A Mumbai type attack is an everyday affair here! (Feature with Images)

June 7th, 2009 - 1:00 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 7 (IANS) Welcome to Hogan’s Alley, a hotbed of ‘terrorists’ and home of the world’s most robbed bank. Its only bank - the Bank of Hogan - is robbed at least twice a week. Mobsters and drug dealers lurk around every corner.

So be careful, a bullet may whiz past you if a ‘robber’ pulls out a gun or you are caught in the crossfire when a group of ‘terrorists’ lays siege to the neighbouring Dogwood’s Inn as they did at a couple of Mumbai hotels back in November.

But don’t worry, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) always gets its man here. And if you do get hit, it may hurt a bit but would do no greater harm than leaving you marked with some orange paint, one learns during a visit to the mock town named after the “Hogan’s Alley” comic strip of the late 1800s.

This is where FBI special agents hone their skills before they go off to protect the United States against terrorist threats and foreign spies, fight crime at home or go off to work as legal attaches, or “Legats” at FBI’s 62 international offices, including one in New Delhi, and to work with international agencies and partners.

Steve Merrill, a special agent posted in New Delhi, was on his way to Jodhpur to play cricket on the US Embassy Team in the Maharajah’s annual tournament when he learned of the attacks in Mumbai, as FBI director Robert Mueller, recalled in a recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Steve quickly changed his plans and made his way to Mumbai with just the clothes on his back, his Blackberry, and his cricket gear and immediately made contact with his Indian counterparts. He got to work with skills learned back at Hogan’s Alley and friendships made though the agency’s international training programmes.

Built in 1987 with the help of Hollywood set designers, Hogan’s Alley spread over 10-plus acres is part of the FBI Training Academy, located on 385 wooded acres on a Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, about 60 km outside Washington.

Besides a bank and a hotel, it’s also got a post office, a laundromat, a barber shop, a pool hall, homes, shops, and more. There’s a constant flow of people and traffic. You can even get a bite to eat at the local deli.

But don’t look too closely. The cars parked outside ‘Honest Jim’s’ aren’t really for sale. The ‘Dogwood Inn Restaurant’ is actually a classroom. The post office doesn’t deliver and the town’s two mailboxes have been welded shut as they kept filling up with real letters.

Newly minted agents learn the latest investigative techniques, firearms skills, and defensive tactics here. They investigate terrorist activities…plan and make arrests…process evidence at crime scenes…conduct interviews and searches…use ballistic shields as protection…”clear” areas so they’re safe to enter… and get into paint-ball gun fights with “criminals.” All with the help of local actors hired to play both “bad guys” and innocent bystanders.

But it’s not all play at the FBI Academy. Through an intensive, 20-week training programme they learn all basic skills they will need to collect intelligence, conduct effective investigations and fire some 3,600 bullets before moving into one of five pre-designated career paths: intelligence, counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, cyber, or criminal investigations.

“The unique thing about the National Academy is that it teaches the best way of doing things, not the only way to do it,” according to the Training Division’s assistant director Brian Lamkin.

Apart from giving FBI’s own agents an ability to collaborate globally, the academy also runs an international training and assistance programme involving officers from 25 countries including Pakistan, mostly funded by the State Department.

The division has run a few crime scene courses for police officers from India, “but for Pakistan we have a huge programme now focusing on investigation and counter-terrorism,” said section head Frederick Schmied.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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