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Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Day in the Life of an FBI Special Agent – Part II

Now that we’ve taken a look at the history of the FBI (“the bureau” for all of you who read part I), along with its structure, and congressional mandate, it’s time to take a look at a typical day in the life of an FBI Special Agent.

It may not be exactly what you expect.

The average agent in an average size field office (I will use Indianapolis since this is the office with which I am most familiar) will work approximately nine to fifteen cases at any one time. Typically, this case load will break down into thirds. One third will be under active investigation (leads being developed and pursued), one third will be moving through the legal system (prosecution underway by authority of the United States Attorney), and one third will have essentially grown stale with no new leads.

It is important to note that “stale” does not mean closed. A case isn’t closed until a suspect is arrested or can be reasonably presumed to be dead. Even the D.B. Cooper case is still in the news, and leads are still being pursued more than thirty years after the crime was committed.

So what does pursuing leads involve?

It is important to remember that the FBI is a national organization that investigates crimes that have national significance. A bank robber who hits a bank on the border between Indiana and Illinois, for example, is as likely to flee to the Indiana side of the line as he (or she) is to the Illinois side. Or worse, the robber could flee to California. But regardless of where the perpetrator flees, the office of jurisdiction is located where the crime was committed and the lead agent is designated as the Case Agent.

The Case Agent is the person who takes charge and coordinates the investigation. If our bank robber is discovered to have fled local jurisdiction (let’s say, for example, that the FBI determines that the robber has obtained a bus ticket for California), that information will be forwarded to the FBI office that is in the location closest to where the perpetrator is fleeing. Any new leads will be developed in California and followed up on there, but the original Case Agent will be kept apprised. If the suspect is apprehended in California, he will be extradited to Indiana where the Case Agent will follow the case through prosecution.

In turn, an agent in the Indianapolis office may be asked to interview the parents, friends, or classmates of a suspect in a California incident if it is discovered that the perp had such connections in the Midwest. The reason for this type of interoffice cooperation should be obvious.

On any given day, an FBI agent will arrive at the office at eight in the morning and will begin by reviewing the leads he has available in his “active” cases. Sometimes, following the leads will involve nothing more than a phone call or an interview with someone who has information or knowledge that the agent must have.

In other instances, following a lead may involve a surveillance (stake out) which may require the agent to sit in a car for hours on end. (Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?)

I remember an incident where we were maintaining surveillance on a suspect and sat all day in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen. After about six hours of this, the local police pulled up and wanted to know what we were doing. Apparently, the manager of the Dairy Queen took note of us and was very concerned.

In other instances, an agent may spend a great deal of his time developing a lead. This can be done by conducting thorough research, or contacting a snitch, or working someone who may have an axe to grind with your suspect. This isn’t the Boy Scouts, after all. You do what you have to do.

But there are other things happening in the agent’s day that may center on cases moving through the court system.

An agent may spend all day in court—on the stand—testifying about how he has conducted his investigation. He may spend the day in conference with an Assistant United States Attorney, preparing the case for trial. And just as often, he may be working with local police who are preparing their own cases and coordinating those with the agent’s federal case.

Or, as often as not, the agent may find himself working a lead for another agent who is investigating a case that is on the other side of the country, as we alluded to earlier.

In short, there is no typical day.

Neither is there a day in which the agent is totally safe.

In 1986, several FBI agents were conducting surveillances on several banks in Miami along a strip of Dixie Highway. They were looking for two men who had been hitting the banks every Friday afternoon, alternating their choices, but always staying within a couple of miles of each other. As fate would have it, a couple of agents happened to spot the two men and soon all the agents were following them. The result was one of the bloodiest shootouts in FBI history. The two suspects were killed, two FBI agents were killed, all but two of the agents were severely wounded, and one was paralyzed from the neck down. Over 140 shots were exchanged in a four minute period. That day, which began as typical as any other, ended up changing the way the FBI trains its agents for felony car stops, as well as other tactical training they now receive.

Agents rarely conduct interviews alone and often travel in pairs. There are two reasons for this. It helps to eliminate a “he said, I said” scenario, but it also serves as added protection for both agents. This isn’t always successful.

In 1975, while trying to serve arrest warrants, Special Agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams came under fire as soon as they exited their vehicles. Both were shot multiple times. Their guns and credentials were taken and their bodies mutilated.

That day, too, began as typically as any other.

The job of an FBI special agent is often one of sheer boredom, followed by moments of intense and potentially life threatening action.

In short, there is no typical day in the life of an FBI agent. But there are no unrewarding ones either.

For more information: www.fbi.gov


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