FBI Director Christopher Wray addressed the newest class of FBI agent and intelligence analyst trainees at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City on Saturday, March 9. They are the first class to visit the museum as part of their Basic Field Training Course, and it was an addition Wray felt was important as the years stretch away from that terrible day.
The youngest members of the current class at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia, were in elementary school when the towers fell. Many of these soon-to-be agents and analysts and those who follow them will learn about the events through history lessons. Wray stressed that the visit will help ensure that fateful day does not become a “mere historical footnote for the people of the Bureau.”
“After that terrible day, we had one purpose—to make sure something like that never, ever happened again,” he told the 180 new agents and 20 analysts, FBI leadership, and guests gathered at the memorial. “That sense of resolve carried us through the difficult days and weeks that followed as we pieced together what happened.”
The 9/11 attacks ushered in a new consciousness of the global terrorism threat and reshaped the FBI’s mission, transforming it from a law enforcement agency to an intelligence-driven, threat-focused organization that has both national security and law enforcement responsibilities. Counterterrorism became—and remains—the Bureau’s top priority.
“Because of that terrible day, starting in 2001 under the leadership of Director Mueller, the FBI transformed itself in ways that have made us stronger and better—and our country safer,” Wray said. Now, the FBI must “stay on the balls of our feet” and be ready to “adapt and innovate” against ongoing terrorism threats.
Just as important, Wray said, the memory of this visit should help the new class to stay focused on bringing justice to the victims of terrorism and their families. During his remarks, Wray recalled working closely with the FBI during and shortly after 9/11, including taking part in a presentation to the families of victims lost in the attacks. Wray said his own experience helped drive his decision to add the museum visit to the trainees’ curriculum.
The 9/11 Memorial & Museum visit “should change you,” he said. “It should give you a deeper understanding of just how much is on the line in this work—how much crime and terrorism wound victims and families, and what an awesome responsibility comes with your work for the Bureau.”
The training required for new agents to pass into the FBI is intense. They are tested mentally, physically, and emotionally; forced to prove their skills in evidence collection, investigative procedures, and tactical driving; and given rigorous instruction in law, methods, and ethics. But with a mission to protect the country from both national security and criminal threats while upholding civil rights and the Constitution of the United States, the job of the FBI is as weighty as it is vital.
So in recent decades, the FBI has added elements to the training new agents and intelligence analysts receive that help underscore not just how to do the work but why the work matters and why doing it right matters even more.
In 2000, classes started a tradition of visiting the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to understand how incomprehensible evil can take hold through individual and institutional acts of moral surrender.
In 2014, new agent and analyst trainees began visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, also in the nation’s capital, in an effort to ensure they understand the FBI’s past mistakes on civil rights—including its surveillance of Dr. King—and embrace its civil rights mission.
“These two visits have become key elements of the FBI’s training experience,” said Wray. “They’re stark reminders of how we can hurt our organization and harm the mission when we forget our commitments to the Constitution and rule of law and abuse the enormous power we’ve been given.”
Now, the agents will walk through the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as a reminder of the Bureau’s vital and ongoing counterterrorism mission.
Some new agents and analysts are too young to remember the events of September 11, 2001. Director Wray wanted the New York museum to be part of the Basic Field Training Course so participants could gain a greater understanding of an an event that has profoundly shaped the FBI. (Photo of trainee with phone courtesy of 9/11 Memorial & Museum)
Outside the gallery, trainees shared the impact of 9/11 on their lives and the pride they felt in being the first class to visit the museum.
"Being here with my class reinforces our mission," shared an agent soon to join the Knoxville Division. "This is what we are fighting for. It's a sense of exemplifying service before self."
“It makes you wonder how many other 9/11s have been prevented by the FBI in the last 17-18 years,” said another incoming agent, who will begin his career in Springfield, Illinois. “We don’t necessarily know that, because agents and other FBI employees do their jobs, go home, and don’t advertise their work.”
Director Wray closed his remarks by reminding the agents to hold tight to the memories of the visit. “When you have tough days in this job—and in this job, I guarantee you will have tough days—remember this day and let it bring you back to the core of your job: the stakes of the work we do, the people we do the work with, and the people we do the work for.”