What does an FBI Special Agent do?


Special agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are the main investigative force of the federal government. As the FBI likes to stress, they don't have a set list of duties--the bureau prefers to describe special agents as investigators, which means a full range of responsibilities.


  • The FBI is a law enforcement organization employing administrators, linguists, forensics experts and medical personnel. Special agents are different, as they are the frontline presence of the FBI, conducting actual investigations in the field. They don't normally analyze evidence or other scientific findings, something done by other professionals within the FBI.

No Typical Day

  • According to official FBI literature, agents don't have anything that can be defined as a typical set of duties. This wide variety is reflected in the different kinds of cases special agents handle and in the fact that they can be posted anywhere federal U.S law applies or is called upon for assistance.


  • All special agents undergo 20 weeks of extensive training in Quantico, Virginia. Training covers investigative skills, firearms, fitness, self-defense and much more. It's considered quite grueling compared to normal police training, which is why there are strict age and fitness rules in place to guide FBI hiring.

In the Field

  • As the federal government's law enforcement agency, the FBI conducts constant investigation and interdiction of illegal activities and crime within its U.S jurisdiction. Special agents, therefore, document crime, investigate leads, gather evidence, carry out arrests and question suspects. Special agents are responsible for developing intelligence networks through informants but don't prosecute anyone, which is done by other departments.

Main Focus

  • Any act defined as criminal by federal law, and in most cases, any criminal act that crosses state lines, falls under FBI jurisdiction. Special agents spend significant time and resources investigating terrorism, espionage, organized crime, drug distribution, corruption, fraud and missing persons cases, among others.


  • Special agents work closely with other federal departments, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); and Internal Revenue Service (IRS). They have close contact with customs and immigration authorities and invariably work with local law enforcement on almost every case. This entails familiarity with the procedures and duties of the agencies they work with. Special agents may travel overseas to investigate cases involving American interests abroad. Occasionally, foreign law enforcement invites FBI assistance even when the United States isn't directly involved.


  • Ask any special agent and they will explain filling paperwork and keeping accurate records are a huge part of their schedule. The bureau also goes to great lengths to separate fact from fiction, claiming the actual work of special agents relies on science and professionalism rather than gun play and stunt work. As an agency accountable to the federal government and the public, the FBI is a bureaucracy, meaning numerous regulations and rules to follow.


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