Tag Archives: FBI

Staples Forensics Teacher Earns FBI Certificate

Like many people, Heather Wirkus loves crime shows. And, like many, she dreamed of being an FBI agent.

For a while, she thought she was doing the next best thing: teaching Forensics at Staples High School. She helps students learn criminal investigative procedures and lab techniques. They work on case studies, discuss ethical issues, and listen to guest speakers.

One of those speakers inspired Wirkus to take another step. Now she’s really done the next best thing: She took the intense FBI Citizens Academy course.

She’s eager to spread the word about what’s she learned. And to inspire students to consider some of the many FBI career opportunities.

Heather Wirkus, with her FBI Citizens Academy certificate.

The Citizens Academy course meets every Thursday for 3 hours, at the field office in New Haven. It normally takes 6 weeks.

But after Wirkus’ first class in February 2020, COVID struck. The program was shut down for 18 months. It resumed in September.

Entering the Citizens Academy entailed more background checks and clearances than she needed to get her teaching job, Wirkus says. Because she was entering a secure facility, she could not bring any technology. Her car was checked for bombs — just like in crime shows.

Once inside, Wirkus and her fellow students had many eye-opening experiences.

They learned about human intelligence gathering, domestic terrorism, violent gangs, cybersecurity, crisis negotiations, SWAT teams, public corruption, civil rights, human trafficking and victim assistance programs.

Heather Wirkus and her FBI Citizens Academy classmates.

Wirkus was the only teacher in the group. Her classmates came from all walks of life, and all over Connecticut.

All were there for the same reason: to learn more about the FBI, then build relationships in their communities and workplaces in ways that special agents can’t.

So what did she learn?

“Everything!” Wirkus says.

Her main takeaway, though, is that the general public sees only “the outer shell” of the FBI. “We don’t realize how many layers there are to protecting our nation.”

The FBI offers a high school version of its Citizens Academy: the Future Law Enforcement Youth Academy, for 20 teenagers around the state each year. Wirkus is encouraging her students to apply.

She’ll never be an FBI special agent. For one thing, the maximum age to apply is 36. For another, she loves her job as a Staples Forensics teacher.

But now, as she does it, an FBI Citizens Academy certificate hangs on the wall.

Comey’s Speech On Race Draws Praise

FBI director James Comey lives at one of the most elite addresses in Westport — a very white suburb to begin with.

But speaking yesterday at Georgetown University, he addressed race relations in stark terms.

The Washington Post described Comey as a “Teller of Hard Truths,” who called the nation “at a crossroads.” The Post quoted him:

As a society, we can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension — to smooth over the conflict. We can turn up the music on the car radio and drive around these problems. Or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today — what it should be, what it could be, and what it needs to be — if we took more time to better understand one another.

The Post added, “Comey laid out a number of hard truths on race — a rare move for such a high-profile white law enforcement official, or even a law-enforcement official, period.”

FBI director -- and Westport resident -- James Comey.

FBI director — and Westport resident — James Comey.

The New York Times said that the “unusually candid” speech was “well received by law enforcement officials.” The Times continued:

Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. (Comey added) that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

Click here to read Comey’s entire, groundbreaking speech. Or watch it below:

New Top G-Man Also A Green’s Farms Man

James Comey — the man President Obama is expected to name as the new head of the FBI — has plenty of ties to Westport.

He lives in Green’s Farms.

James Comey

James Comey

He’s been general counsel to Bridgewater Associates, the huge hedge fund headquartered here.

As US attorney for the Southern District of New York, he helped send then-Westporter Martha Stewart to the Big House.

But — although both the Southern District and FBI were involved — he had nothing to do with the arrest and conviction of Rajat Gupta. That’s the former businessman/philanthropist  convicted in June 2012 on insider trading charges. He lives in another big house on Beachside Avenue — around the corner from Comey.

