By Doug Ianelli, (c) 1999
The J. Edgar Hoover Building takes up a whole, not quite square, block between Pennsylvania Avenue, 10th Street, 9th Street, and E Street (all NW). The structure is widely described as a “monstrosity”. Due to District of Columbia building code restrictions, it is seven storeys high in front and eleven storeys in the rearm with a huge overhang. It is finished entirely by crude concrete slabs that are riddled with pock marks strangely reminiscent of bullet holes. Visitors frequently ask when the renovations will be completed, but the holes are, in fact, in intentional facet of the building’s architecture. For years a local homeless man railed against the homeliness of the Hoover Building architecture, becoming somewhat of a Bureau legend who was even given a bit part in an Assistant Director’s retirement video.
In the center of the Hoover Building is an open courtyard with fountains, benches, and ivy-covered walls. The lobby serving invited guests overlooks this area. On the wall of the courtyard is a bronze plaque with an inscription reading, “The most effective weapon against crime is co-operation. . . the efforts of all law enforcement agencies with the support and understanding of all American people.” This is a quote from J. Edgar Hoover himself, and was presented by the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI to whom Hoover’s legacy is still well-remembered and defended.
There is a parking garage beneath the Hoover Building accessible from the corner of E Street and 10th. Not open to the public, a security guard stands duty at the entrance and checks all entrants prior to allowing them to proceed. Only persons with Bureau credentials are authorized to use this area.
The public entrance is located to the rear of the building, on E Street, opposite a McDonald’s restaurant. The main entrance, serving only agents, civilian employees of the Bureau, and properly invited guests is at the front, on the corner of Pennsylvania Ave. and 10th.
Upon passing through the main entrance, visitors pass into a comfortable lounge and are observed by security personnel and agents via a two-way mirror. All visitors are required to sign in and are subjected to a security check, although Assistant Directors and above (denoted by IDs bearing a gold background) are afforded the privelage of bringing guests through the entrance and bypassing these precautions. All other Bureau personal, issued IDs with blue backgrounds, are authorized to bring guests into the building, but they are not exempt from the signature and security check requirements. If a HQ employee forgets their pass, their supervisors are informed in writing.
Beyond the reception areas, the interior of the headquarters facility is as stark within is it is without. Doors are charcoal colored and the walls are uniformly beige. There are no paintings. Because the building has an odd shape, employees are constantly getting lost. Many report that, even after years of service within its halls, they still can’t work it out.
The Criminal Investigation Division (CID), near the top of your organizational chain of command, is the division responsible for most all field investigations and, indeed, nearly every publicly-known case. It is located on the fifth floor. The office of Assistant Director Thomas Vaughn is can be found here. It includes a secure back room, with a private phone and couch, as well as a bottle of scotch which he shares on Friday afternoons with agents who have successfully completed major cases.
The Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) is also on the fifth floor. This is the site from which the Bureau directs all of its really significant investigations. Entered through a key-coded vault door, the area is thoroughly placarded with red signs warning personnel that they are venturing into an extremely high security zone. Cameras eye the entrance, and there is also an old-fashioned padlock as a last-resort deterrent to accidental intrusion into the area beyond.
Inside the SIOC is a suite of four rooms. The floors of the rooms are rasied to facilitate sweeps for bugs, and the walls are shielded so that electronic transmissions can neither leave nor enter the rooms. Cellphones are expressly prohibited within the SIOC. There are two command rooms (OPS1 and OPS2), a control room, and a conference room. The latter contains a large-screen television, clocks set to all the time zones, and a large map of the world. All four rooms have large windows so that they can all be seen from the other rooms, although not heard.
The larger command room (OPS2) has a duty officer present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It has five large screen televisions, 16 computer terminals, and secure phone lines to the White House and all other national security entities. The entire SIOC is carpeted in royal blue and there are no exterior windows. 12 special agents work here in shifts, and the assignment is known for being extremely dull when there is no crisis. When anyone calls the FBI HQ after hours, this is where their phone calls go.
8000 employees work at the Hoover Building -almost all in direct support functions to the agents in the field. The building is home to the Criminal Forensics Laboratory and the mainframes for the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and FBI Internal Computer System.
The Laboratory Division provides genetic analysis, sophisticated listening devices, night-time optical equipment, data on computer viruses and much more. While many of the staff are trained agents, the bulk are civilian outsiders employed for their technical expertise.
The Lab is encompasses the entire first sub-level of the Hoover Building, and most if the third floor. The Criminal Forensics Laboratory is on the third floor, which is where most of the Bureau’s huge workload of forensic analysis takes place.
The Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART), a unit of the Laboratory Division, is housed among the other Lab functions on the first basement level. CART specializes in tasks such as piecing together deleted and opening “locked” files from computers confiscated in the course of investigations.
