U.S. Air Force photo/Lance Cheung Jon Beasley, image and extraction technician, peers through a stack of hard drive platters, Sept. 9, 2010, at the Defense Computer Forensic Laboratory, Department of Defense Cyber Crime Center, Md. Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agents can specialize in several disciplines following training and a one-year probationary period.
Special agents assigned to Air Force Office of Special Investigations Detachment 631, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, go about their daily affairs with relative anonymity. Most days, AFOSI Airmen trade in their tiger-stripe uniforms for tweed and a concealed-carry harness.
Special Agent Nicholas Murphy, Det. 631, said AFOSI is currently recruiting special agents Air Force wide and is communicating their efforts through local activities like Det. 631.
Murphy dispelled notions of OSI special agents being mysterious, spooky operatives of the night.
"We're not the shadowy figures hiding in the bushes that everyone has to be intimidated by and afraid of," he said. "That's not us at all. We love talking to folks and we all come into this job to help people. That's what we like to do."
Murphy said the mission of AFOSI is "To identify, exploit and neutralize criminal, terrorist and intelligence threats to the Air Force, Department of Defense and U.S. government."
The special agent said AFOSI was established in 1948 at the recommendation of Congress in order to consolidate and modernize the Air Force's investigative activities. Then Secretary of the Air Force, W. Stuart Symington, patterned AFOSI after the FBI, appointing FBI Special Agent Joseph Carroll as the first AFOSI commander.
Murphy said AFOSI currently has more than 2,700 active-duty, Reserve and civilian personnel with more than 2,000 serving as special agents representing enlisted, officer and civilian segments of the Air Force.
AFOSI is divided into seven regions roughly aligned to Air Force major commands. An eighth region provides special investigative support to the other regions.
Murphy said AFOSI is an independent agency, with detachments supporting local Air Force activities but answering to the AFOSI chain of command. He said this arrangement ensures special agents remain impartial and outside the influence of high-ranking service members and civilians.
AFOSI recruits who are selected as special agents begin their training by attending the 11-week Criminal Investigator Training Program with other federal law enforcement agencies at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, Glynco, Ga.
"By us going down to FLETC and attending that first 11-week course prior to going to the OSI Academy, it allows us to be recognized as federally-credentialed law enforcement agents amongst the rest of the federal law enforcement community," Murphy said.
According to the AFOSI fact sheet, CITP is followed by AFOSI specific coursework. Both programs of instruction combine to provide special agents with training in firearms, forensics, antiterrorism methodology, crime scene processing, interrogations, interviews, court testimony, as well as federal and military law.
After graduation, special agents serve a one-year probationary period while operating in the field. After probation, some agents receive specialized training in economic crime, antiterrorism service, counterintelligence, computer crimes and other advanced criminal investigation disciplines.
Special Agent Keith King, Det. 631 Counterintelligence, said though he is specialized now, he cut his teeth in the criminal investigation field.
"Every agent is first and foremost a criminal investigator," King explained. "OSI agents are always training.
"We are a jack of all trades, master of all trades," he continued. "We continually, constantly train in anything and everything."
King said counterintelligence works to neutralize any threat which may be attempting to collect intelligence from Department of Defense activities.
"My job is to identify the acts committed by individuals who may be participants with a foreign government who are basically spying on the U.S." King said. "We identify what they're doing and what it is they're targeting and we counter that."
Special Agent Travis Williamson, Det. 631 Fraud Investigation, said his department's responsibilities are closer to home.
He investigates allegations of service members fraudulently reporting issued equipment as lost or selling it on the private market.
On a larger scale, Williamson said he investigates allegations of contracting fraud on base service and construction levels.
"I think in today's current financial climate, proper and prudent spending is of great concern - not only to tax payers but also to those who are making the decisions," Williamson said. "It's important we get out there and make sure the government isn't being ripped off, that we're getting what we're paying for."
Murphy said other specialties include polygraph operators, forensic consultants, computer crime investigators as well as providing protective services for the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force.
Murphy said AFOSI applicants must be Air Force staff or technical sergeants who are releasable from their current career field and qualify for a top secret security clearance.
Staff sergeant applicants must have time in grade of five to seven years. Technical sergeant applicants must have less than one year time in grade and less than 11 years time in service.
Enlisted Airmen interested in applying to reclassify for the AFOSI career field can speak with a Det. 631 special agent at 552-2256.
Murphy said AFOSI can provide a rewarding job experience for career Airmen looking for a change of pace.
"OSI gives you the opportunity to do something different everyday," he said. "It gives you the opportunity to be a critical thinker. Folks in this career field find themselves in positions where they manage their time almost exclusively."
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 27, 2011.