FBI HISTORY 2/5
As viewed from a “recently” retired Special Agent’s perspective.
SA Stephen T. Smith, FBI Retired (1990-2016)
How a Global Perspective benefits the FBI, and everyone associated with
Law Enforcement worldwide from Poteau, Oklahoma (USA), to Paris, France
By way of introduction, I am a retired American FBI Special Agent with over 30 years of
combined service to my nation, with five plus years as an active duty officer of Marines with international service in Asia, and twenty-five plus years of service with the FBI, both
domestically and internationally in both operational and training capacities. Like almost all Americans I come by my love of travel and new adventures quite naturally, as America is indeed a land of immigrants, made stronger by what binds us together in our vastly different origins.
A few years ago, while training police officers in Utah, a friend invited me to accompany
him to the Mormon Church’s vast and impressive genealogical research library in Salt Lake City. I was interested to find out more about my global roots, and the church’s library and staff did not fail to enlighten me both thoroughly and quickly. I was shown the passenger manifest for the SS Albion, that listed my Irish great, great grandfather as passenger aboard that ship from Liverpool to New York City when the ship was newly commissioned in 1863. “Grandpa” Corcoran arrived in his new home in America smack in the middle of our Civil War(1861-1865), and was summarily inducted into the American Navy for the duration of said war.
My Irish ancestor’s “interesting” timing for travel to his new homeland in the midst of a civil war seemsto match my own timing for deciding to move to France in late 2019 just before the start of a global pandemic. As we say in America, “What does not kill us, makes us stronger’, however some family traits appear to be inherited.
I grew up in a military household with a Dad who was a career Marine. Dad did not
actually have to serve in Vietnam, due to the fact he had five children at home at the time, and could have accepted much less dangerous orders within the United States.
However, Marines are geared towards both action and adversity, so Dad ensured he would do his part by volunteering for combat duty in Vietnam. Upon arrival in Vietnam, Dad was assigned to First Reconnaissance Battalion, and just in time to see the huge incursion of entire NVA (enemy) battalions arriving in South Vietnam from the North to participate in the legendary “Tet Offensive”. Dad passed away a couple of years ago at age 89. His greatest military memory was of the global service he chose, especially the wartime service, versus what he had to do to merely get by in his chosen career. What will we all cherish when we are almost nine decades into this journey we all call life? I hope we can all brag about our sore joints and bruises more than our so-called comforts.
Horace Greeley, the influential 19th Century American Newspaper publisher and western
expansionist famously declared, “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.” Greeley was referring to a still young America with vast tracts of still unexplored and sparsely inhabited lands then still waiting to become settled, farmed, and added to the growing American landscape that to this day stretches some 2092 miles at its shortest coast-to-coast distance. I have driven this vast expanse of America several times and can attest to the unending beauty of traveling this great land I call home. I encourage all travel that broadens our horizons, no matter what continent my fellow Law Enforcement brethren call home. Having lived in nine of America’s fifty states, and having visited all of the remaining ones at least once, I can assure you each journey has been a growth experience I would hope all of my readers would someday enjoy for themselves.
Greeley would have been pleased with me; I was born in Pennsylvania in
the American eastern states and graduated college in San Diego, California along the shores of the vast Pacific Ocean. That travel bug of mine did not end there in California.
Fortunately for me, I was selected to be a foreign exchange student during my senior
year of high school. What I really and truly desired was an opportunity to live in Europe. Well, I got to stop in Europe (Luxembourg) for fuel and to pick up several more students en route to South Africa where I spent an amazing and wonderful 1979.
Europe had to wait until 2019, but forty years ago I was riding ostriches and watching wildlife crossing the vast Kruger National Park. In retrospect, forty-plus years later my experience of having lived through apartheid-era South Africa taught me first-hand the moral, ethical, social, political, and even economic, folly associated with overt racism as established government policy. It was a sobering manner to learn about world affairs at the tender age of only 18. And, after graduating college in 1984 in san Diego, the US Marine Corps further indulged my wanderlust by assigning me to serve for three interesting years on the island of Okinawa, Japan in the South China Sea. My daughter Rebecca was born in Okinawa in 1987, and remains a cherished “import” to this very day :
All of this accumulated global perspective helped to shape and prepare me for a successful and productive career as a Special Agent for the FBI.
