Joseph Libowsky,
former Special Agent

Becoming an FBI agent is quite often the dream job for those who would like to work in the field of law enforcement. This is no wonder, since the Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the most famous and prestigious intelligence agencies in the world and becoming part of it is not that easy.

If you want to become an FBI agent (link to article “How to become an FBI agent”), you need to be prepared to pass the strict selection process but you should also be aware of the training that awaits you and what are the main responsibilities of different special agents.

FBI Agents Duties and Responsibilities

Main job responsibilities

The work of FBI Special Agents is quite diversified and depends on the field they are working in, however, we can summarize their main responsibilities into the following:

  • Interviewing/interrogating suspects, victims, criminals
  • Monitoring wire-tapping, when authorized by court
  • Working undercover
  • Performing other surveillance activities
  • Participating in arrests and raids
  • Executing search warrants
  • Investing large criminal activities such as organized crime, trafficking, drug deals, cybercrime terrorism
  • Dealing with airplane hijacking, etc.

The duties of the FBI Special Agents are indeed quite tough as they involve a lot of dangerous activities and dealing with traumatic situations and crime scenes that are quite startling and often involve death. On top of that, they have to work extra hours, despite that their working week is 50 hours. Special Agents are considered on duty 24/7 and quite often they are summoned to work evenings, weekends, and holidays. This is combined with the fact, that the Special Agent can be transferred to any of the 56 FBI field offices in the USA or abroad on a temporary or more extended placement.

Nevertheless, FBI Special Agents perform their duties to investigate crime and enforce federal laws duly and with high responsibility. As a result of their work, many agents are given additional duties or promoted to supervisory positions.

Special Agents duties and requirements

There are five FBI Special Agent Entry Programs, which the candidates can apply for:

  • Language
  • Law
  • Accounting
  • Computer Science/Information Technology
  • Diversified

As is evident from the name, each candidate needs to have special knowledge and education in order to apply for the first four tracks. No matter in which of these four tracks you are working, the job is demanding and requires special physical and mental talents.

Currently, FBI employs over 13,500 Special Agents in its five major divisions, which are Intelligence, Counterintelligence, Counterterrorism, Criminal and Cyber. Here is a summary of what to expect if working in any of these departments.

  • FBI Special Agents in the Directorate of Intelligence

The role of the Special Agents working in the Directorate of Intelligence has increased especially after September 11 attacks. The job of these Special Agents is to be “the eyes and ears of the nation” or in other words to detect, evaluate and develop strategies concerning the national security. The Special Agents need to collect information related to potential threats from national and international sources, to analyze it and provide further details to the rest of the FBI personnel responsible for each specific case.

There are three main types of Special Agents within this directorate, who have their specific responsibilities. These are;

  1. Intelligence Analysts who gather intelligence from both human and electronic sources, decipher, analyze and evaluate the information and distribute it further.
  2. Language Analysts who help translate intercepted conversations from a great variety of languages. They also assist in encryption of various domestic and international intelligence sources.
  3. Physical Surveillance Specialists who are specially trained to gather information about criminal and terrorist activities. Quite often they need to use covert methods such as visual and electronic surveillance.

As a whole, the responsibilities of the Special Agents employed in the Directorate of Intelligence are related to the collection, extraction and analyzing of intelligence information and forwarding it to the relevant decision makers for further action. The job also includes entering criminal or terrorist facilities to place surveillance equipment or developing human intelligence assets that can be placed within terrorist groups to gather information.

  • FBI Special Agents in Counterintelligence

The Special Agents working in the FBI division of Counterintelligence are dealing with finding and eliminating threats created by other governments or foreign powers. The espionage efforts may come either from within a foreign government or from foreign individuals. In either cases, the FBI Special Agents have the task to neutralize them. Another main duty of the agents in this division is to guard America’s secrets and assets, which is becoming even harder with the development of the new technologies. Hence, the role of the Counterintelligence becomes even more important and its employees are constantly upgrading their skills and knowledge. The division is also involved in fighting Weapons of Mass Destructions. Some of the main responsibilities of the Special Agents in Counterintelligence include:

  • Arrest and question foreign agents or spies
  • Look for, identify, and neutralize activities that threaten US intelligence and defense activities
  • Monitor any suspicious foreign government programs that may attempt assault on the USA in one form or another
  • Find ways to get access to foreign intelligence networks, which may include subverting foreign agents
  • Partner with academic or private entities that may help enhance the counterintelligence capabilities of the Bureau

To sum up, the Special Agents ensure the safety and security of the American government by trying to eliminate foreign threats before they become too serious to handle.

  • FBI Special Agents in Counterterrorism

This is one of the most desired divisions by new Special Agents since counterterrorism is one of the main focuses of FBI. There are many different types of jobs and activities within this division, some of which are dedicated to action, while others require more analytical and technological skills.

The Counterterrorism Fly Teams, or a Joint Terrorism Task Force are dedicated to tactical operations, while the Field Intelligence Groups or the Counterterrorism Analysis Branch deal with gathering and analyzing information about terrorists.

