Do you see yourself as Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) tracking Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in Silence of the Lambs? Do you want to fight for truth, justice, and the American way on American soil? FBI agents investigate people suspected of violating federal law, including serial killers, kidnappers, bank robbers, bombers, and perpetrators of mail fraud. Strong deductive skills, flexibility, and irreproachable moral character are key traits for those who want to succeed in the FBI. The sensitive nature of the work requires a person with sound judgment and discretion.
(FBI Agent) Each day brings something different,” says Kleinpaste. “Working for the FBI is rewarding, challenging, and very unpredictable. You can be sitting at your desk one moment, then a bank robbery occurs and everyone leaps into action.”
As a Special Agent for a small U.S.based office since 1998 (Bureau security regulations forbid us from naming her exact location or revealing excessive biographical data), Kleinpaste is primarily assigned to investigate white-collar crimes such as bank fraud, cyber crime, or mail fraud.
But when a “reactive” crime like a kidnapping or political terrorism occurs within the jurisdiction of her office, “The entire office gets involved, including me.” (Never A Dull Moment) As the primary legal investigative arm of the U.S. Government, the FBI is charged with the protection and enforcement of the U.S. Constitution and over 260 federal statutes. Because the Bureau works closely with state and local law enforcement agencies in investigating legal matters of joint interest, good interpersonal communication and writing skills are essential for Special Agents.
“Whether you’re interrogating a suspect, gathering evidence, or coordinating efforts for an upcoming trial, you’ve got to call upon an extensive range of capabilities to complete every day operations,” says Kleinpaste. (Never A Dull Moment) National security is the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI. That means FBI agents have a wide field of endeavors, from tracking big-time criminals to sitting behind a desk conducting hours of research. The FBI investigates white-collar crime, organized crime and drugs, violent crimes and civil rights violations. But it’s also the FBI’s responsibility to gather foreign counterintelligence and investigate terrorist activities that affect the security of the U.S. “Terrorism has become extremely important to the FBI,” confirms Don Berecz. He is an FBI special agent in Springfield, Illinois.
The FBI gathers security intelligence for the U.S. government. This information is used to help government decision-makers develop policy, and also allows FBI agents to catch criminals and deal with them appropriately. For example, the FBI has a special section dedicated to helping find drug dealers. Typically, national security agents analyze information from a number of sources, including the media, to get the story behind the story. Spying may not be everything you imagine. For one thing, national security agents don’t wear trench coats and fedoras. “We generally look and dress like every other professional worker in America,” says Roger Jonus. He is an FBI agent in Washington, D.C. Often, agents use covert and intrusive methods, such as electronic surveillance and the recruitment of spies, to get the information they want. But strict laws govern when and how undercover intelligence measures can be used.
Electronic surveillance, mail opening and covert searches require a warrant from a judge. FBI officers typically work a 40-hour week, Monday through Friday. Certain cases may require evening and weekend work. “It’s not routine work at all. You have to respond to situations quickly, and no case is the same as the last one,” says Jonus. Historically, the FBI has looked for attorneys and accountants who can help muddle through the maze of paperwork surrounding white-collar crimes. These days, the FBI is also looking for computer scientists, engineers and people who can speak foreign languages. “It’s a very good career for young ladies,” says special agent Dawn Moritz. “Over 10 percent of agents are now women.” (Career Information) There are several character traits necessary to be an effective FBI agent, according to Mike. He lists the following: “Honesty, integrity, fidelity and bravery.” As FBI agents are frequently placed in dangerous positions, such as in undercover work, bravery is obviously a highly desirable quality to the recruiters. The other three character traits mentioned above all go towards the moral aspects of the job — not pursuing the alleged criminals out of spite or vengeance, but in pursuit of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You are on call around the clock and required to work 50 hours a week, but Mike says that it’s not difficult to come up with that many hours.
No two days are the same. When you’re working at other places, you look at the clock and say to yourself, ‘It’s only two o’clock.’ Here, you look at the clock and say to yourself, ‘My gosh, it’s already 5 o’clock.’ It’s the best job I’ve ever had.” (Career Interview) The Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) has a category entitled police and detectives. In 1998, there were 764,000 people employed in this field. There were 70 criminal investigators working in the Mountain State in 1998. That’s according to the West Virginia Occupational Employment Statistics (OES). According to the OOH, employment of police and detectives is expected to grow faster than average through 2008. However, this trend may be hindered at the federal level by budget cutbacks. (Career Information) There are several character traits necessary to be an effective FBI agent, according to Mike. He lists the following: “Honesty, integrity, fidelity and bravery.” As FBI agents are frequently placed in dangerous positions, such as in undercover work, bravery is obviously a highly desirable quality to the recruiters. The other three character traits mentioned above all go towards the moral aspects of the job — not pursuing the alleged criminals out of spite or vengeance, but in pursuit of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” (Real Life Communications) Rookie federal agents earned about $43,000 a year in 1999, says the OOH.
Agents with several years of experience received about $67,300. The OES says that criminal investigators in West Virginia earned an average salary of $57,110 in 1998. “Mike” is an undercover FBI agent in West Virginia and must keep his identity under wraps. He says applicants who graduate from the FBI academy start at the “GS-10” pay rate — about $38,372 per year. After one year, they move to “GS-11” — about $42,159. After five years, agents would be up to “GS-13″ — the base salary is about $60,000.”Over the past couple of years we’ve hired maybe 600 to 800 agents per year — we keep about 11,000 agents in the U.S. at all times,” he says. “Unfortunately, new hiring is on a temporary hold due to budget restrictions, but we’re always recruiting to replace the agents that have retired.” (Career Information) Agents who enter service usually do so as an indirect endeavor under another academic qualification such as accounting, law, or foreign language. Retirement from the FBI is mandatory after 20 years of field duty or at the age of fifty-five.
After retirement, some agents are hired by local law enforcement agencies or by other federal agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), or the United States Secret Service. Others enter a second career in their primary academic field. “Don’t go into a field specifically thinking that you’re going to join the FBI,” suggests Kleinpaste. “You may want to change your career field, start a family, or you may not qualify for Bureau work. If you haven’t studied another field you could be out cold. Go into something that you like such as accounting or criminal justice. That way, if your circumstances change or if you don’t make it, there’s something else to fall back upon.” (Never A Dull Moment)
The FBI requires applicants to be in excellent physical health and pass hearing and vision tests. Other physical requirements for the job vary. Special agents have to be physically able to carry and fire a gun. “It’s very competitive,” warns Moritz. In fact, the FBI has more than 60,000 applications on file. But on the bright side, less than seven percent of applicants meet all the testing and eligibility requirements. So, here’s what you need to top the FBI’s mostwanted list:
Once accepted, new agents will then undergo 16 weeks of training at the FBI academy. (Career Information)