The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg
Amy Hess: Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity
Chuck Rosenberg: Welcome to The Oath. I'm Chuck Rosenberg, and I am honored to be your host for another compelling conversation with a fascinating guest from the world of public service. This week, my guest is Amy Hess, the highest-ranking woman in FBI history. Amy grew up in Jeffersonville, Indiana, a small town just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky. As a child, Amy dreamed of being an astronaut. She studied Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Purdue. Amy is a rocket scientist, but poor eyesight dashed her NASA dreams. Instead, Amy got her start in the FBI as a Special Agent in Kansas City, working violent crime cases. She was one of the first agents in her office to be part of a new evidence response team. And one of her first assignments as part of that team was to Oklahoma City because of the horrific domestic terrorism attack on the Murrah Federal Building in 1995. Amy rose through the ranks to run the Memphis and Louisville field offices and to run two large divisions at headquarters, where she oversaw FBI technology in one job, and the FBI’s criminal and cyber work in another. Today, she is back home is the Chief of Public Safety for Louisville, Kentucky, where she manages several vital city agencies, and though retired from the FBI, Amy continues to serve. Amy, welcome to The Oath.
Amy Hess: Thank you. Great to be here.
Rosenberg: Well, it's great to be in your hometown, Louisville, Kentucky.
Hess: Welcome to Louisville.
Rosenberg: You grew up right across the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
Hess: I did, suburb of us Lowell located right across the Ohio River.
Rosenberg: So, tell me about that.
Hess: Jeffersonville is a great place to grow up. I had, I think, basically an idyllic childhood. I went to Jeffersonville High School.
Rosenberg: Big public high school?
Hess: Yes. I was fortunate enough to grow up on the end of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by a neighborhood full of boys who like to play football and baseball and basketball and all those things. And my dad was a lawyer. My mom was what they called a homemaker at the time, but she was really a professional volunteer. And we had a great neighborhood, neighbors looking out for each other. It was one of those, essentially, Norman Rockwell type of paintings, I think.
Rosenberg: You were the youngest of five, you had four older siblings.
Hess: That's right. My dad actually had four children by his prior marriage. And so, my mother inherited four children between the ages of like 3 and 11. When they got together.
Rosenberg: Growing up with a bunch of boys on the block, he became pretty good athlete.
Hess: You know, If I didn't learn how to play sports, then clearly, I wasn't going to have friends or play outside. So, I learned pretty quickly that if I wanted to have a social life, then I should learn how to play these things. So, in addition to sports, of course, we played army and we played cowboys and cops and robbers. This was how my childhood was spent. My older siblings, they're all athletes, and so that helped too. Mostly, they were into swimming and track, so I decided growing up that I was not going to do swimming or track because they were really good at it and I wanted to at least build some self-confidence by doing something completely different needed
Rosenberg: Your own path.
Hess: That's right.
Rosenberg: And that was volleyball, tennis.
Hess: Volleyball, tennis, actually, softball, but unfortunately, I couldn't do both tennis and softball at the same time. So, I picked tennis and volleyball as my team sport.
Rosenberg: Even before you got to high school, there's a story you tell about yourself when you were a 11-year-old girl visiting Washington D.C. with your mom and dad, and they took you on a tour of the FBI.
Hess: We used to have family vacations every year. And that particular summer, we went to Washington DC. Of course, there are lots of really cool things that I saw as an 11-year-old, including the Smithsonian, I remember so much about that trip, you could tour the White House at the time without, you know, having to go through all of the things you go through now. I was in awe of all of these things that I saw in the nation’s capital, and I just thought that was really cool. But the coolest thing was, we got to tour the J. Edgar Hoover building, which is the home of FBI headquarters in Washington. And at that time, the FBI laboratory was located inside that building. And so, we walked through and watch behind the glass, the forensic scientists conducting their work. We also walked down to the level where they had the firearms range, and we got to watch behind the glasses. They did some shooting and trick shooting. And of course, we got to see the museum artifacts and things along the way and had a great tour guide. And I just remember distinctly I thought, “this is so cool. I want to be an FBI agent.” How much cooler could it be?
Rosenberg: It would be really cool. But there was another thing that you aspire to be when you were an 11-year-old girl.
Hess: Yes, that was to be an astronaut. Because the space program was really taking off at that time. And as I went toward High School, that's when the space shuttle program really started to gear up. And around that same time is when Sally Ride became the first US woman in space. It made an indelible impression on me. Here's a woman, a girl who, like me, but she's an astronaut. So, I wanted to be an astronaut or an FBI agent.
