ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE | A freshly-pressed suit, sharp tie and holstered sidearm; truly a look that could kill. Much like the secret agents you see in the movies, and certainly dressed for the part, agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations ensure the branch is protected from any threat.
The Airmen work against anything that undermines the mission of the U.S. Air Force or the Department of Defense. While they aren’t investigating series of unregistered close encounters, the agency handles a wide range of serious offenses from espionage to terrorism, crimes against property and violence against people.
Since Aug. 1, 1948, at the suggestion of Congress to consolidate Air Force investigative activities, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations has been the Air Force's major investigative force reporting to the Inspector General and Office of the Secretary of the Air Force.
“We deter, detect and neutralize counter-intelligence,” said Michael Horn, Special Agent assigned to Detachment 816. “Our job is to investigate crimes that occur within the Air Force, affecting its personnel or Department of Defense assets.”
The goal for the OSI agent is to accomplish RIC: recovery, indictments and convictions, whether it’s attempting to recover monetary assets for the government, indicting an individual trying to sell military secrets, or attempting to convict someone with enough information to have them go to trial.
According to Special Agent William Velez, the superintendent assigned to Det. 816, OSI agents are jack[s] of all trades. They are able to adjust to any situation and be ready at the flip of a hat.
“As an OSI Special Agent, you are responsible for being able to conduct criminal and fraud investigations, as well as work and operate with counterintelligence and counterterrorism,” Velez explained. “You have to be able to be able to flip from a criminal case to providing assistance with deterring an act of terrorism. It’s the rule of threes for us, crime, fraud and counterintelligence.”
Horn explained the agency is here to help and that they are not the enemy. The agency is here not only in the interest of administering justice, but in order to find the truth.
“The stigma of OSI is, in a lot of cases, just not knowing who we are, or what we do,” Velez said. “Ninety percent of what we do we can talk to people about; only ten percent of our job is classified, but we never have people come over and ask about that 90 percent.”
One challenge that OSI faces is conveying who the agents are, what they do and why they do it.
The agency speaks during commander’s calls, First Term Airmen Course, Right Start, the Company Grade officer’s council, and First Shirt Emporium to introduce themselves to the base.
“When we go out to talk to people, it’s not just as a recruitment piece,” Horn said. “We are trying to build that bridge between us and those we are trying to help.”
Though sometimes seen as the shadowy Men in Black, the agency remains a trusted and relevant global investigative agency. Acting as a reliable and indispensable partner both enabling and protecting the Air Force, OSI has a heavy burden to bare, but a necessary one at that.