Susan Wynkoop: Westport’s Pioneering G-Woman

Ground-breaking women have been in the news lately. Sally Ride — the first American woman to enter low earth orbit — died recently. Olympic announcers mention that this year is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the federal law that opened the way to mass participation in sports by girls.

2012 is also the 40th anniversary of the year women became FBI agents. Susan Wynkoop — a long-time Westporter, and president of the Westport Historical Society — was one of the 1st 200 hires. She left the agency in 1991, after a 12-year career, but remains involved as director of the FBI Foundation’s oral history project.

Susan Wynkoop, with members of her FBI training class.

Next month, Susan travels to San Diego. Sandra Day O’Connor — the 1st woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court — will lead ceremonies lauding the pioneering female FBI agents.

Three women killed in the line of duty will be specially honored. Susan knew one of them well.

Susan did not grow up dreaming of being a G-man (or woman). She was raised in Virginia, near the Blue Ridge Mountains. After college she joined Wachovia — at the time, a small Southern bank.

As a manager, she hired young graduates. At a recruiting fair in 1979, an FBI agent at an adjacent booth convinced her to switch careers. Seven years earlier — soon after J. Edgar Hoover died — the agency allowed women to apply. (In those years, “allowed” was a better verb than “invited” or “welcomed.”)

Susan Wynkoop (right) at a firing range, with retirees. The men are reloading; she’s already done that, and is on to her next round.

It took 9 months for her appointment to go through. Then came 18 months of training at Quantico. Susan’s class of 36 included 8 women. Two women — and 5 men — did not make it through.

Assigned to the Charlotte office, she worked on a variety of cases. Most were white collar crimes. There were also bank robberies, prostitution rings, and a Hell’s Angels investigation.

After going undercover for a Miami pornography case, Susan was transferred to the New York office. Though many agents called it a hardship — the pay was the same as in, say, Mississippi — she was thrilled.

“I was 27 years old. We worked in every borough, on every kind of criminal case,” Susan recalls.

She became the 1st woman ever assigned to the Joint Bank Robbery Task Force. 15 FBI agents handled armed hold-ups; 12 New York City detectives took care of robbers who used only a note. One of her 1st cases, in October 1981, was the $1.6 million Brink’s robbery in Nanuet, N.Y., in which 2 police officers were killed.

“As the only woman, and with my Southern accent, I had to work probably harder than the men,” she says. “People watched every move I made.”

With 5 to 8 bank robberies a day, the squad was quite active. Each agent handled 25 to 30 cases at a time. Susan learned a lot, very quickly.

Susan Wynkoop, her husband and daughter with FBI director Louis Freeh (right). They worked together closely in the New York office.

The task force solved 97% of the crimes. “The word got out on the street: ‘Don’t rob banks!'” Susan says proudly.

Decades later, women are finally seen as “full members of the FBI team,” Susan says. “They have skills and experiences to contribute. Women have helped the agency become better, and more productive.”

Today, approximately 2,800 of the FBI’s 14,000 agents are female.

“It’s not a job for everyone,” she warns. “For me, it was challenging and exciting — though not every day. And the opportunity to serve the public, and my country, was very rewarding.”

In 1991, after her daughter was born, Susan retired. “Working day and night, I felt I couldn’t be good at both roles,” she says.

Even today, “many of the women at the top of the FBI are either unmarried or don’t have kids.” Though agents are transferred less frequently than in the past, the hours are still long. The job remains difficult.

Susan Wynkoop

It also remains dear to her heart. In Susan’s role with the Society of Former Special Agents, she interviews with ex-FBI men — and women. The histories are housed in Washington, DC.

“Those pioneering women had a lot of gumption,” she says admiringly. “They were not always fully accepted.”

Today, she notes, the agency recruits men and women of every background, from every facet of life. “There’s no major they don’t like,” she says.

Besides her very full life in Westport — in addition to her Historical Society presidency, she’s a deacon at Southport Congregational Church and lives in (and lovingly cares for) the oldest home in Westport — Susan helps keep our country safe.

She still does top-secret background investigations for the federal government.

What a woman!