Becoming an Agent Part 2: Inside The Classroom

“Just beside Hogan’s Alley, the mock town and training facility at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, there’s a cluster of modern two-story buildings with several classrooms. Inside one of the classrooms, new agent trainees are forming their squads for the morning when they receive word that an “explosion” has occurred in a nearby city.

Over the previous few weeks, the squad has been using the skills they’ve learned to investigate a simulated hotel bombing and track down the criminals responsible for the attack. With this new report, trainees suspect that the events could be linked to terrorist activity. But before they can identify subjects, the squad needs to gather intelligence, conduct interviews, and dig up more clues.

The agents’ partners in this effort are new FBI intelligence analysts who are training right alongside them. Analysts—the men and women who help gather, share, and make sense of information and intelligence from all corners of the globe—have never been more vital to the Bureau’s mission in this post-9/11 world. By integrating their training, the FBI is replicating what agents and analysts will experience in their coming cases and ensuring that seamless collaboration is part of their DNA from day one.

“Agent and analyst trainees need to understand each other’s respective job roles and how that plays out in the real world,” says Carrie Richardson-Zadra, a supervisory special agent with the FBI’s Investigative and Intelligence Training Unit. “That’s why we have them work together from the moment they arrive at the academy.”

Later in the exercise, trainees begin questioning the wife of a suspected extremist (played by a local actor). She’s reluctant to talk at first, but by using their newly learned interviewing tactics based on building rapport, the new agents are slowly able to obtain the information they need to stop a potential terrorist attack. If it weren’t for the insight provided by the intelligence analysts in their squad, the trainees wouldn’t have been so successful.

While trainees are integrated both inside and outside the classroom, specialized courses are provided to students based on what their roles will be in the field. For new agent trainees, the academic side of the training is demanding and includes a broad range of subjects that ground them in the fundamentals of law, ethics (see sidebar), behavioral science, interviewing and report writing, basic and advanced investigative and intelligence techniques, interrogation, and evidence collection.

Agent trainees also receive more than 90 hours of instruction and practical exercises focused on tactics, operations planning, cooperating witnesses and informants, physical and electronic surveillance, undercover operations, and intelligence.

The rigorous academics are vital to the future success of agent trainees. They will need to learn the basics of federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and the legal process. If agents don’t understand all of the details governing searches, questions could be raised during trial about the credibility of recovered evidence.

The intelligence analysts will ultimately graduate before the agents after 12 weeks at Quantico. At that point, new agent trainees begin their tactical training and set their sights on the crooked criminals and gangs waiting for them in Hogan’s Alley.”

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