- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

FBI special agents, working under the motto of “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity,” often are called on to do heroic deeds quietly and with little or no fanfare.

These unsung heroes routinely put themselves in harm’s way, making split-second decisions to save lives or complete missions.

Many of the heroic efforts of the bureau’s more than 12,500 agents go unnoticed. Take FBI Special Agent Richard B. Marx, for example.

For eight months he sat atop the Fresh Kills Landfill in Staten Island, N.Y., working his way through nearly 2 million tons of debris, searching for the remains of those killed when al Qaeda terrorists crashed two hijacked jetliners into the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.

Working out of a small, makeshift village known as the “City on the Hill” that he helped build, Mr. Marx was employed in a critical job: Find and identify remains of the crash victims and search for evidence to use against those responsible for the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

As site manager, Mr. Marx oversaw nearly 1,000 recovery specialists from 24 separate law-enforcement agencies who recovered more than 4,200 human remains and positively identified nearly 200 of those who perished when the buildings collapsed - men, women and children who otherwise would never have been found.

“We normally never let outsiders see a crime scene, let alone take photographs or touch anything. … We were here to find human remains. We were so focused we didn’t realize we were part of history,” Mr. Marx said of a New York Historical Society plan to document the recovery efforts.

Wearing white protective suits and respirator masks to protect themselves from the methane gas that rose from the stacked debris, they searched with rakes, shovels, sifters and, often, their hands. It was the biggest crime scene in history, a recovery site stretching over 175 acres with 17,000 tons of material processed daily.

For his devotion to the job, he earned the gratitude of the victims’ families, the respect of his peers and a nomination as the federal employee of the year.

Mr. Marx, 39, has been stoically silent about his time on the Hill, but summed up the effort in a letter to his FBI supervisors: “I come from a proud FBI family … and all I ever wanted to do was represent the bureau in a positive light.”

Twin Towers

FBI Special Agent Leonard W. Hatton was one of many who assisted in the evacuation of the Twin Towers in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. He was last seen helping a victim out of the North Tower and rushing back in to save more when the building suddenly collapsed.

Mr. Hatton’s 16-year FBI career included investigations into the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. He was an authority on al Qaeda and its founder, Osama bin Laden.

Assigned to the FBI’s New York field office, the agent was on his way to work when he saw one of the Twin Towers on fire. According to eyewitness accounts, he turned back to help. On his own initiative, he responded directly to the North Tower, where he assumed a position on the roof of the Marriott Hotel. From his vantage point, he reported that a second airliner had struck the South Tower.

Because of falling debris, he moved from the roof and joined with firefighters in evacuating the site. One survivor told investigators that Mr. Hatton guided him to safety and then went back into the building.

“Lenny was at the World Trade Center saving lives, even as he sacrificed his own,” said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. “And in the process, he reminded us about what is so good and so right about America.”

Mr. Hatton, a 45-year-old former Marine who was married and had four children, also served his hometown as a volunteer firefighter, as his father had before him.

In September 2005, President Bush posthumously presented the “9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor” to his family. The medal is the nation’s highest award for law-enforcement officers who perform acts above and beyond the call of duty.

Khobar Towers

On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb exploded at the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. airmen. A task force of FBI special agents was dispatched to investigate, working nonstop under difficult conditions to identify and prosecute those responsible.

Their grueling but precise inquiry prompted a federal grand jury in Virginia in 2001 to indict 13 members of the terrorist organization Hezbollah.

“When I visited this horrific scene soon after the attack, I watched dozens of dedicated FBI agents combing through the wreckage in 120-degree heat, reverently handling the human remains of our brave young men,” former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said in a report. “The FBI’s investigation of the Khobar attack was extraordinarily persistent, indeed relentless. Our fallen heroes and their families deserve nothing less.”

The Khobar task force, headed by Dale L. Watson, the now-retired former chief of the FBI’s counterterrorism branch and its International Terrorism Section, doggedly pursued the evidence. The probe eventually determined that while the attack was staged by Hezbollah, the entire operation had been planned, funded and coordinated by Iran’s security services.

During the five-year investigation, the task force faced and overcame many obstacles, including the Clinton White House, which Mr. Freeh said at the time was “unable or unwilling” to help the FBI gain access to critical witnesses.

When George W. Bush moved into the White House in January 2001, Mr. Freeh said the new president immediately interceded with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah on the FBI’s behalf, asking the Saudis to let the FBI conduct one-on-one interviews of the detained Khobar bombers. The prince directed that the FBI be given direct access to the detainees, the investigative breakthrough that the bureau had sought.