Some of the main functions performed by the Special Agents working in this division cover;

  • Monitoring suspected terrorist organizations within the USA
  • Intercepting potential terrorist cells and dismantling them
  • Participating in operations to prevent or stop terrorist attacks against the USA or its allies
  • Monitor all known Weapons of Mass Destruction, which includes where they are kept, the technologies to produce them or the scientists involved in their development
  • Identifying any weak point in the American defense system and offering proposals for their remedy

It can be concluded that the FBI Special Agents dealing with counterterrorism need to detect, dismantle and neutralize any terrorist attempt originating within the USA and overseas. To this end, they use human intelligence assets as well as various electronic and technological methods.

  • FBI Special Agents in Criminal Investigation

The Criminal Investigation Division of FBI is the largest of the five, even though its priorities have been diminished in favor of national security divisions. Nevertheless, it remains one of the desired places of work, which employs agents with a large variety of skills, knowledge and educational background. The division deals with serious crime and illegal activity on different levels. FBI remains the highest law enforcement agency and provides assistance in solving crimes in different areas such as:

  • Civil rights violations
  • Financial crimes – embezzlement, medical fraud, mortgage fraud, etc.
  • Cyber-crimes and internet fraud

A large number of high-profile cases are being solved with the assistance of FBI Special Agents. They deal with extremely violent cases and with serial killers. Within their jurisdiction come crimes that are perpetrated by individuals, companies or government agencies. FBI also cooperates with many international organizations on cases that involve transnational criminal organizations.

As an FBI Special Agent working in Criminal Investigation part of your responsibilities will be to:

  • Investigate cases of crimes or violations by law enforcement officers or government staff
  • Gather evidence
  • Question witnesses, perpetrators and suspects
  • Work with international partners on transnational crimes
  • Work with informants
  • Develop intelligence assets and integrate them within criminal groups
  • Support and advice law enforcement staff on solving crimes

As a whole, your job as a Special Agent in this FBI division is to make sure that the civil rights of the citizens are protected, to fight public corruption and investigate illegal acts that are performed by law enforcement staff at all levels among others.

  • FBI Special Agents in the Cyber-Crime Division

This is the newest division at FBI that aims to protect the information systems from attacks. As a Special Agent in this field, you must be aware of the newest technologies and their development and be willing to educate yourself further about the latest computer technology. Most computer-related crimes are highly sophisticated and in addition to that their jurisdiction is hard to define, hence FBI and its Cyber-crime division is the one that has the highest competences.

As an agent in this field, your main duties will include:

  • Identification and investigation of all forms of data theft
  • Interviewing people involved in cyber-crimes
  • Following the emerging technologies that can lead to cyber crime
  • Work closely with leading computer experts and entities to secure the highest level of protection
  • Identification and recruitment of the best experts in the field
  • Maintenance of the security systems of FBI and other important agencies

Special agents fighting cyber-crime do not only solve crimes related to computer technologies but also help safeguard some of the most important systems of the country that include air traffic control, financial systems, telecommunications, safety systems of the nuclear power plants, etc.

Within these five main divisions, there are many subdivisions and special units that employ agents with specific skills. As an example, can be given the SWAT teams at the SWAT Operations Unit (SOU) within the FBI Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG), the snipers, who are part of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) or the Behavioral Analysts, who work in the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU).

Basic pay details for FBI agents

The pay factor is also an important detail when it comes down to browsing job openings in the field of law enforcement. The job of the FBI agents, though quite difficult and involving a lot of responsibilities, is also quite well paid.

The General Schedule System that determines the payment of an employee has 15 levels. The higher the level, the greater the pay. As per the information provided on FBI site, the different professional staff working for the agency starts at GS level 7, while the Special Agents begin their career as GS-10 employees. The average salary for the job is $43,441, which also includes adjustment of $7,602 for the 21 weeks training at Quantico. Once the agent gets their first appointment, they also receive between 12.5 and 28.7% on top of the salary as a local Cost of Living Adjustment.

Another additional pay received by Special Agents is the so-called Availability Pay, which is a compensation for the long-working hours and the 24/7 availability and amounts to 25% of the base salary.

There can also be a one-time payment amounting to $22,000 for those agents relocating to a city with high-rate of living costs.

With the length of service, Special Agents can reach a pay-grade of GS-13, which offers salaries between $71,674-$93,175.

With the career growth and the more responsibility comes the opportunity for a higher level and more payment. If the FBI Special Agent obtains a supervisor, management or executive position, they can reach GS-14 with salaries ranging $84,697-$110,104, or GS-15 that offers $99,628-$129,517.

The data provided on PayScale also reveals the same payment range. The average salary of an FBI special agent is given as $64,313 per year, with the range $37,821 – $119,349 depending on the place of employment and years of experience.

It is evident that the payment rate for FBI Special Agents is quite good and tries to reflect as much as possible the greatest responsibilities they have at the job as well as the higher requirements for the new candidates.

The conclusion to be drawn is that the job at the FBI is complicated, challenging, involving a lot of responsibilities but at the same time rewarding. It gives the opportunity to show your talents and work in a sphere where your skills, knowledge and overall expertise are highly valued and needed.