A special agent is a detective or criminal investigator who works for a government agency. He or she investigates suspected and alleged criminal violations of laws to determine if evidence is sufficient to warrant a prosecution. While other government agencies refer to their authorized representatives as agents, the title special agent is reserved for those whose general function is investigation, criminal justice and homeland security. However, not all criminal investigators are called special agents; some agencies entitle their investigators as criminal investigators although that term may have been used interchangeably with special agents. The term secret agent however, should not be confused with the special agent title, for while the latter is an individual employed in the capacity described above, the former is used to describe individuals employed or engaged in espionage. Special agents who are sometimes assigned to engage in secret or undercover activities as part of investigative operations and counter espionage might be referred to as undercover agents, but never as secret agents.
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They investigate many forms of criminal activities such as kidnapping, bank robbery, cyber crime, drug trafficking, sabotage, bribery, fraud, extortion, financial and other white-collar crime and violations of federal statutes. They work to enforce the law of the nation and are involved in national security issues, monitoring ongoing situations, conducting investigations to look for threats and protecting national borders. They are responsible for investigating interstate criminal activity, international espionage and potential terrorist threats.
To accomplish their mission, they handle undercover assignments, gathering evidence through surveillance and observation, monitoring activity on court-authorized wiretaps, interviewing witnesses or suspects to obtain intelligence on illegal activities, and examining personal, financial and business records. They serve arrest warrants and take individuals into custody as required by the court, gather evidence and testify in courts to present the facts surrounding any criminal action. However, most jobs in the organization are administrative. Much of the data and evidence collection requires a tremendous amount of paperwork. Filling out forms, preparing reports and keeping records are other important tasks involved with this career.
To be considered for a special agent position, a high school diploma is generally the minimum requirement. But many local and state agencies require some college coursework or even a degree. They require applicants to possess a bachelor of science or art degree from an accredited college or university or an advanced degree in any discipline, and meet the minimum work experience requirements. Experience can be attained through internship programs, law enforcement work or military service. Depending on the position, preference may be given to candidates with foreign language proficiency, criminal justice, political science, business, social science or accounting degrees. Additionally, all applicants must be citizens of the United States between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-seven at the time of appointment, as well as physically fit, mentally stable and calm under extremely demanding, stressful and dangerous situations. Sharp hearing acuity and uncorrected vision are essential. Applicants are also required to undergo stringent background checks and polygraph tests.
If an applicant meets all the requirements described above, a training that is rigorous physically and mentally follows. While the possession of an impressive resume can pave the way for securing employment in this profession, only extensive training at select facilities can provide the skills and knowledge needed to competently perform the duties of a criminal investigator. The physical part involves training in firearms, hand-to-hand combat, and regular physical fitness tests while the academic portion involves intelligence techniques, forensic science, behavioral science and general knowledge of law.
Special agents may work indoors or outdoors based on assignment. These trained professionals work irregular hours, including nights, holidays and weekends. The work environment can change daily, as can job duties. Work conditions vary, depending on the specific job and situation.Travel is a big part of the special agents' job as they are often required to travel wherever operations exist. They must be ready for assignments in all places at all times and subject to call twenty-four hours a day.There is no daily routine in the work of an agent. Everyday is different as assignments vary from time to time. An agent is usually assigned a forty hour work schedule but commonly works overtime. The work can be both exciting and dangerous. Agents who can accept the responsibilities of the job will find it a rewarding career.
The average yearly salary of an agent is between $61,000 and $69,000, depending on what field office they are assigned to. Actual earnings could be higher, because of the overtime pay called availability pay. Agents receive a full benefit package with health insurance, a retirement plan and paid vacations and holidays. They are also eligible for periodic salary increases. By demonstrating ability and the capability of assuming more responsibilities, they can be promoted to supervisory or administrative position, which commands higher pay.
According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of special agents is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020. As the population expands, job growth will occur as the need for national security continues to increase.