The Polygraph Unit, while technically attached to FBI Headquarters, is located two blocks away from the Hoover Building, at 7th and D Street. All polygraph results obtained in the field must be forwarded to this unit for certification of accuracy.
Fingerprint data, once housed in the sub-floor Lab, is now sent to the Bureau’s new facility near Clarksburg, West Virginia, where complete records are stored on computer.
The FBI mainframe occupies the whole of the first floor of the Hoover Building. It consists of rows upon rows of cream-colored containers, with seeming miles of shelves of discs, tapes and back-up batteries. Several technicians from the Technical Support Division man the central command console at one end 24 hours a day.
The computers serve two main functions. The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) provides a national database for all law enforcement agencies. It contains an estimated twenty million records, ranging from stolen vehicles to missing persons, from past murder cases to the criminal records of every citizen who has one. It processes approximately 100,000 transactions a day. The Bureau is currently engaged in updating to a faster and greatly improved system dubbed NCIC 2000.
The other main function is the FBI Internal Computer System (ICS). This resource is used by field agents to analyze data and search Bureau records for connections and links. It contains the records of all previous FBI investigations and also provides access to the records of the DEA and other federal law enforcement agencies. It is worthy of note, however, that the Bureau is the one federal law enforcement agency that does not open its database to the CIA.
Only about 650 of the personnel assigned to the Headquarters complex are special agents. When Louis Freeh took Directorship in 1993, he immediately reassigned nearly 150 agents to Field Offices across the nation and has since continued this policy of downsizing the number of field investigators tied down to administrative functions. Contrary to popular perception, the agents that actually respond to crime scenes and carry out investigations are not usually found assigned to FBI Headquarters. That is the domain of the Regional Field Offices.
The FBI Academy is located at Quantico, Virginia about 40 miles to the southwest of the Capital, nestled behind the gates of the Quantico U.S.M.C. Base. Turning off I-95 onto a neatly paved road amid an assortment of military signage, a short drive brings the visitor to an armed checkpoint at which his desire for entry to the facility is ascertained.
Opened in 1972, the Training Academy is a complex of 21 shiny honey-colored modern buildings. Situated amid 385 acres of woodland to provide security, privacy, and safety, the facility looks enough like a fine hotel to have earned the nickname “Quantico Hilton”. Other visitors have compared it to a sleepy midwestern university or a new hospital, though the illusion is quickly shattered by the fact that the grounds usually echo with the sounds of gunfire.
An inscription above the entrance to the main training facility informs the visitor that building commensed in 1970 under Director J. Edgar Hoover. Inside is a spacious and sunny lobby, outside which are flags and a fountain. High above the scenic atrium are inspiring quotations concerning Fidelity, Integrity, and Bravery.
The buildings are linked by glass corridors so that no one need go outside, and it’s easy to become lost. All the corridors come together in a glass-covered quad in the center of the facility.
At times, it can look like a mini-warzone with armed figures, armored personnel carriers, and vehicles running wild outside.
The main training complex has three dormitory buildings, a dining hall (where meals are free for trainees), a general store, a classroom building, a thousand-seat auditorium, the Forensic Science Research and Training Center, a chapel, offices. a large gymnasium and outdoor track, and a fully-equipped garage. Separate from this is a mock city, called “Hogan’s Alley”, used for training. From the exterior, Hogan’s Alley actually looks like a small town, but the buildings are only facades. Behind them are more classrooms, audiovisual facilities, and offices.
The extensive grounds support eight firing ranges, four skeet ranges and a 200-yard rifle range. There is also an indoor firing range. These facilities are used both for initial agent training and ongoing firearms skill training, for other law enforcement agnecies as well as the Bureau.
Teaching staff consists of approximately 100 special agents and 34 technical/professional staff. Most of the instructors have post-graduate degrees and hold adjunct professor status with the University of Virginia, which recognizes many of the Academy’s courses of instruction. There are also a multitude of authorities in particular disciplines from all over the country that are brought in to instruct and lecture new recruits.
As well as the training facilities, the Academy is also the Bureau’s focii for research into all aspects of law enforcement techniques. The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, founded in 1985, consolidates research into all areas of violent crime, and also works through the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) to offer investigative support to local law enforcement agencies. The Behavioral Science Unit, or Investigative Support Unit, is located in an old nuclear bunker on the grounds. (see below)
New agents are taken in groups of 32. The Special Agents’ Training Program involves 15-16 weeks of intensive study and consists of 645 hours of instruction. There are four major areas of study:
Academics (261 hours) Covers all aspects of crime and law enforcement, e.g., white-collar crime, organized crime, drug investigation, law (76 hours alone), forensic science, ethics (5 hours), behavioral science, computer skills, interviewing skills, etc.
