Thursday, December 02, 2010

FBI Citizen’s Academy Week 6 - Lie Detector

As always, any errors here are mine, not the FBI’s.

The last part of week 6’s session was on the lie detector. The first thing the agent addressed was that you could not do a demonstration of the lie detector, because there are no consequences to the questions asked, so the physical reactions aren’t there.

There are three parts to the lie detector, or three parts to the screen at least. At the top is the record of the leads on fingers, which collect sweat. This has a stable base line, then a squirt when there is a reaction to a question.

There are two belts made of tubes which circle the chest and measure breathing. The lines for these look like hills when there is a change.

Finally there is a blood pressure cuff.

The examiner looks at three things: consistency, time line, and significance.
Is the subject’s response consistent? The same questions will be asked several times, in a random sequence. If the subject responds the same way to the question no matter when it is given, there is significance to the response.

What is the time line of the response? Does it come at an appropriate time with regard to the asking of the question? (Often the response will come a little before person actually speaks, because the person is anticipating lying, and that causes the physical response.)

Is the response significant? Is there enough of a change in the subject’s response to merit calling it a physical reaction?

If you volunteer to take a lie detector test, for example in applying for a job, and you test positive for a crime, they will prosecute you. In one case, an applicant for a job with the Border Patrol admitted to child porn during the exam and was arrested.

Who doesn’t test well?
  • People who are not focused-- for example due to drugs and/or alcohol. If you aren’t paying attention to the questions, your body won’t react to them.
  • People who can’t pay attention-- for example, those with ADD-- for the same reason.
  • If there is an outside issue that is more important to the subject. For example, if a suspect is being interviewed about a house break-in but actually committed a murder, he won’t react to questions about the break-in because they are less important than the murder.

There are also a couple of medications that mess with results. And of course he wouldn’t tell us which ones!

The most important part of the lie detector exam, he said, is the interview with the subject and the ability to establish a rapport. If the suspect does test positive for the crime, he will then initiate a “direct, positive confrontation.” He won’t ask if the subject did it-- he will move forward saying that he did.

Then he turns to RPM: rationalization, projection, and minimization.

He will rationalize what the subject did. Anyone would have done that thing, for example. Of course, you take a guy who needs money, and you present him with the opportunity to steal something. That’s rationalization.

Then he projects the blame onto someone else. It was really the victim’s fault, for having all that expensive stuff and not having good security.

Finally he will minimize the seriousness of the crime. At least you didn’t kill anyone, right? All you did was steal some stuff. It’s just stuff. And now you need to own up to it so you can move forward.

This encourages the suspect to admit guilt.

He doesn’t discuss the legal penalties when minimizing-- that’s not his job and he can’t make those kind of statements. And he never tapes these interviews, because he wouldn’t want a jury to hear an FBI agent saying some of these things, because out of context they would sound inappropriate.

I feel like I understand the lie detector process a lot better now, and I’d feel comfortable putting at least part of this into a book. I’m already having a police character discuss the RPM because I think it’s fascinating and a good way to get a fictional criminal to confess.

Monday, November 29, 2010

FBI Citizen’s Academy Week 6 - Violent Crime

As always, any errors here are mine, not the FBI’s.

The evening began with some information about FBI hiring. Last year they hired 914 special agents and 550 analysts, with a total hiring of 1988, including all support personnel. Despite the economy and cutbacks they are planning to hire something close to that number this year.

New jobs are posted at on Tuesdays. Sadly, you can’t be older than 37 to start the special agent training program. That lets me out.

They also have an honors internship program for college students, who must have a 3.0 GPA and be enrolled full-time in college. The program runs from May-August in both headquarters and certain field offices, and gives students an overview of what the FBI does.

This week was the one I think is going to be most relevant to the writing of crime novels, because the agent who spoke to us was from the violent crime squad, which encompasses most of the kind of crimes we write about.