Rosenberg: I know you went to Purdue, one of the finest engineering programs in the nation, and that you are let me make sure I get this right: an Aeronautical and Astronautical engineer.
Hess: That's right.
Rosenberg: You're a rocket scientist, basically.
Rosenberg: That's really cool, too. Tell me about the program at Purdue. Tell me what you studied and sounds like you're still pursuing the dream of becoming an astronaut.
Hess: When I was growing up, I was in school, I was a good student, fortunate enough to have great teachers, people who just encouraged me and my parents, of course. As a result, I had this aptitude toward science and math. I thought science and math was pretty neat. My guidance counselor suggested that I look into engineering. And of course, like I said, by this time, I was thinking about this whole space program and astronaut thing--looked into engineering schools and Purdue is not only one of the top engineering schools in the country, but particularly in aerospace or aeronautical Astronautical engineering, and it's the cradle of astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Gus Grissom, whole variety of astronauts have graduated from Purdue. I went up and visited the campus, my oldest sister went to Purdue. I went up there and visited her. And I thought that was a pretty neat place. If I was going to go to school someplace in an engineering program--of course, why not? Dad was thrilled because that was in state tuition. But I was thrilled because I had everything in one place. It's everything I wanted to be. And Purdue was a phenomenal experience.
Rosenberg: You were a wonderful high school student. But I think you told me the engineering program at Purdue is hard, very hard.
Hess: Yeah. How humbling is it when you're a good student in high school, and you get your confidence up and you're thinking, Okay, I can do this, you know—
Rosenberg: Volleyball star, you're a tennis star, you're top ranked in your high school class, academically.
Hess: Right, and then you go someplace where all the kids had those qualifications. They were all great students, and they all had exceptional backgrounds and bonafides. And now all of a sudden, you're kind of average. And now you're surrounded by these people, and you're thinking, “Oh, my gosh, wow, overnight.” Now, all of a sudden, I really got to work at this. I mean, this is not easy. So, what I learned in that experience, you can't rest on your laurels, no matter what you've done in the past, it doesn't matter. It's what you're doing, looking forward, and what you're doing in your current environment. Look at what you're surrounded by today. Don't think backwards,
Rosenberg: But you struggled in the program?
Hess: I did. And as result, I started to question myself and my choices, because I thought, wow, maybe this astronaut thing isn't gonna work out, or this engineering thing isn't gonna work out. I remember, my dad visited campus--my mom and dad visited campus one day--and I told my dad, I said, “I'm thinking about changing majors.” And he said, “to what,” and I said, “Well, I've been taking general educational electives in sociology and criminal justice. And I thought I might switch to that.”
Rosenberg: Because you're still thinking that perhaps you'll be an FBI Special Agent.
Hess: Right, always in the back there. I thought I'd actually that he was going to be mad. I thought that, you know, he's sending me to one of the top engineering schools in the country, I'm supposed to get a degree in engineering. And I thought he'd be upset that I was suddenly changing that trajectory. And he didn't. He just listened. And he just said, “well, you do what you think is appropriate.”
Rosenberg: And you stuck in the program.
Hess: I did.
Rosenberg: And you graduated.
Hess: I did. And through that process, I had an astounding experience because I, after the first semester, I was selected for produce Co-Op program,
Rosenberg: What's the co-op program, Amy?
Hess: So, the co-op program is something a lot of universities do and including Purdue. And the idea is you get to work a semester and then go to school semester. So, alternating semesters, you do this for about five work semesters, and about five school semesters extends the time that it takes you to graduate by about a year, but well worth it because you're gaining work experience at the same time you're going to school. So, I got to work every other semester, go to school on the alternate semesters. And as part of my work, I went to Houston, Texas, and I got to work at a contractor for the NASA Johnson Space Center. There's called IBM Space Systems Division. And they programmed the four of the five, onboard shuttle computers for the space shuttle at the time.
Rosenberg: And that's what you were working on.
Hess: It was I was one of many, many, many coders, people, programmers who were programming and checking and verifying that software
Rosenberg: Did you like that?
Hess: Not particularly.
Rosenberg: But it's not always bad to learn that there's something you don't like.
