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Bruce Hartzell and his Third in a Series... COMMITMENT

In 1988 I began my 27-year career as a special agent with the US Customs Service at the Naval Air Station in New Orleans to conduct air smuggling investigations. My first night in town I slept on the floor of an office trailer. By morning I walked across the street to where the hangar and tarmac were located. Wow! It was an entire air force: Blackhawks, Hueys, C-12s, Cessna Citation jets equipped with F-16 radar, Piper Navajos and more. I began introducing myself to some of the pilots and air interdiction officers and one of the pilots asked me if I wanted to go search the Gulf of Mexico to locate a boat.

In no time at all we were skirting the coastlines of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana at an altitude of about 10-15 feet off the water. Not a bad start for my first hours on the job. I could tell that this job was going to dovetail very nicely with my Marine experience.

Special agent training was in a setting very similar to OCS and the Basic School. Training included: firearms, writing and executing arrest and search warrants, arrest tactics, legal issues, pursuit driving, surveillance, interrogation and interviewing techniques, etc. The training facility is where US Customs, Secret Service, ATF, IRS, Border Patrol and Bureau of Prisons, to name a few, begin.

What separates US Customs from all other agencies is border search authority. People and merchandise entering or exiting the US contrary to law are subject to search and seizure. After basic training the joyrides are over and you are issued your badge, gun and government vehicle: it’s time to get out in the field, start making smuggling cases and prepare your evidence for successful prosecutions.

However, one thing my Marine experience did not prepare me for was conducting computer forensics investigations, 95%+ were child pornography cases. A single case could have you locating and recovering hundreds of thousands of hardcore porn images of minors being sexually exploited. It ain’t pretty, but sometimes we can’t pick the battlefield of our choosing.

Any case requires successful interviews and interrogations based on truthful statements and/or a confession. The key to getting a truthful statement is determining whether or not a suspect is committed to their statement. How do you tell if a person is committed to what they are telling you?

Here’s two subtle examples: a young couple tells you they are engaged. My first question is whether or not they have set a wedding date. If they have not set a date, then they are not engaged, as there is no commitment until they have set a date. Or, just try to introduce your wife at a cocktail party as “the wife” versus “my wife.” You will get eye daggers from her if you call her “the wife” since the comment infers distance in the relationship and lacks your unconditional commitment.

Most people don’t just make up stories or alibis out of thin air. Nothing happens in a vacuum. This highlights the need to examine the circumstances of an alleged criminal incident as well as the incident itself. If the interview subject tries to be deceptive, he not only has to conceal or change the crucial detail he's safeguarding, but he has to "massage" the other facts of the case to fit his version. This often leaves traces, either inconsistencies between allegations, or gaps in the narrative. People will seldom fabricate an outright lie but will usually be deceptive by omitting certain facts.

Nobody likes being lied to.

It was difficult when I conducted internal affairs investigations and caught my fellow law enforcement officers in a lie. Lately it’s been difficult to watch TV and see those with distinguished military, corporate and law enforcement careers discredit themselves and become caricatures of themselves. These leaders have been stripped of their pretenses. Marine generals and former Marine officers who have transitioned into the upper echelons of civilian government services as well as criminals can make flippant comments and deceptive remarks that seem completely out of character from what you previously knew and understood about them, comments that lack commitment.

Whom to believe and what to believe these days? Commitment and veracity is what solidifies truth and truthfulness in us. We‘ve all met that untruthful person and came to the realization point: “Hey pal, stop pissing on my leg and telling me it’s raining.”

Dissident CEOs and generals may become misguided, but they remain patriots. Whether your commitment be to God, the country, the Corps, the corporation, or your spouse, it will always help you stand out front from others.

So, when it comes time for you to jump from the corps2corp arena, will you be committed to your words and deeds?

Bruce is a former US Marine infantry officer having served 3 years active duty in Quantico, VA, Okinawa, Japan, and Parris Island, SC. In 1983 he went on to become a stock broker and trader at the Kansas City Board of Trade, trading stock index futures. In 1987 he briefly worked as a correctional officer at the maximum security facility, US Penitentiary, Leavenworth, KS, during the Atlanta, GA, and Oakdale, LA, prison riots.

From 1988 until his retirement in 2013 he served as a US Treasury special agent (criminal investigator) with the US Customs Service, and as a Department of Homeland Security special agent with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations. He conducted investigations encompassing drug smuggling and contraband seizures via air, land, marine and the internet.

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