was all about seeing the Pacific Northwest. Sheila’s parents had lived in Tacoma, Washington, for a while and spoke fondly of their time in the area. The plan was to fly out to Seattle, stop in as many coffee shops as they could (Charlie ran out of time well before running out of coffee shops to visit) and then travel by rental car through Oregon and on to California. A break in the drive in the middle of Oregon’s majestic scenery took them to the Cascade Kitchen.
Meet Rainy Dale and friends, in ranch and horse country Oregon:
“Twenty-seven hundred miles from home, Charlie and Sheila marvel at Oregon’s land between the Cascade Mountains and the high desert. Traveling through the central part of the state showcases the transition of coastal fir, spruce and cedar giving way to pine and sage. Black-ribbed buttes thrust out of the sandy loam. The last road sign announces their entry into (fictional) Butte County.
Hunger calls and they pull off the two-lane highway in the pokey little town of Cowdry where they find an unlikely-looking diner called the Cascade Kitchen. Farmland abuts the back of the truck-choked, gravel parking lot. A gleaming red horse stands at the hitching rail. Yes, there’s a hitching rail behind the diner and this horse’s reins are loosely swirled around the thick wood crossbeam. The animal seems perfectly happy to wait there, head low, eyes half-closed, one hip cocked. Maybe the restaurant offers oatmeal to go, perhaps with extra brown sugar.
Inside, garden variety décor screams mere diner, with a wooden sign suggesting they seat themselves. The vinyl booths are dinner-rush-full, but wow—at the first table, a good old boy in overalls and a baseball cap bearing the John Deere emblem is ripping into a ruby red bell pepper with fork and knife. Wild rice, sugar snap peas, and sausage spill out. Stuffed peppers in a diner!
Two seats are open at the lunch counter next to a young woman in jeans and a flannel shirt.
Why is she biting into a hamburger when better food is served here? Charlie and Sheila wonder as they climb onto the last available twirly stools.
The young woman makes eye contact via the mirrored wall facing the lunch counter, then turns to face them.
“You’re new here. Are you moving in? D’you have horses?” She pulls a business card from her shirt pocket and slides it down the counter in front of them.
Sheila and Charlie inspect the card together.
Rainy Dale, horseshoer.
“You’re a horseshoer?” Charlie asks.
A chuckle erupts from the uniformed deputy on the other side of the young woman. Charlie and Sheila look at the mix of people sitting on Rainy Dale’s other side. Two uniformed deputies, a middle-aged man with a crew cut and a young woman with a tight French braid who looks about Rainy’s age, probably young twenties, are finishing their plates. The chuckle came from the male deputy, who nods and says, “She thinks she’s a horseshoeing detective.”
“A horseshoeing detective?” Sheila asks. “That’s a thing?”
A ponytail keeps Rainy’s long brown hair out of her plate as she leans forward and uses both hands to stuff the last bite into her mouth. She looks at Sheila in the mirrored wall and nods.
Charlie reaches for the laminated menu. One burger option is local, grass-fed beef.
A tall, blond young man in a chef’s shirt comes through the swinging doors from the kitchen, plates in each hand. “A sample of blackened spears of butternut squash drizzled in maple-infused vinegar.”
Rainy smiles and wrinkles her nose. “Guy, that looks and sounds suspiciously like vegetables.”
“I’ll try it,” the male deputy says.
Charlie studies the man’s uniform—it’s slightly different from what the woman is wearing. The man’s shoulder patch reads Deputy above the shield, Butte County below. The young woman’s sleeve has two lines above the cloth badge. Reserve Deputy.
The horseshoer and the reserve deputy give each other the stink eye in the mirror. What kind of ire lurks between them?
Guy, the cook, fires up a tiny butane hand torch that hisses as he caramelizes sugar on a small, perfect-looking crème brulée. The scent of browning sugar wafts over them, making Charlie and Sheila think of eating dessert first. Guy carries the dessert to the man at the first table.
Charlie wonders how many homicides the deputy has investigated.
“How many sworn officers are in your Sheriff’s Department?” he asks over Rainy’s head.
(This is how law enforcement officers compare department size—by the number of sworn and non-sworn employees.)
The regular deputy nods as though recognizing he’s likely talking to a brother officer. “Twelve deputies in a county of seven thousand square miles. About as many people as square miles.”
Charlie whistles. “That’s not really enough personnel for full twenty-four-hour coverage. How do you patrol that much land with so few deputies?”
The deputy jerks a thumb to the young woman seated beside him. “With reservists like her.”
The reserve deputy quits making faces at the horseshoer and sips her soda.
This is the modern American West. More going on than would appear at first glance. Maybe Charlie and Sheila will stay a night or two.”
Many thanks to Lisa Preston for stopping by and introducing Rainy Dale, horseshoer, to the Kerrian’s Notebook readers. Rainy is a truly original voice, with a talent for sizing up people and their horses. Horses kick and people get dead around her, but….. 🙂
Click on the link and let Rainy tell her story in “The Clincher.”
“The Clincher,” is the debut novel for Preston’s Rainy Dale horseshoer series. An important scene in the book mentions a practical application of the sport of “Ride & Tie,” and the photo above shows Preston competing in a real life Ride & Tie race. Although her experience and love of horses and other animals did not start out to be research for any of her books, the knowledge gained throughout her globetrotting life flows richly on the pages.
Lisa Preston began writing after careers as a fire department paramedic and a city police officer. She was first published in nonfiction, with titles on animal care, such as The Ultimate Guide to Horse Feed, Supplements and Nutrition. Her debut novel, Orchids and Stone, (Thomas & Mercer, 2016), has been described as a book club thriller, or domestic noir. Her psychological suspense novel, The Measure of the Moon, (Thomas & Mercer, 2017) was also a book club pick. The Clincher (Skyhorse Publishing, 2018) debuted her mystery series featuring a young woman horseshoer. She lives with her husband in western Washington.
Please visit www.lisapreston.com for links to her bestselling books and more about this multi-faceted author of both non-fiction (animals and their care) and fiction.