Hess: That's true, because the space program was such a draw and a magnet for me. And it was amazing to be part of that and to be right across the street from NASA Johnson Space Center. I got to go over to Mission Control a few times--and how cool is that? But my day job was in a windowless room that was all of about maybe 10 feet by 12 feet with one other person. And all we did was sit in from a computer all day long, and verify software and write code. And I thought, I don't know that I can do this for the rest of my life. I don't know that this is really what I want to do.
Rosenberg: Where were you when the challenger shuttle exploded?
Hess: I was doing my co-op program, I was in Houston. I was working at IBM Space Systems Division. And I remember we were doing our programming, our coding in that little office, me and this other Co-Op student. And all of a sudden, we heard people run past the door. And we knew the shuttle had gone up that morning, because well, actually, it became so routine that you didn't really even pay that much attention to it. It wasn't a special occasion necessarily other than the fact that Christa McAuliffe was on that particular shuttle mission
Rosenberg: New Hampshire school teacher.
Hess: And she was not an astronaut by trade, but that made it special. But in that sense, it was just another shuttle mission. And so, while we were still programming, doing our thing, all of a sudden, everyone runs by the door and we're thinking, “did something happen?” And that's when we found out that the shuttle had exploded. And at that point, really every contractor in the area was scrambling to figure out what happened and really was it our fault? Are we the ones responsible for it? Days later, the memorial happened, the service, and President Reagan flew in and came down NASA road one right in front of our building with the motorcade.
Do you remember that motorcade?
Absolutely. It was one of the most vivid recollections I have. We all lined the street. And so many contractors in that area. We were all lining that NASA road one, while the motorcade passed us and drove into NASA Johnson Space Center for the memorial service and the flyover with the missing man formation. It was very impactful.
Chuck Rosenberg: You figured out at some point, Amy, that you didn't want to be an engineer. You didn't want to sit in a small room and code.
Yeah, I did that pretty quickly, I think during my co-op program, I didn't want admit it to myself. I still wanted to play all this out. But I realized that this is not really what I wanted to do.
Chuck Rosenberg: And you also determined that you couldn't be an astronaut.
So, at the time, as I found out while I was working in Houston, to be an astronaut, you had to have 20/20 uncorrected vision. But the problem was, I couldn't see the Big E on the chart. And I could barely see my hand in front of my face uncorrected. And I realized, quickly, that, wow, that's gonna be a problem, if they don't allow correction, to get to 20/20, how am I going to do that unless they change the rules? This is not really a thing. I can't really do this. And so then in that case, am I okay with being an engineer? And my answer in my head was no, I didn't know really what else I was going to do.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, you've graduated from Purdue, or you're about to graduate. You'll have a degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. You can't be an astronaut and you don't want to be an engineer.
Right, exactly. A little bit of a dilemma.
Chuck Rosenberg: But there's this thing in your life from your tour of Washington D.C. as an 11-year-old girl.
Yes, I wasn't hundred percent convinced that was really a possibility. But it was always in the back of my head. So, in the meantime, while I'm in the state of confusion, I decided to apply for the MBA program at Indiana University, which had a great reputation. I went there to get my MBA, that was my intent and try to figure it out.
Chuck Rosenberg: Sounds like a bit of a stalling tactic.
It was. Yes, it was. And in that first semester, I thought, why am I not looking into the FBI? Why? Why am I not pursuing that? Let me at least check into it. And turns out, they were looking for scientists and engineers at the time. They were specifically targeting people with science and engineering backgrounds.
Chuck Rosenberg: What about the vision thing? I mean, you have to have good vision to be an FBI special agent.
That's true, not as good as an astronaut, and even better, it could be corrected to 20/20.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, you were fine.
I don't know that I'd use the word fine. As my story goes, I went in for my medical, and the nurse was very nice to me, when I went in for my initial medical screening, and I believe the qualification was like 2300, correctable to 20/20 for your eyesight. Well, I wasn't quite 2300. But the nurse who was administering this test, essentially had me look at the eye chart. And she kept asking me, she said, “Can you see that?” And I said,” sort of.” She said, “If you squint, can you see it?” And I, I said, “I could see it better.” She goes, “What are those letters look like to you?” And I read them off as best as I thought I could. And she said, “close enough.”
Chuck Rosenberg: You're in, I'm in or at least you've passed that part of it.
Yeah, there's a whole battery of things. Of course, that happened after that. But that was the initial test.
Chuck Rosenberg: When did you get to Quantico as a brand-new FBI special agent?
That was January of 1991. It took me a little less than a year to process.