Firearms (113 hours)
Physical Training and Defense (73 hours)
Practical Exercises (198 hours) Perodically, students are required to display what they have learned by participating in multi-disciplinary exercises staged in Hogan’s Alley.
The goal of the course is to pack as much into the time provided as possible, the conventional wisdom being that all graduates must possess the ability to work well under pressure. Days begin at 7 a.m. and continue on for well over twelve hours. The day might begin with the Marine Corps’ Leadership Reaction Course, complete with navigating precarious rope bridges and high walls. Then there might be a block of classroom instruction concerning law, a practical lesson on wiretap equipment, and a laborious round of unarmed combat training in the gym. This might then be followed by additional blocks of instruction on say, international terrorism, a nice five-mile run, and a session on the firing range. If the day’s been particularly gruelling, the instructors might give the recruits a difficult legal puzzle to solve to teach them to function cerebrally when exhausted.
In the classroom, recruits sit in tiered rows of seats, in assigned places, with their names prominently displayed in front of them. They are given FBI notebooks and paper to work on.
Hogan’s Alley was built in 1986 and is just across Hoover Road from the main complex. It was established after two agents died in a Dade County shootout with a pair of heavily-armed bank robbers and was designed to give agents as much practice as possible in working on the street. It is a complete small town, with a bank, post office, theater, courthouse, etc., and its populated by actors who are often instructed to be as unhelpful as possible.
Recruits visit Hogan’s Alley every few days for practical application of what they’ve been taught. Perhaps a crazed gunman has six hostages in the post office and the prospective agents have to determine a plan to mitigate the crisis. Or, a suspected terrorist is staying at motel (the Dogwood Inn, $48 a night) and they are tasked to surveill him for long tedious hours as part of a stakeout. Or, an uncooperative witness has seen a crime and must be persuaded to talk. There’s even a casino where recruits learn how to gamble, in the event a future undercover job requires them to appear proficient in the vice, and the movie theater’s always showing Manhattan Melodrama. There’s even a real courthouse, with a real retired judge, where trainees can present evidence and hope they’ve done it well enough to not get it thrown out of the case.
The chief of the Practical Applications Unit actually has his office in the Dogwood Inn and acts as mayor of the town. When showing Bureau officials around the premises, he has reportedly been “arrested” by over-zealous recruits who belive that he is still playing the bad guy.
The Firearms Automated Training System (FATS) is where new recruits can practice their firearms skills in life-like situations. It’s very similar to a video game in that a computer projects shoot-outs, hostage situations, etc., onto a large screen and the agent has to immediately determine the correct action. Using a laser-fitted gun, a shot striking an innocent or a blatant miss draws a “poor judgement” declaration from the computer. It’s no substitute for actual firearms practice, and the feel of the gun is all wrong, but it allows the agent to practice in situations impractical to simulate safely by any other means.
The New Agent Review Board (NARB) decides who passes and who fails, carefully examining those students whose suitability is in doubt. About ten percent fail per class. During exercises at Hogan’s Alley and on FATS, instructors observe and record a trainee’s every move, and there are multiple tests every few weeks. In order to pass, a trainee must pass every facet of the course. (Female recruits are held to a different physical standard than males, which has done little to rectify the existing anti-female sentiment within the Bureau.) If a recruit shows skill in one discipline but fails at another, they may be directed to another law enforcement agency that better suits their proficiencies. Some also choose to drop out and when there is a question as to a recruit’s suitability, they are often given the option to resign rather than endure the humiliation of being formally dismissed.
An important part of the course is learning the Bureau ethos, and teamwork. Recruits wear a uniform of blue shirts and khaki slacks, and a strong message of the course is that they are joining an elite society and should feel immense loyalty to it. At the end of the course, new agents get to meet the Director who gives them their diplomas at a special ceremony, to which family are invited.
Upon graduation from the Academy, new agents serve a two-year probationary period at their first Field Office assignment, during which time they receive on-the-job training. Throughout their careers, they are afforded opportunities to return the the Academy for in-service seminars to enhance their skills and knowledge. This is especially important with regard to firearms training.
The Forensic Science Research and Training Center is a Section of the Laboratory Division. It assists the Training Division by providing forensics training to everyone who trains at Quantico, whether new agents, veteran agents, DEA agents, or local law enforcement personnel. It also assists the Criminal Forensics Lab with research and quality assurance functions.
Forensic science courses are offered to new agents and are accredited through the University of Virginia’s Department of Continuing Education. In-service training is offered to agents as FBI lab technicians, especially to introduce them to new technique in the examination of evidence.
Research is conducted into new areas of forensic evidence analysis, concentrating on biochemistry, genetics, and physics. The staff cooperate with other researchers in their chosen field, whether in academia, industry, or government labs. DNA research is particularly important. It also assesses and standardizes lab technique in the Criminal Forensics Lab, and suggest improvements.