The FBI clearly centers its investigative priorities around its fifty-six field offices and
numerous smaller resident agencies scattered around each major field office’s specific
geographic area of investigative responsibility, covering all fifty states and U.S. Territories.
Having personally served in two of those smaller resident agencies myself, I can assure you each had both a national and global nexis simultaneously as crime truly knows no borders. For example, in one smaller resident agency I investigated Russian organized crime’s involvement in US domestic oil and gas tax credits that left a Native-American tribe a bit poorer for having trusted their new Russian “partners”, while another small office assignment disrupted a multistate/ multi-national counterfeit goods case with ties back to mainland China where counterfeit goods make up an impressive estimated 5%, or more, of annual Chinese GDP. And, where did all of that international/global cooperation begin that led to global arrests and the seizure of millions of dollars in counterfeit goods?
The short answer is, and remains to this very day, global law enforcement cooperation.
For the FBI’s part, global law enforcement cooperation began back in the late 1930s
when the FBI’s National Academy (FBINA) accepted its first-ever international students from China, Canada and Great Britain. The FBINA, a 10week professional management course for promising future law enforcement leaders that continues strong today with about 265 officers per FBINA training session, nowadays consists of about 10 percent international students, all of whom add texture, meaning and global ties to what binds us together as law enforcement professionals fighting against the very same organized crime/terror networks bent upon our demise.
As illuminating, interesting and challenging my 25 plus years of FBI service was, my five years spent teaching leadership courses for the FBINA at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia remain among my fondest, strongest and most lasting memories of what we can do as profession with an expanded global perspective. How so you might ask? Just walk into a typical FBINA graduate’s office space and you will likely see two items of interest, a yellow painted brick with the words “FBINA” printed in black on it and the FBINA session number associated with its proud owner, and an FBINA graduate’s directory for facilitating global, and nearly instant, police cooperation amongst the FBINA’s many graduates over the decades.
That yellow brick is earned, not given, for completing a grueling, oftentimes muddy, and always challenging, final physical run/obstacle course in the woods near the FBI Academy. Shared adversity (the entire class runs this course at whatever pace they can best manage, truly builds both trust and lasting relationships, no different than what my Dad experienced on patrols in Vietnam, and which many of you readers have experienced in demanding team assignments of your own completion.
No, the food at the FBINA will not rival that of France (but then what country does perhaps other than Italy – good competition keeps us on our investigative/culinary toes), but the memories, friendships and real-time global law enforcement cooperation make those ten weeks among the best you’ll ever spend eating “satisfactory” food. And yes, FBINA graduates globally benefit from regular FBINA “re-trainers” and get-togethers where ties are kept strong.
That reference in my title to little old Poteau, Oklahoma reminds me of one of my FBINA
students who reminded me, and his classmates, he benefitted from living in small-town
America with nature all about him, and the internet at his fingertips for global shopping of his favorite macaroons from Paris. Now, there’s a smart policier with good taste!
Before my teaching assignment with the FBINA, I served as Logistics Agent, S-4, assigned in direct support of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a part of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG), with both domestic and international operations typically co-existing at any particular time, and in cooperation with our global law enforcement partners.
Because the American Constitution does not allow its military to investigate and/or detain American citizens on American soil, we have the civilian equivalent of our Army’s Delta Force or Navy’s SEAL Teams. When the USS Cole was attacked by terrorists in Aden Harbor, Yemen, the Yemeni government invited CIRG/HRT to conduct an investigation of the terror attack against our naval vessel and its crew. I helped to load military aircraft full of supplies and personnel in and out of Yemen and could not have completed my tasks without the considerable help of uniformed Yemeni national police officers.
No more loss of American lives happened in Yemen following this tragic attack on our naval vessel because of global police cooperation.
Similarly, I deployed with the FBI’s HRT to Kosovo where we assisted in investigations of war crimes supervised by the United Nations. While in Kosovo, I benefitted from close ties to military/law enforcement partners from France, Italy, Russia, the UK, Norway, and Canada. One never realizes how strong “The Thin Blue Line” is until working in a war zone full of unexploded land mines, as was the case in war-torn Kosovo years ago.
We kept one another safe while completing our assigned investigative tasks.