We began with a discussion of crime on the high seas, for which the FBI has sole jurisdiction. The most prevalent crimes are assault and sexual assault (primarily on cruise ships) though also investigate murder, suicide, and high-end theft cases.

They have an emergency response team (ERT), mostly comprised of former law enforcement personnel, that go out to investigate the crimes on board, usually once the ship has docked.

They also investigate cargo theft; the biggest hub for ocean-borne cargo theft is here in Miami, because the cargo is exported through the Port of Miami. In the past they have found stolen cargo including truckloads of wheelchairs, portable toilets, electronics, cell phones, TVs, and even rubber duckies.

The investigation of art theft also comes under the jurisdiction of the violent crime squad. “If it has been stolen, it comes through Miami,” the agent said-- not that the art was stolen here, but it passes through here on its way to the eventual buyer. The intrastate nature of the theft is what brings it under the FBI’s jurisdiction.

There is an art theft registry-- a database of stolen art that helps agents figure out if a piece of art has been stolen. These agents get a lotof detailed training on detecting fraud in art work. I think this is a really interesting area and might like to investigate this more and perhaps write something.

I do have an agent character in mind-- he appears in my forthcoming M/M romance Mi Amor, set on South Beach, and due out from Loose Id in early 2011. There’s a minor character in that book, a red-headed special agent named Angus Green, and something about him intrigues me. I’ve been very happy that the opportunity to attend the FBI Academy came up now, as I’m thinking about how Angus can spin off into his own book, or his own series.

Art theft is definitely a possibility, as is jewelry theft, which is another area the violent crime squad is involved with. Primarily this is crime against jewelry distributors; there is a big trade show in October and many distributors are targeted. The FBI has a task force that works with local departments on these crimes.

The violent crime squad also works on bank robberies, fugitive apprehensions, armored car robberies, and kidnappings/extortions-- though these are rare. There have been numerous armored car robberies in South Florida lately, and bank robberies are common. The criminals know that bank employees are trained to give up the money without a fight, so they are easy targets. But the statistics we were shown indicate that there’s relatively little money stolen in each case-- sometimes only a few thousand dollars. Maybe it’s low risk, but certainly low reward as well.

As an American citizen, if you go to certain countries (Mexico and Haiti among them) you are a target for kidnapping. The FBI gets involved in these cases. They work a lot of email extortion crimes-- sometimes the victim is kidnapped and then released, but threatened with additional violence if he doesn’t cooperate and pay.

They also have one squad which focuses on crimes against children, including the Innocent Images Squad, which looks at child porn.

Most crimes, the agent indicated, are solved by the evidence and forensics. He mentioned a device called a Shot-Spotter, which can detect where a bullet was shot from using triangulation. He also mentioned the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crimes, or NCAVC. This group provides behavioral-based support in investigations-- what I guess we would call profiling.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

FBI Citizen's Academy Week 5

As always, any errors here are mine, not the FBI’s.

Last week, I got some extra information from one of my fellow students at the FBI academy. I wanted to know exactly which guns we shot the week before in our trip to the Dade County police firing range.

We shot the Glock 22, with 40 caliber ammunition.

The long-barrel gun was an H &K MP5, 10 millimeter, with a long barrel. It can be used in semi-automatic or full automatic mode, though we only shot in semi-automatic.

The shotgun was a Remington 12 gauge with a 14” barrel. The shorter barrel is important because it’s easier to conceal and to carry in and out of vehicles.

Week 5 was about counter-terrorism and legal issues.

Miami is one of the top 5 offices in the country size-wise, and the South Florida Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in this office has 38 participating agencies and 159 full time personnel including FBI agents, analysts, and personnel on loan from partner agencies.

The FBI’s number one priority is protection of the US from terrorist attack, and the JTTF encompasses nine counter-terrorism squads called T1 – T9. T1 focuses on Al Qaeda, T3 on Hezbollah, T4 on threat response, and T5 on extra-territorial kidnappings & other events.