Which is quick.
Hess: It is yes, in retrospect, I realized that now, that was pretty quick, especially at that time. I didn't finish my MBA. If I could do one thing over again, I would have I would have completed that degree. But I go to Quantico, and I am the second youngest person in my class, class of 42.
Chuck Rosenberg: How many women?
Hess: There were 12 women, which was a lot at the time. We lost one on the first night, she just decided it's not for her, but that very first day, it was January 27 of 1991. It's Sunday, and we all are summoned to our classroom. And we're all in our business clothes and we fill out paperwork, and we take the oath of office.
Chuck Rosenberg: Was that the first time you've taken the oath?
Yes, it was. It was impactful. It was meaningful. It was first I was in all I'm even here. I'm at the FBI Academy, just like in the pictures. The second thing is I have this class full of these people who are so accomplished, and as it turns out, tremendous athletes too. I thought I was a pretty good athlete, but these people are really good. It was intimidating, quite frankly, it was awesome and intimidating at the same time. And so that made it surreal.
Rosenberg: Did you feel that it was awesome and intimidating during all of your training at Quantico? Did you get over that?
Hess: No, I pretty much thought that the whole time. I had to really pinch myself to remind myself I was there. I also wanted to find things that I was good at. I figured the academics would come fairly easily to me. And did they?
They did, I mean, I had to work at it, but I they did but the one thing that I found that I was particularly good at that I wasn't expecting was firearms.
Chuck Rosenberg: You were the top gun in your graduating class at Quantico among the new special agents. What does that--
Hess: Right, so the Top Gun award is given to the top shooter, the person with the highest scores in firearms training. So, everything from a from pistols to the machine pistols, the rifles, the shotgun, and they take your scores on all of those things, and they add them all up. And at the end of your experience there, they see who has the highest score, the highest score gets the Top Gun award, which is a little ironic because I grew up in a household where we didn't have guns. I had no one in my family that was in law enforcement or the military before, actually, my sister, who is six years older than I am. She went to the State Police Academy, but before that we had nobody in our class.
Chuck Rosenberg: So, before you got to Quantico to the FBI training academy, had you ever handled a firearm?
One time, my sister's firearm, she took me to a range and I got to fire that weapon. What I was told later is that if you don't have bad habits, to break your trainable. So, a lot of the people in my class who had military or law enforcement backgrounds had developed, apparently, some habits that were not easy to break them of. And as a result of me being more of a blank slate, and it probably wasn't hurt by the fact that in high school, I had a propensity for going to the arcade when we had video arcades. My mother gave me rolls of quarters, I think, to keep me busy between the end of school and the beginning of practice. And so, during that interim period, I would spend a lot of time on these games that taught me hand eye coordination.
Rosenberg: What were you good at?
Hess: Particularly at the video arcade? Yeah, my favorites were Galaga, I liked Centipede, I liked Joust-- those were some of my favorite games.
Rosenberg: And so, you're attributing some of that to your marksmanship at the FBI Academy?
Hess: I think so. It's a hand eye coordination thing.
Rosenberg: When you graduate, where are you assigned?
Hess: I was assigned to Kansas City, Missouri.
Rosenberg: How did that happen?
Hess: At that time, when you went through the new agents class, they gave you a list of just 10 out of the 56 field offices in the FBI. You had a wish list of 10 Top 10 places you want to go being from Jeffersonville, Indiana, the area of Louisville, Kentucky. I wanted to go to the beach, because I enjoyed our beach vacations when I was growing up. So, I thought, you know, that would be a cool assignment. So--
Rosenberg: You listed beach cities.
Hess: Yeah, absolutely. I listed our field offices in Jacksonville, and then Tampa, and Miami and San Diego and all these places along the beach. I thought that'd be pretty cool. Unfortunately, whoever was making the assignments that day for the FBI, totally ignored my list.
Rosenberg: And that happens.
Hess: It does. It does. They decided, for whatever reason, that they had a need in Kansas City, Missouri that day. And I had never been to Kansas City, Missouri. And I went up to the front of the class, opened my envelope to say where I'm going and—
Rosenberg: That's sort of the protocol.
