A special agent is someone who works for a government agency in an investigative capacity. The term “special agent” is often used specifically in reference to representatives of American government agencies, such as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents, although agents of other governments may be referred to as special agents as well. A career as a special agent usually requires citizenship with the government the agent works for, along with the ability to pass a background check and physical exam.
Numerous government employees can be referred to as agents, but the title of special agent is reserved for employees who engage in investigative duties. For example, a regular Internal Revenue Service agent might work in the office, auditing tax returns, while a special agent actively investigates suspected violations of the law. Special agents often spend time in the field, following up on leads, meeting with informers, and investigating crime scenes, although they also work in the office conducting analysis and preparing reports.
Special agents work to enforce the laws of a nation on the national level, leaving local law enforcement issues to individual police departments and investigative agencies. They are also involved in national security issues, monitoring ongoing situations, conducting investigations to look for threats, and protecting national borders. Special agents can be involved in criminal investigations, drug enforcement, investigations into financial crimes, anti-terrorism units, and a variety of other tasks.
To work as a special agent, someone may need to qualify for employment as a regular agent first, working his or her way up the ranks and eventually applying to become a special agent. Other agencies hire special agents directly, often preferring people with a military or law enforcement background, or a high level of education. The requirements for different kinds of special agents can vary considerably; the IRS, for example, likes people with an accounting background, while the Secret Service may look for ex-police and ex-military.
The salary for a special agent is dependent on his or her pay grade and experience level. Special agents generally receive salary bonuses if they have additional skills such as the ability to communicate in a foreign language, and they may be encouraged to pursue continuing education to increase their skillset. In addition to providing support for continuing education, government agencies also provide benefits like relocation assistance, health benefits, payments into pension plans, paid time off, and access to banks and insurance companies which cater to government employees.