The state & local officers who work with the FBI on the JTTF get the same top secret clearance as Bureau agents, and get full access to the FBI facility and all databases. They also carry cases just like the Federal agents.

The FBI defines international terrorism as criminal violations intended to intimidate, coerce or influence.

Domestic terrorism comes from many places. The right wing, such as white supremacist groups; the left wing, such as Marxist or Leninists; and those groups focused on a single issue, such as eco-terrorists, anti-abortion activitsts, and animal rights activists.

After a break we discussed the legal issues the FBI faces, focusing on the 1st and 4th amendments. The FBI can’t target someone who is exercising his 1st amendment rights, such as freedom of speech. And the 4th amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, requires the FBI to justify their case when getting search warrants.

An interesting term that arose was “curtilage,” which the agent defined as the area immediately around your property. This means that an outdoor area can be legally coupled with the property it surrounds, even though it’s not part of the structure. This is important when it comes to what you need a search warrant for. If an agent sees something in the yard, it may fall within the curtilage. Trash in a a bag next to the house, for example, would still be within the curtilage and the agent would need a warrant to search it.

Trash in a bag at the street, however, is outside the curtilage and can be seen as having been abandoned. Therefore the agent doesn’t need a warrant to search it. This is an interesting term and one I would like to explore further. I checked Wikipedia and curtilage has other uses, including with the definition of burglary.

Monday, October 25, 2010

FBI Citizen's Academy Week 2

FBI Citizen's Academy Week 2

These are my notes from the second week of the FBI Citizen's Academy. As always, these are my interpretations and should not be construed to represent any policies of the FBI.

A Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) spoke to us about computer intelligence—the FBI’s number 2 priority – protecting the national security of the US. The goal is to ensure that no outsiders get materials developed here.

Theirs is a regional counterintelligence effort; there are 9 such around the country.  There are six regional offices participating, in Tampa; Jacksonville; Miami; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Jackson, MS; and Mobile, AL. They also liaise with business and educational partners.

What it costs to get the information determines its priority. They want people who have placement and access to the information that they need.

There are two kinds of intelligence officers from foreign countries—legal officers and illegal officers. The legal ones are clearly attached to the offices of a foreign government, working in an embassy and supporting the clandestine activities of the illegal officers, who have no ostensible connection either to the foreign government’s offices, or often to the foreign country itself. He gave an example that Cuban illegal officers created fake identities based on the dead children of Mexican migrant workers. These children were born in the US of foreign parents who often were illegals or returned to their home countries.

The Cubans would research in California and Texas to find birth and death records of these children. They would create whole identities for their illegal officers around these records, and thus the agent would have no connection to Cuba at all—records would show he was born in the US of Mexican parents.

It’s hard to find these agents, because they don’t have any ostensible connection to Cuba and don’t associate with other Cubans. They keep their “escape documents” somewhere other than their house—passports, tickets etc. intended for only a one-time use, to escape if their identity is compromised.

FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the FBI to collect information these illegal agents. The FBI may enter a suspect’s residence and copy his computer disks, for example. Then they use the information on those disks to track other agents, both legal and illegal.

The Cuban government often sends high-frequency radio messages to its agents after midnight. By discovering the frequency, the FBI can listen in on these messages and decrypt them.

The Cuban Intelligence Service is one of the top 5 intelligence services in the world, and 85% of their activity is directed toward us.  They collect information and then either use it themselves or broker it to other hostile countries for their own political advantage. The FBI has discovered Cuban agents at Boca Chica Naval Air Station, at Southcom, and in other sensitive positions.

“Intelligence is like cabbage at the grocery story—it’s only good for a few days.” This means that intelligence must be gathered continuously to be worthwhile. The FBI will be reluctant to take an intelligence case to trial because they would have to reveal everything they have and how they got it—and that would tip off the illegal agents to the FBI’s intelligence gathering methods.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My first night at the FBI Citizen's Academy

FBI Citizen’s Academy Session 1
On Thursday October 7, I began the 8-week FBI Citizen’s Academy. These are my notes from the first session. Caution: This is my own impression of what I learned, and does not in any way represent official ideas or positions of the FBI.