Yet another FBI global outreach effort consists of the 63 legal attache (LEGAT) offices
located in U.S. Embassies around the globe and covering investigative leads/cases in over 180 countries.
All of these FBI personnel operate overseas under formal agreements with the host countries, as FBI Agents seek the cooperation and considerable assistance of our global partners. Of course, those same LEGAT-assigned Agents and Analysts receive requests of support from their counterparts abroad interested in tracking criminal networks with U.S.- based ties to their own countries. I once met an FBI LEGAT Agent covering the Caribbean who assured me covering multiple island jurisdictions (over 30 islands) made him feel like he owned his own airline as he hopped from island to island, versus the image one might erroneously have of him or her licked back in a beach chair while enjoying yet another spectacular Caribbean sunset. In short, it is an incredible opportunity for personal/professional growth, and twice as much hard work, but worthy of the effort expended.
As a career-long FBI trainer from firearms training to leadership courses, I can both
attest to, and fully endorse attendance at one of the FBI’s International Law Enforcement (ILEA) Academies, which are located around the globe in Budapest, Hungary, Bangkok, Thailand, Gaborone, Botswana and San Salvador, El Savador. I have personally taught on three separate occasions at the FBI’s Budapest ILEA, with police officers from all over Eastern Europe in attendance. And no, I do not speak all of those languages; I was aided by up to four or five different translators who interpreted my classes word-for-word for weeks at a time.
We had a good and productive time sharing law enforcement best practices on subject matter ranging from leadership to corruption, to cyber crime, and I always marveled at a translator’s capacity to intently listen to, interpret, and re-convey a message in real-time to students wearing head phones. I like to think said experiences with the ILEA at Budapest made me a better listener just marveling at my professional translators’ incredible listening skills. The Dalai Lama once stated that whenever he speaks he only repeats what he already knows, however, when he listens, he learns something new. I did a lot of listening and learning at the ILEA in Budapest and hope to visit the other ILEA locations someday to learn even more.
As a firearms instructor for four years at the FBI Academy at Quantico, where I taught
New Agent Trainees (NATs) how to shoot safely and accurately, I also researched and
developed the FBI’s Ballistic Protective Undergarments (BPUs), or “ballistic vests”, as they are more commonly referred to. We at the FBI shared our research and findings on the
effectiveness, or lack thereof, of many different BPU designs from many manufacturers with our domestic and international law enforcement partners with data provided by shooting the BPUs with a variety of weapons and ammunition of various calibers at Quantico’s Ballistic Research Facility (BRF). (If you haven’t noticed by now, we Americans love our acronyms for agencies, facilities, food, spouses, children, pets, etc..., a language unto itself).
That BRF of the FBI’s consists of a test range facilty costing over $7 million and capable of capturing any bullet speed or effectiveness against any medium one wants to test against. For body armor (BPU) testing the BRF produces ballistic ordnance gelaltin consisting largely of pig fat material that most closely resembles how the human body reacts to blunt force trauma impacts. I know, it sounds disgusting, but trust me, it smells far worse, but produces incredibly useful data that has saved countless thousands of first responder/military lives in the development of increasingly lighter, yet more protective, body armor. While no ballistic garment is “bulletproof”, I like to think the work I did on this project might have saved law enforcement officers’ lives in the past, and possibly currently serving law enforcement professionals worldwide who go into harm’s way every time they put on a badge, a sidearm, and a well-designed ballistic vest that might
have had my distant fingerprints on it along the way.
A lot of the FBI’s ammunition tests have been shared globally, and I do hope your respective agencies may have benefitted from ammunition testing data that keeps improving along with the latest ammunition technologies.
If not, it remains something your agency could request through the FBI LEGAT near you.
So now you know a bit about my global background, and perhaps you can see why I am
an advocate for travel, international cooperation, sharing of ideas, opening one’s mind, and foremost of all, listening before one speaks.
Where I have been globally has directed what I have become as I approach my sixth decade of life later this year, however, I will spend more of my time looking forward to meeting more of you on your home turf, listening to your input, and growing wiser for being globally involved in the best job I have ever had, policing.
SA Stephen T. Smith
FBI Retired (1990-2016)
BA, M.Ed., Ed.S.
Vice President of IPO Section France
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and are not reflective of FBI opinions, policies or doctrines.