Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, commonly called special agents, do not always have a law enforcement background. Although law enforcement is certainly a common occupation prior to becoming a special agent, special agents also might come from accounting and finance backgrounds, information technology or a career in one of the physical sciences such as chemistry, according to the FBI website.
Special agents enforce federal laws and conduct national security investigations. These matters could include terrorism, cyber crime, organized crime, white collar crime, financial crime, bribery, bank robbery, kidnapping, air piracy, fugitive and drug-trafficking matters, according to the FBI. To become a special agent, you must be a U.S. citizen or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands, between 23 and 37 years of age and have a bachelor’s degree. Three years’ professional work experience is required, and you must have a valid driver’s license and be able to relocate anywhere within the FBI’s jurisdiction.
All special agents are assigned to one of five divisions. These include accounting, computer science and information technology, language, law and a category called "diversified." The FBI looks for people in the diversified category who have engineering experience and expertise in physical sciences such as physics, chemistry and biology. After hire, agents are assigned into intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, criminal or cyber career paths. The cyber division, for example, handles computer intrusions, malicious code dissemination and online predators or sexual exploitation of children on the Internet.
Money and Law
Occupations that could be helpful to become a special agent typically fall into one of the five major divisions. The accounting division, for example, requires certification as a CPA or a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in accounting and at least three years of accounting experience. The experience must be in a setting of increasing professional responsibility in a setting such as a professional accounting office or a state comptroller’s office. To qualify in the law path, you must have a juris doctor degree from an accredited law school. You are not required to have passed the bar.
Computers, Language and Diversified
Computer science applicants must have either a computer or information technology-related degree, although a degree in electrical engineering also is acceptable. If you are certified as a Cisco Certified Network Professional or a Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert, any degree is acceptable. In the language path, applicants may have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline but must be proficient in a language such as Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Pashtu, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu or Vietnamese. Language requirements may change to meet the needs of the FBI. In the diversified program, a BS or BA in any discipline is acceptable, and must be accompanied by three years of work experience. Those with a master’s degree or Ph.D. need only two years of work experience.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police and Detectives
- Federal Bureau of Investigation Careers: Special Agent
- Federal Bureau of Investigation Careers: Special Agent Qualification Requirements
- Federal Bureau of Investigation Careers: Special Agent Career Path Program
- Federal Bureau of Investigation Careers: FBI Special Agent Entry Programs
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