The Miami office covers Ft. Pierce to the Keys, as well as the Caribbean, South America and Mexico. It’s one of 56 field offices and over 400 satellite offices, along with many legats (legal attaches) at foreign embassies.

They handle domestic intelligence gathering and law enforcement of over 300 different violation classifications.

Their office is ground zero for health care fraud, close to $100 billion annually. No other region comes close; South Florida is responsible for more health care fraud than the rest of the country combined. There are a number of contributing reasons, including the large number of Medicare recipients and, unofficially, the presence of a large Cuban community. Allegedly 98% of those involved in health care fraud are Cubans, and there have been reports of money gained fraudulently going back to the island.

Operation Severed Artery investigated 11 infusion therapy clinics, who were paid $80 million in fraudulent claims. Three brothers set up these clinics providing fake treatments, and billing Medicare.

Terrorism is the FBI’s #1 threat; in South Florida that involves researching those who raise funds for terrorist organizations, and who use criminal activities to fund them.

There are six ASACs in the office—assistant special agents in charge. They handle corporate and securities fraud, bank and mortgage fraud, cyber crimes, crimes against children, and public corruption. There are two ASACs dedicated to health care fraud. They are also responsible for regional agencies in Ft. Pierce and Palm Beach.

We heard a presentation by an intelligence analyst—not an agent, and he doesn’t carry a gun. He researches statistics and gave a presentation on real estate fraud. He began by explaining that there are two types of real estate fraud, both involving lies or misrepresentations:
·         Fraud for housing – where someone uses fraudulent information to obtain a house where he or she lives
·         Fraud for profit—purchasing a house using fraudulent information, then flipping it

There are high returns in this area, with a low risk of being caught. Banks have been lax in their loan approvals because they knew they were just going to sell the loan forward.
One of the research tools is the SAR, suspicious activity report, provided by banks. The bank indicates on the SAR that the suspicious activity may revolve around real estate fraud. Florida is #1 in the highest amount of fraudulent loans.

He also discussed three other types of real estate fraud:
·         Foreclosure rescue/loan modification scams, where someone promises to help a homeowner out of a mortgage but ends up defrauding & taking the money.
·         Builder bailouts—where a builder trying to reduce an inventory of unsold property offers off-the-books incentives to buyers, such as making a year’s worth of mortgage payments, or adding a car or other property to the deal. These additional incentives are never disclosed to the mortage lender.
·         Mortgage Ponzi schemes—someone collects money to be invested in mortgages but never does, and uses the cash from new customers to pay returns to the first ones.

There are several emerging threats:
·         Reverse mortgage loans (HECM) – appraising a house at a higher value but not disclosing that to the elderly subject. Then the scammer takes the difference between the appraised value and the reverse mortgage.
·         Insurance fraud – Distressed homeowners destroying their homes in order to cash in on insurance.
·         Deed forgery – filing a false mortgage satisfaction, then selling the property as if it was unencumbered, or taking a new mortgage.
·         Property flopping – A real estate broker finds a buyer for distressed property. Then he convinces the bank to sell the property to a straw buyer for less than the eventual buyer is willing to pay. Then he flips the property to the eventual buyer at the higher price.

We have a perfect storm of conditions leading to mortgage fraud:
·         Unemployment rising
·         Property values dropping
·         High rate of foreclosure

They have a number of initiatives to fight these problems:
·         Undercover operations
·         A mortgage fraud task force in Miami & Palm Beach
·         Suspicious Activity Reports
·         Mortgage fraud intelligence initiatives, where they recruit agents, brokers etc. to provide intel.

Operation Stolen Dreams netted 125 criminals, 485 arrests, $2-3 billion in estimated losses. $10 million was seized, along with $196 million in property.