The Investigative Support Unit (ISU) is a cramped maze of offices sixty feet beneath the indoor firing range, which once served as a nuclear fall-out shelter for the Director and his executive staff. It is part of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. To get there, you press “LL” on the elevator, or “Low-Low”, as it is jokingly called. The staff of sometimes refer to their location as the “National Cellar for the Analysis of Violent Crime” and joke that they are buried ten times deeper than the dead. Sometimes called the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU), the ISU is used as a last resort by all other law enforcement agencies, and serves primarily in the hunt for serial killers. There are 36 agents in this unit, but only 10 are full-time profilers. The others work in the Violent Criminals Apprehension Program (VICAP), advise in hostage negotiations, serve in prosecutions as expert witnesses, etc. They each work about 40-50 cases at once and work is constantly being turned down.
The Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) is also based at Quantico. It provides training and operational support in crisis management, negotiations, criminal profiling and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). The Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and the nine Field SWAT Teams, located around the country, are part of the CIRG. The HRT is an elite force of 50 agents trained to deal with domestic hijackings, sieges, and the like.
The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) was formed in 1985 and is a resource center that can be accessed by all law enforcementagencies dealing with a violent crime. It mainly carries out research, but it also works through VICAP (the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program) to alert local authorities who may be seeking the same criminal for different crimes in their jurisdiction.
The Violent Criminal Apprehension Program (VICAP) is a computer-based system with its mainframe at Quantico. It is a national system designed to help detectives who may be searching for the same criminal in different areas. VICAP’s information forms are lengthy – fourteen pages and 188 questions, plus a narrative summary – but experts on serial murder have long since learned that the seemingly trivial details of an unsolved crime can turn out to be the clues that track and trap a killer.
The Engineering Research Facility is nearby, in an ultra-secure building. This Section of the Laboratory Division develops and improves the Bureau’s wiretapping technology.
The FBI is headed by a Presidentially-appointed Director. Following the 48 year tenure of former Director J. Edgar Hoover, the appointment has been capped to a maximum ten year term. The current Director, Louis Freeh, is one of only two former agents ever to receive appointment from within the ranks of Bureau. No woman has ever been considered for the job. It is the duty of the Director to justify the Bureau’s budget to Congress and assume responsibility for the myriad of activities his organization undertakes.
Most of the practical organization within the Bureau is performed by the senior managers. Until 1993, these consisted of the Deputy Director and two Associate Deputy Directors who effectively controlled all facets of day to day management. All were selected from within the ranks of the Bureau, and it was to them that all subordinate Assistant Directors reported. Following a recent structural reorganization, Assistant Directors are directly responsible to the Director.
The nine Divisons and four Offices responsible for all aspects of Bureau activity are headquartered in the Hoover Building. Each Division is headed by an Assistant Director. The Divisions are:
Criminal Investigation Division
Liaison and International Affairs Division
Administative Services Division
Records Management Division
Technical Services Division
Each Division also has a Deputy Assistant Director who oversees general operations. Divisions are further subdivided into Sections and then, at the most concise level, into units. For example, all agents assigned to Field Offices fall under the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which is a huge division employing some 80 percent of the Bureau’s agents and investigating approximately 70,000 cases annually. The CID is itself further divided into eleven Sections within which there are multiple tactical units:
The four Offices are headed by an Inspector in Charge or General Counsel and include:
Equal Opportunities Office
Office of Professional Responsibility
All of the above executives are essentially the Bureau’s board of directors. They seldom involve themselves in a case investigations and spend the majority of their time on policy. They are bureaucrats first and foremost – managers not investigators. It is their responsibility to provide upper-level management for the nearly 11,000 special agents and 14,000 support staff comprising the Bureau’s 56 Regional Field Offices and 46 International Offices.
Regional Field Offices
Bureau Field Offices are usually under the control of a Special Agent in Charge (SAC), assisted by at least one Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC). Currently, all SACs save one are me. The position of SAC over a Field Office is a very sought after position, as they are essentially gods in their domain. Beneath them, Supervisory Special Agents manage squads and units of ordinary special agents to handle the investigative duties, while the Office Services Manager administers support operations.
There are a few exceptions to the organizational structure as delineated above. The Field Offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. (not Headquarters) are so large that they are headed by an Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC), supported by numerous SACs and ASACs.
Regardless of whether they are SACs or ADICs, those in charge of a Regional Field Office are immediately responsible to the Director, Deputy Director, or Assistant Directors.
Agents within a Field Office are usually assigned to one or another of the investigative priorities of the Criminal Investigation Division under which they ultimately fall as established by the SAC. This varies from Office to Office, as each region has differing crime problems from the rest.
