Behind the Iron Gate

A tour of the FBI’s Kapolei offices nets job opportunities, not mysteries.

Alien autopsies. Strange aircraft. Dangerous prisoners. Osama bin Laden cleaning the bathrooms.

These are just a few of the things you won’t find at the FBI’s new EntErprisE AvEnuE officE. To be honest, the building is quite nondescript. It’s nice, no question, but it hardly warrants inclusion into the realm of fantasy.

Even the mysterious high-walled and fenced fortress to the rear of the building is not what legend suggests.

It is not a shooting range, a detention facility or a tactical mock city where agents practice storming the Bastille. It’s a parking lot boasting mostly boring sedans and underpowered coupes. The vehicles, a mixture of Hondas, Toyotas, Fords and Chevys, act as traveling offices for many of the agents who actually spend very little time at their new digs. They even have an on-site mechanic to maintain the vehicles. This is more for convenience than security. Time in the garage means less time chasing bad guys.

Law enforcement is way more exciting on TV. So too, is their place of business.

Unless they are hiding the good stuff, the FBI building does not have a Steve McGarrett-style photo-flicking tabletop computer nor can they use a satellite link to track suspected evildoers through the covered roads along the Ko‘olau Mountain Range.

At first glance, the building seems rather low-tech. The briefing room, where everyone gathers when bad things happen, seems populated with dated computer monitors and bulky external hard drives. In this case, looks can be deceiving.

“The Kapolei office has modern communication technology to keep our fingers on the pulse of the region, so we can provide rapid response if needed,” says Special Agent Tom Simon, a 19-year FBI veteran.

Spartan in design, the FBI headquarters are big on substance over style.

Spartan in design, the FBI headquarters are big on substance over style.

The d├ęcor is simple and modern, blending clean lines with furniture and wall accents that hint back to decades past. Think “Mad Men”-era seating for men and women toting firearms instead of high balls and constantly burning cigarettes.

Sitting in the lobby, the only audible feedback comes from the air conditioning system. Walking through the secure halls—bathrooms seem to be the only spaces not requiring pass codes or security monitors—one can’t help but to notice the nearly complete lack of noise. It’s almost eerie. But it makes sense. With agents mostly on the street, there leaves few to make a ruckus.

“If FBI Special Agents are doing their jobs correctly, they are out on the streets where crimes happen,” says Simon.

What the new office doesn’t hide is its room for growth.

In their old office at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building, space limitation forced 20 percent of its staff to spaces scattered around Honolulu. In addition to the high rent costs, it was more difficult for the far-flung staff to gather for briefings and other meetings. The 150,000-square-foot building, meets those needs. Built at a reported cost of $16 million, it has more desks than agents to fill them. That’s not a long-term problem, the FBI is hiring and the Honolulu office is growing to meet the agency’s specific needs and expanding role in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Honolulu division covers territory stretching from Hawai‘i to Guam, Saipan, American Samoa and all the water, islets and atolls in between.

The Asia-Pacific region, says Simon, will be the cornerstone of American economic activity and that the new office “gives us the professional working environment we need to meet criminal and national security missions.”

Unlike most renters—the FBI signed a 20-year lease on the structure—the agency was an active partner during the entire construction process. Not only did the agency approve all designs for the building, it was also charged with ensuring security during the building phase.

Everyone who swung a hammer or dug a hole had to go through an extensive background check. That didn’t stop when construction ceased. Whether an agent or maintenance staff member, everyone had to go through a similar check.

“FBI agents were present every day to clear all the workers for criminal histories and national security concerns,” says Simon. “Our mission is too important to leave anything to chance.”

The inner courtyard where agents can relax outside of their cubicles.

The inner courtyard where agents can relax outside of their cubicles.

While the agents offer little resemblance to their movie counterparts, there are some areas and names that would be familiar.

There are interview rooms, evidence lockers and storage units from high-powered firearms, if the need should arise. An American Samoa desk is to the side of a large open space. Neighbors include “desks” for white color crimes, criminal enterprises, counter terrorism, foreign counter intelligence and cyber security.

Moving from downtown to Kapolei just made sense. Having all employees under one roof saves money and improves efficiency. Also, the FBI works closely with the Coast Guard and having them close by also makes things easier. The downside, for some, is an increased travel time to work. The upside is plenty of parking, a gym large enough to use, more personal space and an outdoor green area for gatherings or a bit of fresh air. The area’s amenities are also enticing according to Simon.

“Kapolei has a great variety of stores and restaurants that FBI employees enjoy,” says Simon. “When you work in a fortress, it’s important to get outside at lunchtime and clear your head. Kapolei gives us plenty of options.”

As mentioned earlier, the FBI is looking for agents and other staff members, and Hawai‘i is a growing market. According to the FBI website, applicants who wish to become special agents must be not be older than 37 years of age and have the right educational and professional background—experience in law, accounting and computer science are particularly valuable. Agents get base salary plus locality and availability pay. The average compensation for new agents is between $61,100 and $69,900.

One more thing: No prisoners are housed in the building. Anyone needing to be secured are turned over to the U.S. Marshal Service and taken to the Federal Detention Center near Honolulu International Airport.

Interested in a tour of the building? They don’t do that. If you really want to see what a room full of cubicles looks like, try OfficeMax over at Kapolei Commons.

Photos: Courtesy of the FBI