Hess: The protocol was you walk up in front of the class, and you have a thumbtack with basically that's representing you. And there's a big map on the wall behind you. And the idea was you put your thumbtack in the city where you're assigned. And so, as I'm reading this, it's big surprise you open the envelope and you say, “your office of assignment is changed from” -- which your process through Indianapolis because I was going to school in Indiana University, Indianapolis, Indiana to Kansas City, Missouri. And then I took my thumbtack, and I started at the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast and went across, started going to the left, and before I knew it, I was actually in the Pacific Ocean and I thought, “how did I miss Kansas City, Missouri, whereas Kansas City, Missouri,” and I looked it was directly in the staple. And at that time, it occurred to me that “Wow, it's equidistant from all beaches. These FBI people got to be pretty smart. This way I can get to any beach I want in the same amount of time.”
Rosenberg: Or another way to look at it: they put you as far from every beach as they possibly could. Did you like it and county city?
Hess: Oh, it was phenomenal. I couldn't have asked for a better assignment. First of all, I thought that back to the science and engineering thing I was going to be working something technical, or I'd be working government fraud. There was a Boeing plan at that time in Wichita, Kansas. The Kansas City field office is responsible for half of Missouri and all of Kansas and I thought, well, they'll have me working something government fraud or technical related. And instead, I was put on the Violent Crime Squad. It was called the Reactive Squad--reacts to crimes that have occurred--and that's everything from bank robberies, fugitives, kidnappings, extortions. I actually thought I hit the lottery. This is just like it is in the brochure. I thought: “this is really, obviously I have arrived.”
Rosenberg: Were you still in awe of the FBI?
Hess: Yeah, absolutely. Honestly, I am still in awe of the FBI.
Rosenberg: Were you still intimidated?
Hess: Yes. Oh, yeah. Now all of a sudden, I did pretty well in class, in my new agents class, among all these super stars. I did, I held my own, but now all of a sudden, I'm in a real field office with real FBI agents that have been doing this, some of them, a long time. And they're good at it.
Rosenberg: Now, every new FBI agent gets a training agent, who is yours?
Hess: My trainee agent was a man by the name of Roger Yates. He reminded me of Buford Pusser in the movie Walking Tall. Other people say they remind him of John Wayne, but this is a guy who he referred to himself as “The Sheriff,” if that tells you anything. He took this job really seriously. He loved the FBI, that he took the job of being a training agent, very seriously, which by the way, you don't get extra money for, it's, it's an ancillary duty. It's, it's something that's assigned to you in addition to your caseload, and you're usually volunteered for it, you don't volunteer. He was assigned as my trainee agent. And he had trained many others before me and after me.
Rosenberg: You told me he was a great mentor.
Hess: He was.
Hess: He was a great mentor because first of all, he actually wanted to be a training agent. He cared that I learned, he cared that I became good at my job. He wanted me to be a good FBI agent. And he wanted me to reflect well on the organization that he loved. And so, as a result, he took the time and the attention to do everything from correcting my paperwork, a lot. I don't know how many red pens he went through, but he corrected my paperwork.
Rosenberg: And let's be clear, there's a lot of paperwork in the FBI,
Hess: There's ton of paperwork in FBI. It is definitely paperwork heavy. He introduced me to people, he introduced me to people inside the office and outside the office. He taught me the basics, even though I just gone to new agents class, it's not the same thing as actually conducting interviews when you're out in the real world and people react in ways that they're totally unpredictable to the way you think they may react, and making arrests and writing up search warrants. Basically, putting cases together, following leads, and what steps to take in an investigation, he coached me through each one of those things. He
Rosenberg: He had a nickname for you.
Hess: He did. He called me Kermit, as he did actually all of his trainees because you're “green.” I was green, I was new. And so, his nickname for me for the first year, I don't think he called me by my name. It was Kermit.
Rosenberg: As in Kermit the Frog?
Hess: Kermit the Frog.
Rosenberg: The famous Muppet?
Rosenberg: And after a year, you're no longer Kermit, you became Amy?
Hess: Somewhere in that timeframe. I transitioned. I graduated from Kermit to my real name, yes
Rosenberg: There's a story about Roger Yates, the sheriff introducing you not only to your FBI Special Agent colleagues and local law enforcement officers and judges and prosecutors, but to every professional staff employee of the Kansas City Field Office of the FBI.
Hess: Yeah, I remember this vividly. FBI has about 37,000 employees, about one third of which are agents. The other two thirds are professional staff and analysts. And so, the vast majority of the FBI are not special agents. They're all the people who are working behind the scenes to support those investigations and to make those investigations happen. So, at the conclusion of taking me around to visit with all the professional staff, we ended up in the management section. And the second highest ranking professional staff person in any field office is referred to as the “supervisory administrative specialist.” or the SAS. When we walked into her office, I noticed that she had a poster up on her wall, and it was that, that famous picture of entitled “The Scream.”