Six months later, the interviews were completed, and indictments were sought just four days before some of the terrorist charges would have been vacated under the five-year statute of limitations.

Hot-line volunteer

Chicago-based FBI Special Agent Tom Simon doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Married, the father of two young children and a crisis hot-line volunteer, he just wanted to do something for someone, so he donated his kidney to a young woman he had never met.

It was, he figured, a perfect match: Brenda Lagrimas was young, looking to start a family and in law enforcement. He got her name from donor Web site MatchingDonors.com and figured it would be a good way to show others that donating a kidney was not that difficult or dangerous.

An FBI agent for a dozen years, Mr. Simon - who investigates major financial and white-collar crimes - underwent laparoscopic surgery in April 2007 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and within a couple of weeks was back on the job.

Six months after the surgery, Mr. Simon wrote to the Kidney Chronicles Web site, saying: “I donated a kidney to a woman named Brenda Lagrimas whom I had never met before embarking on my quest to donate a kidney to a stranger.

“Because of my job as an FBI Special Agent and the odd way that Brenda and I met, we ended up getting a lot of international publicity which led to an increased awareness of living organ donations which, in turn, led others to step forward and donate to strangers.

“Living with one kidney is no different at all from living with two. I’m not lopsided or fatigued or in pain,” he said. “Brenda’s recovery was slower, which is totally normal. From the moment of the transplant, her new kidney worked perfectly and her kidney-related health problems disappeared. We speak regularly and our families have all met. She went from being a stranger to an organ recipient to a great friend and for that, I am thankful.”

Job related

FBI Special Agent Christopher Rigopoulos, a bomb technician, felt the explosion rip apart the last of five vehicles in his convoy headed to investigate a crime site in Iraq.

As the vehicle burned, Mr. Rigopoulos rescued one of the injured soldiers, moving him away from the car and into a safe vehicle, according to the FBI.

Mr. Rigopoulos returned to the burning car to pull a second soldier, who lost part of his lower leg. He relied upon his background as an emergency medical technician to apply a tourniquet, administer morphine and prevent the injured from going into shock from the blood loss.

According to the FBI, Mr. Rigopoulos, “with rounds flying overhead, used his body to shield his patient from the potentially lethal effects of the ammunition detonating a few feet away.”

It was the second time he had tended to live bomb sites and tended to injured soldiers during his 3 1/2 months in Iraq in 2005, providing technical analysis of improvised explosive devices.

Mr. Rigopoulos, now the explosives and hazardous devices examiner in the FBI Laboratory’s Explosives Unit, earned the Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award and a nomination for the FBI Medal of Valor.

Meanwhile, the San Diego FBI field office - used to assisting others in emergencies - had to save its own during the massive California wildfires in the fall.

The fires raged across Southern California, forcing at least 346,000 home evacuations, including 16 FBI families, according to the San Diego field office.

At least six special agents - Brendan Biamon, Pat Boyd, Nick Cheviron, Brett Fennoglio, Bill Gardner and Scott Brunner - drove their sport utility vehicles across the county, helping the families transport pets, photographs, family heirlooms and prized possessions before evacuating.

By the end of the day, 16 of the 21 employees of the criminal enterprise unit had been forced from their homes.

“I am proud of the actions and character displayed by the … agents. Their generosity and tireless efforts on behalf of others is to be commended,” Mr. Brunner said.

Line of duty

No list of unsung heroes would be complete without naming those who gave their lives in the line of duty. Thirty-five FBI agents have been killed on the job during a confrontation with an adversary since the bureau was formed 100 years ago.

The agents, known at the bureau as “service martyrs,” are listed on a permanent plaque at FBI Headquarters to ensure that their ultimate sacrifices are remembered. The FBI also honors 16 other agents who lost their lives in the performance of their duty.

The first agent to be killed as the result of hostile action was Edwin C. Shanahan, 27, who died Oct. 11, 1925. Mr. Shanahan was fatally shot while attempting to arrest a car thief in Chicago. The suspect was wanted at the time for the attempted murder of four Chicago police officers whom he had fatally shot during previous arrest attempts.

Of the 35 agents killed during hostile confrontations, two were women and seven died in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (See graphic.)

In May, as part of National Police Week, the FBI held a Special Agent Memorial Service to honor the 35 killed in confrontations and the 16 who died during the performance of their duties. The ceremony took place at FBI Headquarters in Washington.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, Mr. Mueller, former Director William S. Webster and Mr. Freeh participated.

“These men and women were normal people who did extraordinary things as agents,” Mr. Mueller said. “We are grateful for their service to the bureau and our country.”

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