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Old 04-22-2011, 09:23 AM
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what exactly is an FBI "special agent?"

I've recently purchased an X-Files boxed set that includes every season AND both movies. I've been devouring and enjoying every episode as only a true X-Phile could, but often find myself wondering why M&S often identify themselves as "Special Agent" so-and-so. What's the difference between a "special" agent and a normal agent? Is it something just made up for the show or something real?

Bonus question: Why do the local cops always seem so angry when M&S show up on the scene? Is there some kind of unspoken rivalry between local cops and federal authorities over jurisdiction?
Old 04-22-2011, 09:31 AM
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It's a rank in the FBI's hierarchy, the second lowest one. See here, scroll down to Organization and Rank Structure.
Old 04-22-2011, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Crotalus View Post
It's a rank in the FBI's hierarchy, the second lowest one. See here, scroll down to Organization and Rank Structure.
Is it the rank most FBI agents remain at the longest, though?
Old 04-22-2011, 09:39 AM
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Yeah. The run of the mill FBI guy/gal who's not a supervisor is a "Special Agent". The lower rank is a trainee / apprentice.
Old 04-22-2011, 09:40 AM
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As a civilian who knows really nothing of law enforcement, I always associated special agent with the police departments "Officer" or Sheriff Department's "Deputy"

Basically, if you were going to have a random run in with an FBI/PD/Sheriff, that's who it would be with, they'd be the person on the street. IOW, there's nothing special about being a Special Agent and if they just called them Agent, there wouldn't be so many questions like this (it's come up before).
But, of course, I could be wrong.

Last edited by Joey P; 04-22-2011 at 09:41 AM.
Old 04-22-2011, 09:40 AM
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Wow, the second lowest? I always thought the characters were fairly "up there" in the show.
Old 04-22-2011, 09:41 AM
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The ones I have known personally, all now retired, were special agents for most of their careers, all but the first few years.
Old 04-22-2011, 10:09 AM
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They're not the trainees who rode the short bus to Quantico?
Old 04-22-2011, 10:32 AM
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Vincent Bugliosi, when cross-examining FBI agents as a defense lawyer, would always bring out that "special agent" was the normal title for an FBI agent. He didn't want the jury thinking, as the OP did, that the person testifying for the prosecution was some super-duper secret agent with extraordinary ability or rank.
Old 04-22-2011, 10:34 AM
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As others have said, Special Agents are the rank and file of the FBI. I believe the title originated with Hoover, who essentially felt that every FBI agent was a Special Agent by virtue of the fact he was employed by the FBI and wasn't part of an "ordinary" police department.

And that probably helps answer the OP's questions about why there's an unspoken rivalry between the FBI and local police.
Old 04-22-2011, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by kidneyfailure View Post
Wow, the second lowest? I always thought the characters were fairly "up there" in the show.
[fanboy]Hardly. Both were promising young agents that were shunted into a career dead end. Mulder because he was crazy but had enough support in high places that he couldn't be fired -- so the FBI gave him his basement office and just enough resources to keep him busy. Scully was there at first to keep Mulder from going too far off the deep end, and it really destroyed any chance of promotions. It came up several times in the earlier seasons, where people who knew Scully repeatedly said things like "why do you stay there? you could have a great career if you were in a respectable position."[/fanboy]
Old 04-22-2011, 10:49 AM
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
[fanboy]Hardly. Both were promising young agents that were shunted into a career dead end. Mulder because he was crazy but had enough support in high places that he couldn't be fired -- so the FBI gave him his basement office and just enough resources to keep him busy. Scully was there at first to keep Mulder from going too far off the deep end, and it really destroyed any chance of promotions. It came up several times in the earlier seasons, where people who knew Scully repeatedly said things like "why do you stay there? you could have a great career if you were in a respectable position."[/fanboy]
Mulder himself said it to her on many occasions.

I love this show, at least the first or six or seven seasons. After that I only like the show.
/fangirl
Old 04-22-2011, 10:57 AM
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The title is used by a large number of federal agencies, not just the FBI, or NCIS, as per the TV show:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special...deral_agencies
Old 04-22-2011, 11:05 AM
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Oh, and that wiki article indicates that it predates Hoover (yes, something can predate Hoover):
Quote:
Railroad police and the term Special Agent, along with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, were models for the FBI when it was created in 1907.
It was simply called the "Bureau of Investigation" within DOJ then. Hoover took over in 1924, and it became the "FBI" in 1935.
Old 04-22-2011, 11:32 AM
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Yeah, "Special Agent" is just the job title given by the federal Office of Personnel Management for the basic law enforcement jobs. Some agencies have different names but special agent is sort of the default. Even NOAA, the weather people, have special agents.
Old 04-22-2011, 11:40 AM
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To the second part of the question. I once spend a day fishing with a person high up in a local police department. He had nothing but bad things to say about the FBI. He said that FBI should stand for Famous But Incompentent. His complaint was that they wanted all of the credit for anything they helped with, despite knowing very little about actual crime. He said that they had lots of money to pay informants and they only reason they ever solved a crime was if outbid everyone else for an informant. He told a possibly apocryphal story about the FBI and another agency working together on a case, the other agency doing most of the work and then when it came to make an arrest ditching the other agency's men at a McDonalds on the way to the arrest. He generally felt that if the FBI showed up they would act arrogantly and not contribute anything.
Old 04-22-2011, 06:02 PM
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Tangential question: when I was a kid I was always told that you have to have a JD degree to be an FBI agent. But looking at the qualifications on the Bureauís web page (linked to in another recently started thread on the subject), it says that the only educational requisite is graduation from an accredited four-year university. Is what I was told wrong, or did it change somewhere along the line?
Old 04-22-2011, 06:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Washoe View Post
Tangential question: when I was a kid I was always told that you have to have a JD degree to be an FBI agent. But looking at the qualifications on the Bureauís web page (linked to in another recently started thread on the subject), it says that the only educational requisite is graduation from an accredited four-year university. Is what I was told wrong, or did it change somewhere along the line?
I believe you were told wrong. There's multiple "tracks" into the FBI. Having a JD qualifies you for one of them. Fluency in a needed foreign lanugage is another. I believe the other two are law enforcement background and forensic analysis, but I can't be bothered to look it up.

