FBI faces new safety challenges in era of COVID-19

In addition to their usual duties arresting spies, stopping terrorist attacks, shutting down and investigating a variety of other criminal activities, FBI agents are keeping a close eye on COVID-19.

“We’re out there continuing to conduct our investigations, execute search warrants and make arrests when necessary to protect the public, but obviously, we’ve had to make some adjustments,” said Kevin Vorndran, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Criminal Division of the Washington Field Office of the FBI.

Those adjustments boil down to “prioritizing the health and safety of our workforce, and prioritizing the health and safety in these communities that we serve,” Vorndran said.

For decades, FBI agents in certain scenarios have worn personal protective equipment, but this is different gear.

“It is not typical that we would put our workforce in N95 masks or surgical masks to conduct searches as a mandatory step, but obviously, with the COVID-19 virus, we’ve had to take that step just to make sure we’re protecting our workforce,” Vorndran said.

Not only are FBI agents wearing masks and gloves, like most everyone else, when they’re at work, but also when they encounter the people they’re after — agents make sure they’re protected as well.

A recent case involving a search warrant is a key example. “We encountered an elderly individual, and we took the time to put personal protective equipment on that individual prior to conducting our search, just to make sure he was protected,” Vorndran said.

This is likely to be standard procedure for the foreseeable future.

“We would likely look to the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) for guidance on what kind of recommendations are being put out to society. And, certainly, we are going to err on the side of being very conservative and protecting our workforce and the citizens we serve and protect,” he said.

There are other scenarios under consideration as well.

The Washington Field Office has jurisdiction in Virginia and D.C. The District is still operating under a modified stay-at-home order, while Virginia’s has been partially lifted.

Vorndran said, again, they’ll rely on CDC guidance.

“For example, in Washington, D.C., if we’re following social distancing and Virginia changes, we’re going to be conservative and make sure we’re protecting our workforce the best we can and we’ll make that decision internally,” he said.

Speaking of internal matters, the FBI, Vorndran said, has proceeded with “a very deliberate, intelligent plan to maintain social distancing, to make sure our workforce is wearing face coverings when they are in the office, especially when they are approximate to other individuals.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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