Each Field Office has a defined area of jurisdiction. Because this is large, often consisting of an entire state, there are multiple Resident Agencies, which are local offices responsible to the Field Office. There are some 400 local offices, averaging about seven per Field Office. Some are very small, consisting of one agent, plus support staff, others are much larger and headed up by a Supervisory Senior Resident Agent.
In addition, there are plenty of “offsites“, which are undercover Bureau offices, masquerading as stores, restaurants, businesses, etc. Of the New York Field Office, about one quarter of agent staffing is based out of these hidden offices, working undercover or conducting surveillance.
The Field Offices are the Bureau’s front line. In reality, it is nearly always agents from the Field Offices that carry out investigations and arrests. Field agents usually work with local law enforcement bodies more closely than they do their own Headquarters. Projects like the Safe Streets Initiative are nation-wide efforts of the Bureau working in collaboration with local law enforcement agencies to pool expertise in violent crime.
The main link between the Field Offices and Headquarters is through the computers system, which serves as a database to detailing crimes throughout the country. Local agents also make regular use of the Criminal Forensics Lab for evidence analysis.
A new agent’s first posting is normally to a Field Office and they are traditionally transferred several times in the course of the career, often arbitrarily, without choice. One remnant of the Hoover Administration that still remains strong is the caveat that no junior special agent serve in the Field Office of his state of origin. More senior agents with a preference for a particular office can sign up on a “wish list” for that Office, and wait.
Some Field Offices are more popular than others. The New York Office has long had a reputation as the worst place to work, due mostly to traffic and the need to live a long way out of the City in order to find a decent place to live. New York agents used to have a reputation for returning reports late and not answering their phones, but were excused, generally, on the grounds that they were faced with a horrendous caseload and that working in New York was punishment enough. Now, though, the agent assigned to the New York Field Office recieve assignment stipends to compensate. This, combined, with the nonstop action afforded by such a dense population, has historically made assignment to the Field Office an idealistic aspiration of new, and naive, special agents.
Technical Support Squads (TSS) provide wiretap capabilities to individual Field Offices and each Office has their own team, established either as a separate TSS or as part of their Special Operations Group (SOG). TSS agents, or “soundmen”, are often in great demand. In fact, the Washington Field Office TSS has earned itself the nickname “Tough Shit Squad” because it is forced to turn down so many requests for assistance.
The following is a complete list of Bureau Field Offices:
Arkansas: Little Rock
California: Los Angeles
California: Los Angeles
California: San Diego
California: San Francisco
Connecticut: New Haven
Florida: North Miami Beach
Louisiana: New Orleans
Missouri: Kansas City
Missouri: St. Louis
Nevada: Las Vegas
New Jersey: Newark
New Mexico: Albuquerque
New York: Albany
New York: Buffalo
New York: New York
North Carolina: Charlotte
Oklahoma: Oklahoma City
Puerto Rico: San Juan
South Carolina: Columbia
Texas: El Paso
Texas: San Antonio
Utah: Salt Lake City
Washington, D.C.: Washington Metropolitan Field Office
International Offices are not very large and provide overseas embassy presences and liaisoning with foreign law enforcement agencies. There are only about 140 special agents among the follwing 46 Offices:
Manilla, the Phillipines
Mexico City, Mexico
Panama City, Panama
Seoul, South Korea
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Tel Aviv, Israel
New Dehli, India
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Pretoria, South Africa
Life as a Special Agent
A few hundred Special Agents are recruited each year, depending on the Bureau’s needs. Applicants need to have a designated degree, such as law or accounting (for investigating financial crime), or a non-designated degree plus three year’s work experience, though, in practice, nearly all new agents have had some work experience before applying. The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, aged 23-37, and willing to be assigned anywhere in the country. They must also possess 20/20 vision (corrected) and cannot be color blind or have uncorrected vision worse than 20/200.
Applicants fill out a long application form, are subjected to intelligence and aptitude tests, and are interviewed by a panel of three agents. Before even making it to the interview stage of the process, they are given a hand-strength test, since it was discovered that some potential agents (especially females) were failing their training simply because they did not possess the strength in their hands to handle a sidearm and pull the trigger repeatedly. Successful advancement past the interview means that the recruit will be subjected to an intensive background investigation in which their family, friends and even casual acquaintences may find themselves being interviewed. The background checks consist of: checking credit and arrest records, interviewing associates, verifying educational achievements, drug testing, a polygraph examination, and a comprehensive medical physical.
Once an applicant is accepted, he attends the 15-16 week Special Agents’ Training Program at the Acadamy. Before graduating and joining the ranks of the Bureau, each new agent is told what name to go by. No two agents may have the same name.
