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Back to Archives | Back to September 2010 Contents 

From the Commander: Investigating across the Spectrum of Conflict: The Air Force Office of Special Investigations

Brigadier General Kevin J. Jacobsen, Commander, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Joint Base Andrews, Maryland


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oday, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) special agents and staff professionals are stationed in more than 200 locations throughout the world. They carry out our mission of identifying, exploiting, and neutralizing criminal, terrorist, and force protection threats to the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. government.

Historically, that mission has presented a variety of unique challenges to personnel, both in times of peace and in war. The post-9/11 world has once again created a global environment in which AFOSI agents find themselves working to counter these various threats at an amazing pace, with significant impact and substantial results.

With agents called upon to contribute in the fight against these threats in both domestic and overseas garrison settings, as well as in battle spaces abroad, the potential exists for our identity and role to be questioned.

In other words, are we law enforcement, military combatant, or force protection professionals?

AFOSI special agents are called upon daily to investigate serious offenses that threaten the ability of our U.S. Air Force to fight and win in space, in cyberspace, and in the sky, and carry out the myriad operations necessary to do so.

Just like any other segment of our society, the U.S. Air Force suffers from the scourge of violent crimes, including death investigations ranging from accidental to homicidal, and all manner of sexual assault offenses, including rape and child molestation.

That struggle extends to the challenges of investigating illicit drug distribution, high-dollar theft, and substantial fraud, all of which act to diminish our service’s capabilities. While these offenses tear at the very fabric of our nation, they each hold the added potential of diminishing our military’s ability to defend our country.

In the course of conducting investigations, our agents are dispersed around the globe, working alongside the U. S. government, foreign military, law enforcement, and force protection agencies.

We have joined efforts in combined arenas to pursue insurgency and terrorist threats in combat environments; we have captured this mission set in the doctrinal term Counter-Threat Operations (CTO).

This mission set has brought agents on a daily basis into the breach and outside the protective confines of U. S. bases to work with the citizens and the security forces of nations in which the Department of Defense (DOD) has an interest. Cooperatively, we identify threats to airpower and other DOD activities in any guise, be it an individual, a group, weaponry, or a criminal enterprise used to fund attacks on coalition forces.

Supporting the first U.S. Air Force activities moving into Afghanistan in 2001 and subsequently taking up positions on the various fronts of the Global War on Terrorism, AFOSI agents, working alongside our coalition partners, have successfully contributed to the identification, neutralization, and exploitation of terrorists and insurgents. These efforts have come at a heavy price to the command with 28 agents wounded or injured, and an additional 7 agents killed in action.

While engaged on these fronts, AFOSI agents have also been called on to continue their work as contributors to the U. S. intelligence community, with our force protection mission helping to paint a clearer picture of a complicated world.

A crucial component of our support to the U.S. Air Force and DOD comes in our effort to search out and identify a variety of force protection threats. This involves breaking the planning cycle of terrorist organizations and foreign intelligence services.

Targeting an insider threat or employing proactive effort operations aimed at the entities attempting to carry out these actions are also components. The information gathered from these actions must make its way into the larger U.S. intelligence community to help bolster the defenses of our nation as well as our allies. The nature of this work has heightened our relationships with our colleagues from federal law enforcement and with our international partners.

While these seemingly multiple responsibilities have become more visible in a world fraught with regional and global insurgency, international terrorism, increased cyber attacks, and fourth generation warfare, today’s circumstances are nothing new.

In fact, operating in diverse, challenging environments has been the AFOSI experience since its inception in 1948. As an agency, AFOSI has historically enjoyed a unique existence and continues in that vein.

We are law enforcement professionals who are also military combatants in our nation’s service—two disciplines that many people in the United States have historically fought to keep separate through the ringing of posse comitatus concerns.

Additionally, we are force protection professionals who, even with the easing of restrictions between law enforcement and intelligence activities after 9/11, must remain ever vigilant of the civil rights and privacy concerns that stir heated debate at the law enforcement and the intelligence community nexus. While any number of our agency colleagues struggle with the balance between any two of these identities, we reside in a special arena, often working to maintain the equilibrium of all three.

To the U.S. Air Force, we are called on to act as the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secret Service, and more, both at home as well as in the deployed environment.

We are a federal law enforcement agency operating throughout the full spectrum of warfare, seamlessly within any domain, conducting criminal investigations and providing force protection services.

We provide the Air Force with five robust capabilities that no one else can—we protect secrets, detect threats, provide specialized services, conduct serious criminal investigations, and offensively engage foreign threats.

Through our capabilities we produce seven effects, ensuring U.S. Air Force superiority. They are neutralizing criminal activities, protecting forces, ensuring acquisition integrity, developing a conduit for influence, enabling force engagement, securing technology and information, and providing global situational awareness.

It is not difficult to imagine that these various roles and responsibilities could lead to an identity crisis within an agency that is stretched around the globe in seemingly separate areas of expertise. So how do we resolve this complex quandary, which could potentially transform us into a fractured agency lacking a clear sense of self?

We do so by remaining focused on the core skill set that acts as our great unifier. Simply put, all of these roles have at their core the need for inspired and determined investigative capability.

The verb “investigate” is defined as an inquiry or study in order to ascertain facts and information—a relatively simple summation of what is often a difficult task. The ability to gather facts and information in a diverse set of circumstances forms the foundation of who we are and defines our identity. We pride ourselves on using the most valuable of weapons—a keen and creative mind—to unearth information critical to our decision makers in myriad circumstances, from battlefields to backstreets.

From the first days a prospective AFOSI agent steps through the door at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, we begin the process of both instilling and reinforcing the importance of critical thinking, formulating the right questions, and ultimately building a solid investigation, regardless of the targeted individual, the information, or the reporting vehicle.

The baseline skill set must certainly be augmented by a number of additional proficiencies including the ability to properly handle weapons, effectively manage human sources of information, craft operations with specific goals in mind, operate efficiently in simple or complex interagency environments, apply technical and forensic capabilities in the proper manner, and operate in austere environments, to list only a few.

Throughout an agent’s career, it is that core investigative ability that comes into play time and again in the execution of classic law enforcement matters, CTO in deployed settings, and force protection activities, whether reactive or proactive in nature.

The art and science of investigation is integrated into the final product of any report of investigation, be it a project designed for criminal prosecution, a target package intended to guide direct action units against combat targets, or a threat assessment and protective detail focused on protecting a VIP or sensitive program.

Recognizing a quality that makes something distinctive from another is central to establishing an identity.

In AFOSI’s case, that quality is the investigative capability we bring to the Air Force that proves critical in various capacities. Despite the myriad challenges our unique mission brings, we can say, as our vision affords, that we’re a federal law enforcement agency providing investigative capability throughout the spectrum of conflict, be it peacetime, wartime, or conditions that fall somewhere between.

From the garrison to the combat zone, AFOSI agents exercise their investigative capability against a variety of threats to our Air Force, our sister services, and our coalition partners while continuing to function as law enforcement and military professionals. ■

Please cite as:

Kevin J. Jacobsen, "Investigating across the Spectrum of Conflict: The Air Force Office of Special Investigations," From the Commander, The Police Chief 77 (September 2010): 14–15,
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/CPIM0910/index.php#/14 (insert access date).

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 9, September 2010. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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