Sunday, March 31, 2019

FBI Citizen’s Academy: Week 3

I’m pretty sure my head is going to explode before this eight-week course is complete.

Week #3 opened with a session on combatting the opioid epidemic. The numbers of people affected are staggering. In my local county, roughly 28% of the population have suffered from it, either as a user or as the family or loved one of a user. And nearby West Virginia leads the nation in opioid deaths.

Those addicted will pay whatever the cost, driving demand. So where do they get their fix? Partly through health care fraud—drug diversion, pill mills, and forged script rings.

And then there’s the darknet. Basically, on this alternate internet, you can shop for fentanyl, oxy, crystal meth, and whatever other drugs or supplies an addict could want as easily as we shop for books on Amazon. In fact, the pages for these online distributors look amazingly like any legit vendor. Except the items being sold are illegal drugs.

On the darknet or Tor network, IP addresses can’t be tracked. Orders are paid for in cryptocurrencies, mostly bitcoins, although there are lots of others. This is a peer-to-peer network without any financial institution as an intermediary. Side note: bitcoins themselves are not illegal, however, criminals are quite fond of the anonymity they provide.

Equally amazing (to me) is these “vendors” ship through the US Postal Service, just like anything else ordered online. 

The special agent giving the talk showed surveillance photos of a guy dumping bags and bags of standard shipping envelopes into one of those blue USPS boxes at a strip mall. Repeatedly. Day after day.

For more information on the darknet and opioids, click here.

One last note I found fascinating is the new trend of drug users carrying their own Narcan. At least they’re prepared. 

(FWIW, listening to these special agents talk about their cases is a blast! They clearly love their work and have fun bringing down the bad guys.)

The final presentation of the evening dealt with the Intelligence Community. This is the part of the FBI (and other federal agencies) that collects and analyzes information to determine whether it’s something that needs further investigation. The analysts are as excited about their work as the special agents, and, while they’re more behind-the-scenes, they’re every bit as important. Possibly more so. Click here for a deeper look into the FBI Intelligence Program. My big takeaway (as an author) is the fact that all the agencies SHARE their intel, unlike what we often see on TV and in fiction. Having local, state, and interagency conflict because of each department being stingy about what they know might make for good fiction, but it’s not how things are done anymore. Since 9/11, the Intel Community’s default has been “SHARE.”

I, for one, am very glad. 


  1. Annette, if you take notes, your head doesn't need to explode because you can forget it all and look it up in your notes.

    It's been fascinating to ride along with you for these sessions.

  2. Thanks, Annette, for keeping us posted about your training experience. I recently toured a local forensics lab and learned so much.

  3. Jim, the problem is the pace. I can't write fast enough to get it all down. At least blogging here about it gives me the chance to transcribe my scribbles.

    Grace, I love those kinds of tours!

  4. What a great (if time & energy consuming) experience! Thank you for sharing with us.

  5. The Post Office! I am amazed. This is fascinating, what a terrific experience. Thank you for sharing.

  6. My pleasure, Kathleen and Kait!

  7. Next week they'll have drug dogs stationed at every post office. I admire your endurance for staying with the course. Thank you!!

  8. This sounds like a wonderful experience. It's something I'd like to take part in.

  9. I'm having a blast, E.B. It's exhausting, but I look forward to each week's session!

    Gloria, every FBI office holds a citizens academy. It took me three tries to get in even with an FBI agent sponsoring, but I highly recommend making the effort!