After graduation, most new agents go straight to one of the Regional Field Offices. There they serve a two-year probationary period and receive on-the-job training. After four years they are subject to compulsory transfer, depending on the staffing needs of the Bureau. Standard promotion structure is through the ranks of the Field Offices. The immediate rank above Special Agent is Supervisory Special Agent. From there, the agent would probably rise to being an ASAC. Above that, the SACs are in charge of each Field Office, but these are very hotly contested positions. At some point, if an agent wants to rise of the ladder, it is necessary to move away from the field and get one’s ticket punched in a supervisory assignment in at HQ.
In the past, agents had little say in their transfers, but now there is a little more choice in where they end up. Still, agents are liable to receive compulsory transfers more often than not. One FBI counselor (of which there are two in the country) has stated that transfers are the main cause of stress among agents. In addition, agents are compelled to reveal any areas of expertise they might have and are sometimes called upon to travel across the country as an expert advisor on some case in which it is considered they can assist on.
Special Agents enter service as GS-10 employees on the government pay scale and can advance to GS-13 grade level in non-supervisory field assignments. In reality, most Bureau agents fall under the GS-12 pay grade.
For agents on the East Coast, the GS-12 pay scale (as of 1998), starts at $47,066 and increases about $1,500 per year for the first four years. After that, similar increases accrue every two years.
Agents are also eligible for a further 25 percent called Administrative Uncontrollable Overtime, taking salaries to $60,000 and up. At the other end of the pay scale, an Assistant Director starts at $118,512 and are also allowed overtime.
Pensions are provided once a Bureau employee reaches 50 years of age or has accumulated 20 years of service.
The formal dress code of the Hoover Administration no longer stands. Field agents may wear whatever they like, providing it is appropriate for the task at hand.
The Bureau is still seen as a man’s job. Nowadays, ten percent of new recruits are women, which is a great improvement on what stood before. The recruiters claim they wish there were more, but the fact is few females apply. Female agents are allowed to work part-time while they have young children if they wish and both male and female agents are afforded paternity/maternity leave up to six months. Only one female agents has ever accelerated through the rank of SAC, and she is derisively referred to as the “Queen Bee” by the predominantly male members of the Bureau.
There have been a few cases of alleged sexual discrimination, with the bulk of the complaints stemming from female agents claiming that their superiors made disparaging remarks about a woman’s ability to do the work. In a recent study, 13 percent of female employees (and 2 percent of male employees) admitted to having suffered some form of harrassment. 40 percent of those who stated they’d suffered harrassment were agents, the rest were support staff. Only 10 percent of them actually officially reported the incident(s).
Bureau slang for female agents includes “split tails“, “skirts“, and, in California, “breast feds“. However, several female agents, when interviewed, stated that agents working in stressful jobs needle one another and tease a lot regardless of gender. They claim that some jibes that sound sexist to the outsider are, in fact, just par for the course. Even those agents, however, report that they get annoyed at being constantly referred to as “female agents”.
The Bureau does not condone romantic relationships between superior and subordinate, although consensual relations between employees of the same rank are generally accepted. In fact, agents are encouraged to socialize. They are informally prodded into living near other agents, going to parties, and going out for drinks after work. Agents who just go straight home everyday tend to be viewed as not pulling their weight and lacking in their devotion to the Bureau.
The FBI Agent’s Association, while not a true union behaves very much like one, although it cannot negotiate wages. Two third of all agents belong to it. There is also an African-American agent’s group, called BADGE.
While the Bureau is not as authoritarian as it used to be under Hoover (when agents weren’t allowed to drink coffee in the office as it went against the hard working superman image) the organization is still very rule-bound and bureaucratic. It has often been called “cruel”, placing these rules and bureaucracies before real people. Even the smallest shooting incident is subject to a major investigation.
Discipline is the responsibility of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to investigate serious transgressions, such as unauthorized use of Bureau resources, and to carry out inspections. It is supposed to be independent and impartial, and reports directly to the Director. OPR investigations may be initaited by public complaints or even anonymous tips.
Offenses that agents may be disciplined for include:
*Misuse of Bureau property, especially cars (most common offense). This includes vehicular accidents due to poor driving, using a Bureau vehicle for non-Bureau business, and driving while intoxicated. It must be noted, however, that agents can often discreetly flash their credentials and police will exercise “professional courtesy” and let them off with a warning rather than a speeding ticket.
*Failure to report for work.
*Falsifying official Bureau reports.
*Drawing a service weapon in a personal dispute.
*Assaulting a fellow agent or private citizen.
*Passing Bureau-sensitive information on to non-Bureau personnel.
*Using Bureau records to obtain information for personal reasons.
*Making sexual or racial derogatory remarks.
*Gross obesity. Agents are required to report their weight monthly and submit to a physical biannually if under 40 and annually if over 40. Failure to adhere to Bureau weight requirements is considered a breach of physical training standards.
