Former FBI agent shares exploits with students

Traveling around the world, taking down bad guys and helping exonerate the wrongly accused, Steve Moore’s life sounds glamorous — and he will agree that he has loved every minute.

The retired FBI agent gulped down swigs of a Monster energy drink before taking the stage at Western Carolina University last week to offer students a glimpse of his life and times. Moore is the author of Special Agent Man: My Life in the FBI as a Terrorist Hunter, Helicopter Pilot, and Certified Sniper.

Moore spoke to a crowd of about 40 students and faculty about his career exploits, the importance of international travel and safety abroad.

Moore visited WCU as part of International Education Week, a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and foreign exchange studies.

Moore became an FBI special agent in 1983 at age 25 — his first assignment was to go undercover and join the Aryan Nation in Idaho. After six weeks in the white supremacy organization, Moore and his partner were found out and had to continue surveillance of the Aryan Nation from afar.

“They were extremely violent,” Moore said, recalling that members of the group shot a Salt Lake City man in the head 10 times because he had dared to criticize them on his radio show.

Moore later led the investigation into a shooting at a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center perpetrated by white supremacist Buford O. Furrow. Furrow watched the center in the evenings while planning out his attack on what he assumed would be elderly Jewish people. However, when he went to the center in the morning, he didn’t encounter senior citizens but rather a group of children.

During Moore’s interrogation, Furrow said that the children changed everything. When asked what he meant, Furrow replied, “Well, you have to aim lower.”

Moore reported that Furrow is serving a life sentence without parole.

After a couple of years in the Northwest, Moore switched to the FBI’s aviation division and then to SWAT and covering the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.

Moore projected pictures from various assignments onto a large screen in the theatre throughout his speech. “This is me on all my undercover operations,” Moore joked as a blank screen flashed onto the screen.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Moore was transferred to work terrorism cases and began traveling abroad on assignments in Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines, among other places. He emphasized the importance of traveling internationally to learn about other cultures and how they see things.

“You have to understand their culture, what motivates them, what moves them,” Moore said, in order to work either with or against them. He added that if he were in charge of education, he would make it mandatory for students to go overseas. “You should have an idea of what it’s like to go into another country and survive.”

Moore also emphasized a few times that people should not blame one country or group of people for the actions of a few.

“Prejudice and overgeneralization will not survive meeting the other side,” Moore said.

Moore told more stories about an assignment in Jakarta, Indonesia, and his history with bombings. In many cases, suicide bombers were sent in a vehicle with explosives that featured three switches — one for instant detonation, one for a five-minute delay that would allow them to run away and another to disarm the bomb. But, as the bombers found out, the switches were a test to see if they chickened out or not — all three triggered immediate detonation.

Moore retired from the FBI in 2008 and began a job at Pepperdine University, where he was in charge of ensuring students’ safety while studying in other countries. However, Moore was fired from that job after advocating for Amanda Knox, an American student who was found guilty of killing her roommate while the two lived in Italy.

After reviewing the evidence, or lack thereof, Moore said, he began working to help free Knox from prison in Italy. Eventually, her verdict was overturned, and Moore moved onto his next case.

Currently, he is speaking out on behalf of Jacob Ostreicher, an American living in Bolivia who was accused of money laundering. Ostreicher has spent 18 months in prison without a trial, Moore said. But, even if he received one, it would not be fair, he said.

“You will not be guaranteed that you will be judged on the merits of the crime,” Moore said. Trials abroad are more based on feeling, rather than fact, he said.

Moore encouraged those interested to apply for a position with the FBI.

There are no standard type people who can be FBI agents, Moore said, adding that he has seen a third-grade teacher, a stockbroker and a peanut concession stand worker become agents.

“If you are an expert at what you do, it is almost more important than what you do,” Moore said.

Anyone applying for a job with the agency must have at least three years work experience. No specific field is required. Applicants who have graduated from law school receive a pass on the work requirement.

“Do not think that there are superhuman powers you need to have,” Moore said.

And although FBI agents are typically called G-men, Moore said that in his experience, female counterterrorism agents were the employees the bureau couldn’t do without, citing one agent who has spent two years at Guantanamo Bay questioning two top terrorism suspects who refuse to speak to anyone but her.

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