Criminal Investigator  What They Do

Just the Facts

Criminal Investigators and Special Agents Career Video

Insider Info

dotFBI agents have a wide field of endeavors, from tracking big-time criminals to sitting behind a desk conducting hours of research.

dotThe FBI investigates white-collar crime, organized crime and drugs, violent crimes and civil rights violations. But it's also the FBI's responsibility to gather foreign counterintelligence and investigate terrorist activities that affect the security of the U.S.

"Terrorism has become extremely important to the FBI," says Don Berecz. He is an FBI special agent in Springfield, Illinois.

dotThe FBI gathers security intelligence for the U.S. government. This information is used to help government decision-makers develop policy, and it also allows FBI agents to catch criminals and deal with them appropriately. For example, the FBI has a special section dedicated to helping find drug dealers.

Typically, national security agents analyze information from a number of sources, including the media, to get the story behind the story.

dotSpying may not be everything you imagine. For one thing, national security agents don't wear trench coats and fedoras. "We generally look and dress like every other professional worker in America," says Roger Jonus. He is an FBI agent in Washington, D.C.

dotOften, agents use covert and intrusive methods, such as electronic surveillance and the recruitment of spies, to get the information they want. But strict laws govern when and how undercover intelligence measures can be used. Electronic surveillance, mail opening and covert searches require a warrant from a judge.

dotFBI officers typically work a 40-hour week, Monday through Friday. Certain cases may require evening and weekend work. "It's not routine work at all. You have to respond to situations quickly, and no case is the same as the last one," says Jonus.

dotHistorically, the FBI has looked for attorneys and accountants who can help muddle through the maze of paperwork surrounding white-collar crimes. These days, the FBI is also looking for computer scientists, engineers and people who can speak foreign languages.

"It's a very good career for young ladies," says special agent Dawn Moritz. "Over 10 percent of agents are now women."

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Look for threats to national security

  • Agents have to respond to situations quickly, and no case is the same as the last one
  • You'll collect, analyze and retain information on activities that may be a threat to security
  • Agents may not always enjoy a regular 9-to-5 day