Cases are only handled by the OPR directly when they involve ASACs and above, in which case the Inspector in Charge (AD equivalent) of the OPR personally conducts the investigation. When transgressions involve lower-ranking agents, the OPR appoints an agent-inspector in the relevant Division or Field Office, and that agent conducts interviews on their behalf. The final report is then compiled within the OPR.
The main complaint about the OPR is that it takes so long to deliver a finding – about four months for guilt or innocence to be proved and, if disciplinary action is recommended, a further four months to determine what form such action will take. Once an OPR investigation is launched, the agent-in-question finds himself immediately attached with a stigma. In the long months it may take to prove their innocenece, wild rumors no doubt circulate and personal determinations concerning their guilt or innocence become cemented.
If the OPR determines that an agent is guilty, punishment is meted out by the Administrative Summary Unit (ASU) of the Administrative Services Division. This unit also disciplines agents for poor performance or judgement – cases not under the investigational jurisdiction of the OPR. It takes 3-4 months for the ASU to determine and deliver the appropriate disciplinary action, which include:
* Verbal reprimand
* Letter of censure (placed in your personnel file and can be temporarily harmful, but tend to be forgotten after a year or two)
* Probation for a specified period of time (usually 6 months)
* Suspension (ranging from weeks to months, without pay)
It is not normally one or the other. Agents receiving probation usually get a letter of censure along with it. A “four bagger” is when an agent receives all four disciplinary actions for the same offense. Agents are normally terminated if they commit several offenses or falsify facts in the investigation. The simple act of lying always makes the offense all the more grave.
Bureaus agents are in the “Excepted Service,” a small subdivision of the Civil Service, which means that they can be terminated and disciplined with greater latitude than most other government employees. There is an appeals process, however, which is often utilized.
Agents have their own code of honor. They will report a fellow agent who engages in illegal activity as this counters the basic credo of the Bureau. Poor judgement or eccentricity, however, are looked upon more leniently.
Every single Division is inspected biannually. Inspectors, as well as agents from other Divisions (“rent-a-goons“), are temporarily assigned to the Division to observe operations from the inside, staying for a period of up to a month. Even smaller Offices and Headquarters Divisions require 10-15 inspecting agents and 2-3 weeks. Every agent who desires to advance in the Bureau must spend some portion of his career with the OPR. No one attains SAC level of a Regional Field Office without having spent some time heading a review team of the OPR.
During inspections, all past cases are reviewed, an audit is performed, and outside agencies having dealings with the Division are interviewed. Areas examined closely are the use of Bureau vehicles, the handling of evidence, violations or regulations, and the existence of personnel problems. Upon completion, a report is compiled, citing deficiencies and suggested improvements. No Division has ever been rated as inefficient overall, although on occasion as smaller Unit or Section of a Division has been singled out as being in dire need of improvement.
The Bureau cannot just investigate anything without treading on the toes of local law enforcement. Many cases are, in fact, local matters, which the FBI does not interfere in unless formally invited. For a violent crime to extend into the Bureau’s federal jurisdiction, it must either breach state boundaries or violate one of about 270 federal statutes. Examples include the robbery of banks insured by the Federal Depositor’s Insurance Corporation and the transportation of stolen property (especially automobiles) across state lines. In addition, many violent crimes are investigated by the Bureau serving in task forces with other law enforcement agencies. Even then, the FBI does not enjoy sole jurisdiction.
The Bureau does not normally move in an “take over” existing local investigations. More often, it offers its expertise, whether in profiling, computer databases, or manpower and the investigation is carried out by a joint task force. This is particularly the case with violent crimes. Toward the end of Hoover’s regime, the New York Field Office originated a method which, although secret at the time, has now widely been copied (Hoover would have definitely not approved). In the wake of massive turf wars between the Bureau and New York authorities, a policy of cooperation was fostered in the working of a case. When it came time for an arrest, regardless of who accomplished it, NYPD took credit for the collar. Then, when the case was brought to court and fought, the Bureau was bestowed credit for securing the conviction. Even so, local law enforcement often perceives the Burea as overbearing, coming in at the last minute and taking credit for the results of the routine an less glamorous work local detectives have done, requesting an abundance of information and providing little in return.
Even when crimes gravitate into areas of federal jurisdiction, the Bureau seldom looks into cases involving lone criminals or isolated criminal activities. The prevailing thought is that Bureau resources are better use pusruing organized crime and larger conspiracies. The great exception to this being serial killers, who often promt local law enforcement requests for Bureau assistance. Large cases tend to be given codenames or acronyms.