When I was considering pursuing a JD recently, one of the motivators was that it was a qualifier for the FBI. When I discovered that color-deficient vision was a disqualifier for the FBI, a big chunk of my interest in getting a JD went out the window.
Old 04-23-2011, 01:59 AM
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Originally Posted by Crotalus View Post
It's a rank in the FBI's hierarchy, the second lowest one. See here, scroll down to Organization and Rank Structure.
Slight correction - they start (generally) at GS-10s, if memory serves. There are plenty of GS-5s in the FBI (and 7, 8, 9s). S/A just means "Criminal Investigator" or "Series 1811." Heck, the USSS starts lots of folks out at GS-5 as S/As. Most agencies start them at GS-7.

I guess that's why FBI is so "Special." (Seriously, when people hear "Special Agent," they always assume FBI - guess what? There are S/As in darn near every agency.
Old 04-23-2011, 02:03 AM
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[QUOTE=puddleglum;13717283}He said that FBI should stand for Famous But Incompentent. [/QUOTE]

Where I worked, we preferred Famous But Incompetent, Fan Belt Inspectors, Female Body Inspectors, and Fucking Ballbreaking Imbeciles.
Old 04-23-2011, 03:52 AM
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I think that, given the nature and standards of the FederalBI, it's only fair to characterize those agents as "Special" Agents. I'd have a lot easier time getting on the local PD than working for the FBI...not just security clearance, either.
Old 04-23-2011, 04:08 AM
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Originally Posted by puddleglum View Post
To the second part of the question. I once spend a day fishing with a person high up in a local police department. He had nothing but bad things to say about the FBI. He said that FBI should stand for Famous But Incompentent. His complaint was that they wanted all of the credit for anything they helped with, despite knowing very little about actual crime. He said that they had lots of money to pay informants and they only reason they ever solved a crime was if outbid everyone else for an informant. He told a possibly apocryphal story about the FBI and another agency working together on a case, the other agency doing most of the work and then when it came to make an arrest ditching the other agency's men at a McDonalds on the way to the arrest. He generally felt that if the FBI showed up they would act arrogantly and not contribute anything.
Robert Ressler, the author and pioneer profiler (He was among the first, he didn't profile the Donner Party or anything) said much the same thing about them, including that they solve their cases "more through snitching than sleuthing."
Old 04-23-2011, 07:06 PM
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Originally Posted by CitizenPained View Post
I'd have a lot easier time getting on the local PD than working for the FBI...not just security clearance, either.
Qualifications aside, the FBI gets 70,000 applications per year and only hire a few hundred so getting in is an achievement on it's own.
Old 04-23-2011, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Washoe View Post
Tangential question: when I was a kid I was always told that you have to have a JD degree to be an FBI agent. But looking at the qualifications on the Bureauís web page (linked to in another recently started thread on the subject), it says that the only educational requisite is graduation from an accredited four-year university. Is what I was told wrong, or did it change somewhere along the line?
Many years ago, I read that in a memoir I had found in a Reader's Digest collection of books (can't recall what it was though). Anyway, the author mentioned having a couple of daughters who both wound up marrying FBI agents, and that one of the qualifications was that they be lawyers (qualifications to be an FBI agent, not to marry her daughters).
Old 04-23-2011, 10:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Krokodil View Post
Robert Ressler, the author and pioneer profiler (He was among the first, he didn't profile the Donner Party or anything) said much the same thing about them, including that they solve their cases "more through snitching than sleuthing."
Yeah, but isn't most crime solved more from snitching than from sleuthing?
Old 04-24-2011, 05:16 PM
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Originally Posted by lazybratsche View Post
[fanboy]Hardly. Both were promising young agents that were shunted into a career dead end. Mulder because he was crazy but had enough support in high places that he couldn't be fired -- so the FBI gave him his basement office and just enough resources to keep him busy. Scully was there at first to keep Mulder from going too far off the deep end, and it really destroyed any chance of promotions. It came up several times in the earlier seasons, where people who knew Scully repeatedly said things like "why do you stay there? you could have a great career if you were in a respectable position."[/fanboy]
But it was easy to get the feeling that they were highly positioned, the way they kept charging into AD Skinner's office every other show, always with some bone to pick.
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Last edited by Patty O'Furniture; 04-24-2011 at 05:17 PM.
Old 04-24-2011, 05:25 PM
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Anybody working for the government is an agent of the government, special agents are government law enforcement, hence the "special". The Forest Service has special agents.
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