Rosenberg: By Monk.
Hess: That's right. And above that she had a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, which goes something like: “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” and above that, someone had written in “except agents.” And that struck me as a Wow, what? Why would that be? What? How can agents make you feel inferior? Why would agents make you feel inferior? Why would they want to? And it indicated to me that, that perhaps there's some kind of divide or some, some kind of of cultural issue here that I hadn't previously--I hadn't thought about. It was bracing, I think to me, to see that. And so, I asked Roger about it after we walked out of the room, and I said, “What's up with the comment, the addition on that, quote?” I remember distinctly, he said, “Kermit.” He said, “let me tell you something. says you see all these people I just introduced you to today, all these professional staff employees?” He says “these people can make sure you're successful in this job. And they can make sure you're not. You remember that the FBI is a team sport. You don't accomplish anything by yourself.”
Rosenberg: Do you think there are some agents who don't know Understand that?
Hess: Unfortunately, a few, but very few. I think the vast majority of the people in the FBI absolutely recognize it's a team sport. You can't be successful without the cooperation and coordination of your entire team.
Rosenberg: Early in your tenure in the Kansas City Field Office on the Violent Crime Squad, you had a remarkable case and a remarkable experience regarding a defendant by the name of Takemire. Would you tell us that story?
Hess: I was about three months in to my new job.
Rosenberg: So, you’re still Kermit?
Hess: I'm still Kermit, oh, yeah. Roger, for some reason, I was not around that week. I believe that he had taken some time off, had pre-scheduled vacation. And as a result, one evening, a call came in saying that there was a kidnapped child. A man had visited his friend in Colorado from rural Kansas. During that trip, he had decided that the friend who had a daughter--and that daughter had just had a child--he decided to take that baby, because he and his wife wanted a baby. But they couldn't have--
Rosenberg: Not just take that baby, there's something else.
Hess: He killed the mother, the young woman, the daughter of his friend, and he kidnapped the baby. It was an essentially a newborn, just came home from the hospital and took the baby to his wife in rural Kansas. And at that point, we of course, were notified that this was the situation that was unfolding. Our SWAT team had deployed first and they had camped out surrounding the house. So still covert, not showing themselves.
Rosenberg: Just watch
Hess: Just watching and they determined that it appeared that only Takemire, Ralph Takemire and his wife were the only occupants that they could tell inside that house but they weren't 100% sure. At this point. my squad was notified, of course, and we were told to respond to this location. So, one of the agents on that squad Bob Novotny, had been assigned to take me out to that location. So, we were supposed to pair up and drive out to that location. We take the hour plus drive to get out to rural Kansas, and we hatched this plan where us and two other agents, were going to make entry. We were going to go up to the door, we were going to knock unannounced. And so, the four of us now in the early morning hours, go to approach the door. Of course, the SWAT team is still surrounding us and providing cover.
Rosenberg: But you're the entry team.
Hess: We're the entry team. And so, we're not sure what to expect because there's nobody around there's no close neighbors or anything like that. So, we're not sure if they know we're coming, do they see us, have they made our SWAT team? We don't know what to expect. Clearly these people are desperate because he killed a woman and took her baby. Clearly, he's not in his right mind to begin with. But as we approach the house, one of the other agents, a tall agent by the name of Jerry, he, he saw these puppies come out from around the corner of the house. And what we didn't know is Jerry was afraid of dogs. And so, he pulls out the capstan which is pepper spray. He sprays it toward these puppies that are bounding toward us.
Rosenberg: And these are just puppies does—
Hess: They're just puppies, adorable. He sprays it toward these puppies, which unfortunately, on a windy Kansas morning, that blew right back in our faces. So, all four of us now are approaching this house, gagging coughing stuff was streaming out of our eyes.
Rosenberg: Explain for our listeners who may never had been exposed to pepper spray just how powerful that is.
Hess: Oh, it's awful. In New Agents class, what they would do at that time when I went through, was they would put us on a bus, close all the windows first they've had us wear gas masks and then they would fill it with this, this chemical. And then, the idea was that at any given time with the signal, you take the gas mask off, and you take that first breath, and all of a sudden, everything shuts down. It's a very physical, visceral reaction, your eyes slam shut. Now you're salivating, your nose is running, your eyes are watering. You can't breathe. You feel like you're gasping for breath. And you just want out.