FBI agents seldom have sole authority over a case from beginning to end. Often, they are called in after local authorities have dealt with the crime scene and end up passing the results of their investigations through Bureau channels for others to act on. In the rare occasions that an agent is presented with evidence warranting initiation of a new case, he may submit a DoJ Form 302 to request a case number and resource allocation.
It is important to note that Bureau agents have no arresting power outside of official business. When serving in an investigative capacity on a case, they may displaty their credentials and expect expect to receive (within reason) carte blanc authority. When off duty, however, they are prohibited from the use of their credentials to gain any personal benefit and from carrying out private investigations. Engaging in such activity is a serious offense, violating the most basic credos of the FBI.
Today’s agents are issued one of the following service weapons: SIG Sauer 225, 226, or 228 (SIG is an acronym for Schweizeriche Industrie Gessellschaft, or Swiss Industrial Company). Which is determined by the agent’s firearms instructor at Quantico based on what they have demonstrated they handled best during their initial training. Agents may purchase their own guns for duty use, but they must be either SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson, or Glock (Glocks were only approved recently). Approval is based on dependability as determined by the Bureau. If an agent uses a personal firearm, it is the Bureau that maintains it. Agents are prohibited from servicing weapons themselves or taking them outside of the Bureau for maintenance. All Bureau-approved sidearms are automatics, not revolvers. As with most law enforcement agencies, agents usually carry their service weapon with them at all times.
After initial Academy training, agents must qualify on the firing range every six weeks. It is a very rigorous test and includes every weapon that they might be required to discharge (i.e., assault rifles and shotguns). Firing ranges are located at Headquarters and Quantico.
Despite all of their training, Bureau agents seldom have cause to draw their weapons. The Bureau usually comes into an investigation well after the original crime has occurred and the crime scene dealt with. They are authorized to use deadly force only when necessary – when they consider that “the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the Special Agent or another person.” Whenever possible, policy dictates that a verbal warning be issued prior to engaging a suspect. However, if an agent opts to engage, they are instructed to shoot to kill. As one Quantico instructor said, “It’s arrogant to assume you’re a good enough shot to wing them. More likely you’ll miss, and the target will be free to kill whoever it is they’re threatening.”
Whenever a shot is fired “in anger” it must be accounted for. An extensive form must be submitted in triplicate justifying the action, and an incorrect judgement can cost an agent his career. The OPR takes a dim view of wanton gunplay, and tends to initiate long and traumatic investigations concerning them. Interestingly, a survey in the mid-1980s into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by agents involved in shooting incidents showed that far more stress was caused by the subsequent inquiry than by the original incident.
Unlike in television and the movies, few cases result in an agent being placed in a situation compelling them to draw their service weapon. About 80 percent of an agent’s time is spent poring over or compiling paperwork. When direct hostile action is required (and this is normally the domain of the Field SWAT Teams), they normally dictate the rules of engagement. The Bureau chooses the time and place, and move with overwhelming force. Massively outnumbered and caught by surprise, the criminal(s) normally surrenders peacibly and without a struggle. As a result, few agents suffer line of duty deaths.
Losing a service weapon invites an immediate letter of censure and is reported to the office of the Director. This can have serious implications on the agent’s career, particularly if that gun eventually resurfaces in relation to a crime.
Bureau transportation (company cars) are referred to by a variety of names, including “bucars”, “busteeds”, and “bucs” (prounced byoo-SEES). Use is strictly controlled. Indeed, one of the most common disciplinary offenses among agents is the misuse of a Bureau car. Agents are only allowed to take their company cars home if there is a reasonible chance that they will need it for some after-hours Bureau business.
Bureau cars are unmarked, with no exterior evidence as to their affiliation. They do, however, have a red “Kojak” light that can be taken out and mounted on the dashboard, a siren, a PA system, an encrypted radio, a cellphone, and a shotgun rack mounted under the ceiling. Shotguns are kept locked in the trunk and mounted in the rack only when an arrest is planned. Cars are specified with extra strong suspension systems and powerful engines.
The Bureau also fields about 100 aircraft (“bubirds”), both fixed wing and rotor, around the country. Bureau pilots, who are also agents, are authorized to fly sans warning lights at night and all aircraft are equipped with military-grade nightvision equipment.
Strangely, even with its huge computer databases and state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, the Bureau is very primitive in other areas of technology. It still requires agents to record their reports on audiocassette for later transcription, or to dictate them to secretaries. It doesn’t issue field agents with word processors, in the belief that such accouterments would tie them to their desks and prevent aggressive investigative work from being carried out. Consequently, very few have computers, although there is a movement within the Bureau to rectify this. As it stands today, only upper-level executives are authorized to use email for internal messages and, in, general, there is only about one computer per fourteen agents. Additionally, for security reasons, very few Bureau computer terminals provide Internet access. Most agents can only send email via the Bureau’s intranet.