10 Things You Never Knew About the FBI Academy at Quantico
While researching her thrillers DRAWN in BLOOD and TWISTED, novelist Andrea Kane spent countless hours learning about the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or “BU” to insiders. In her signature blend of honesty, humor and humility, Andrea shares her unique experiences at the FBI.
1. Loading a Glock 22 Magazine is Just Like Loading a Pez Dispenser Except Much Harder
Those bullets don't get into that mag by themselves. The process involves intense concentration (and strong fingers). Like a Pez dispenser, the first pieces of candy (or, in this case, 9mm bullets), go in easy. But the new agent trainees (NAT's) at the FBI Academy know better. By the time you reach bullets 12 and 13, your thumb is sore from pressing down with all its might. I mastered the loading of the Pez dispenser at the ripe old age of 4. I mastered the loading of the Glock last year. My childhood accomplishment was impressive. But I was a lot prouder of my adult achievement.
2. Talking to Yourself May be Hazardous to your Sanity
So there I was, out in the field with the Crisis Negotiating Unit (CNU), watching them train in simulated hostage situations, and asking myself technical questions aloud. I thought I was alone. So, I nearly jumped out of my skin when R2D2, as we affectionately called him, spoke up and answered me. The special technicians who were operating him from inside got a real chuckle out of my reaction. But, given how much they taught me, I had to forgive them. By the way, R2D2's real name is a Remotec Andros Unmanned Vehicle System. He saves agents from going into extremely dangerous situations. With skilled operators guiding him from a safe distance, R2D2 serves as an important conduit in crisis rescue situations between the Crisis Negotiating Team and the subject holding the hostages. He's a pretty awesome machine. With a video camera, microphone, loudspeaker, wheels, tank treads and more attachments than a vacuum cleaner, this is one serious piece of equipment. I could really use one around my house.
3. Hollywood's Got Nothing on the FBI
If you've ever been to Disney MGM or Universal Studios, you've seen movie sets built to look like real streets. Well, the FBI has constructed an entire town called Hogan's Alley only this town is real, right down to having its own zip code. Many new agent trainee exercises are conducted here, so it includes a bar and billiard hall, a pharmacy, and a bank (the Bank of Hogan). It even has its own movie theater where the same movie's been playing for over 30 years: Manhattan Melodrama (starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy). And, yes, there's a luncheonette, too, with real food.
4. Old Habits are Hard to Break
I lock my car. Everywhere I go. I guess it's just force of habit. So I didn't understand why everyone at the CNU training facility was looking at me strangely when I locked my car before joining the group. The second time I did it, my public affairs media specialist gently reminded me where we were… surrounded by armed FBI agents, each of whom had passed intensive security screenings in order to join the Bureau. Miles from the nearest exit, in the middle of a Marine base with heavily armed sentries, undetectable even by my GPS, and here I was, worried about someone stealing mints from my console.
5. What's Your Type?
I'm Type A. I simply don't know how to relax. Everything on my list is “A” priority. Needless to say, my friends, colleagues, and loved ones accept me, but few understand. Imagine a world where almost EVERYONE is like that! Welcome to the FBI. It's Type A heaven.
6. BAU and Their Jet
When researching serial killers, I met the agents who comprise the Behavioral Analysis Unit. Yes, they're every bit as brilliant as you imagined. But if you think they're traveling to crime scenes aboard a luxurious private jet, forget it. That's just another Hollywood exaggeration. There's no private jet. No glamorous travel arrangements. In fact, they don't even get to fly first class. Just coach, like the rest of us.
7. Acronyms 101
Everyone at the FBI speaks a special foreign language Acronyms. Before my meetings with the FBI and my trip to Quantico, I spoke in sentences. Now I speak in acronyms. No one understands me except my contacts at the Bureau. There's an acronym for everything from CIRG (Critical Incident Response Group) to JTTF (Joint Terrorism Task Force). Learning all these acronyms is hard on the memory. It's hard on the mind. And it's never over. Just when you think you know all of them, they reorganize departments and create a whole new series of acronyms.
In a courtyard between two buildings at Quantico is a garden, in the middle of which stand two impressive black granite towers a moving tribute to the victims of 9/11. Beneath the towers are artifacts from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. It's hard to stand beside that tribute without being visibly moved, and, as always, to remember.
9. Alpha, Bravo, Charlie
Most of us learned our ABC's in kindergarten. I had to learn my Alpha, Bravo, Charlie's as an adult. Formally known as the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet, it is used by military organizations (NATO), civilian organizations (FAA) and the Foxtrot Bravo India to make sure critical verbal messages can be transmitted and received. This is very useful when ordering takeout food through one of those outdoor intercoms. Cheeseburger: Charlie, Hotel, Echo, etc.
10. Crisis Negotiating in Real Life
I spent a lot of time on-site with the CNU. After observing parts of their two-week training course, I was humbled by their skill and professionalism. I'm glad to have them on our side. So this final tidbit is about three important negotiating tips I learned while there and how to apply them to real life: