I give you the F.B.I. — Hans Gruber from Die Hard
On Monday, I had the amazing opportunity to attend presentations at the FBI field office in New Orleans. Many thanks to the New Orleans chapter of Sisters in Crime for arranging this outing for its members. Sisters in Crime is a national organization offering networking, advice and support to mystery authors. (While I wouldn’t qualify myself as a “mystery author,” I certainly seek to incorporate elements of mystery into my stories. My membership in this group has proven very worthwhile).
Entering the FBI field office was certainly serious business. We had to pass a limited background check in order to access the facility. And as the picture above shows, you can’t just waltz through the front door once you’ve been approved. We had to sign in at a guard gate, and then we were escorted by private security to the front door, where “Federal Bureau of Investigation” appears etched in invisible ink around the arch. You can barely make it out in the picture—which is, by the way, the only one I have, because we were not allowed to bring cell phones or any electronics into the field office.
Once inside, we were escorted by the community liaison to the “Old Case Files” room, where we were greeted by the Special Agent in Charge, Eric Rommal. He explained a little bit of how the FBI is organized around the country. The largest offices are in New York and Washington, D.C.; but they each cover a relatively small geographic area. New York covers the five boroughs, and Washington the D.C. metro area. By comparison, the New Orleans office covers the entire state of Louisiana.
After the SAC’s introduction, the newly-appointed Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) from the local Cyber division presented a case study on the investigation into some criminals, who stole about $100,000 by hacking into and assuming someone’s personal email address.
Later, when it was time for a bathroom break, I got a glimpse into why there was so much pre-screening before the FBI just let anyone into their facility. We had to be escorted to the toilets, too—right past an open door with “Gun Vault” marked alongside the door frame. I could see a line of rifles—I think they were rifles, I’m no gun expert—secured against the wall inside.
Our final presentation in the “Old Case Files” room was from the SSA of New Orleans’s Counterintelligence division. He played a lead role in the investigation of Tai Shen Kuo, a New Orleans resident who was convicted of spying for China. The case has been declassified, so SSA Bob Thibault was able to present a fascinating, first-hand account of all the cool, espionage-y details. My imagination was definitely sparked.
Finally, before we left, we received a quick demonstration of FATS, a firearms training simulator. It was a sobering look into the use of deadly force, and how every single time it boils down to a judgement call on the part of law enforcement.
It was pretty phenomenal to get a look inside an institution as public, in-the-glaring-spotlight/news-every-day-kinda-public, as the FBI. They’ve been at this for over a century! In the few hours I spent in the New Orleans office, I got a sense of earnest people, just trying to do their jobs, protecting honest folks from bad actors. Sorry, Hans, that may not be miraculous, but I’m grateful people remain willing to do the job, just the same.