Rosenberg: So. as you're about to make entry into the Takemire home, the entire entry team, the four of you are covered in pepper spray
Hess: We are, and as a result, thank goodness, there was a lot of wind that day. So, could have been worse. We could have been an enclosed space. But still, we're not in good condition to make entry to this house.
Rosenberg: But you have to go in.
Hess: We have to go in. We're already there. We've already been exposed. They could have seen us right out the front window approaching by now we go up to the front door. We knock, announce ourselves, and immediately as soon as we can get entry into that door, make it, and I look over to the left, and there is his wife sitting on the couch with the baby. And so as much as I could see, I walked toward the couch quickly with the other female agent. We ended up getting the handcuffs on her, arresting her. And then at that point, I take the baby, and I'm able to see that she's covered in lice. It was filthy. The whole house was. It was covered in filth, took the baby. And then I was paired up with one of the SWAT agents and we drove with the baby to Topeka, Kansas, where medical personnel were waiting for us. And the media—
Rosenberg: Was the baby okay.?
Hess: She was, thank goodness. One of the things that we were most concerned about was what kind of diseases or problems or even physical abuse that this baby had endured, and as it turned out, she was fine. And when we got up to the courthouse in Topeka, the assistant Special Agent in charge of our field office told me he thought it'd be a good idea if I would hold the baby for the cameras because the media was there to cover this recovery, this rescue of this kidnapped baby. And so, I didn't know how to do that. I was the youngest of five kids, had not been around children. And so, I actually had to ask the, the court clerk's office to show me how to hold this baby. And once they did that, I held the baby for the cameras to show that the baby was fine, she's been recovered, and she was returned to her family in Colorado.
Rosenberg: You told me that as you look back on the recovery of that child, that it was incredibly impactful and that it validated for you while you wanted to be an FBI agent.
Hess: That moment, was one where I thought that “this is why I joined the FBI.” Because not only was it of course cool when I toured FBI headquarters when I was 11 years old, but it's because of what the FBI represents, to protect the American people, to defend the innocent, and to bring justice to the victims, and hold the perpetrators accountable. And here we had all those things. And we had a perpetrator who really, I think, for the first time for me, represented true evil. Up until that point, I had in the first three months, in my field office, I had worked some other cases, bank robberies or extortions. But you could almost kind of see these people were, it wasn't evil, they had made bad choices. They had done things for the wrong reasons. But a lot of times it was, you know, understandable, I suppose.
Rosenberg: I'd always described it that most of the defendants I encountered as a federal prosecutor were greedy or reckless.
Rosenberg: But to see evil was extraordinarily rare. You would see it in the movies, but you didn't often see it in real life.
Hess: Yes, that's exactly right. And I think that was the first time that I was confronted with that.
Rosenberg: Wasn't the last.
Hess: It wasn't, unfortunately. There were other instances in not only my first office, but in all the field office assignments and headquarters assignments I've had since then. And there's those cases that just when you hear about them, or you're involved in them, you stop and you think, “how could somebody do that?” There's no rationale, there is no justification. The only reason they would do that is because it's evil.
Rosenberg: In April of 1995, you're still a Special Agent in the Kansas field office, you've graduated from Kermit status to Amy status, and you're a part of a team called the Evidence Response Team. tell our listeners what Evidence Response Team members do, ERT members.
Hess: Evidence Response teams were sort of, a newer concept, new idea in the early 1990s. Because prior to that, every agent essentially was trained in the basics of crime scene processing, but not given specialized training, and they weren't part of a team, a core group of people who had to undergo regular training and certification. And so, this idea arose and started to populate all of our field offices. And the Kansas City Field Office formed its Evidence Response Team in about 1992, 1993.
Rosenberg: You became a member?
Hess: I did, but the main reason I became a member was not only because I thought it would be kind of neat to volunteer to take on these extra responsibilities, but also because I was dating the agent who was selected to lead the evidence response team for the Kansas City field office.
Rosenberg: Now, your husband.
Hess: That's right. So as part of that, our Evidence Response Team, our little fledgling team, was still in the early stages, when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, our office of being one of the closest ones to Oklahoma, was one of the first offices to be called to assist. And I remember we got that call early on, on the morning of April 19th of 1995. The bombing occurred at 9:02am. We got the call within a few hours to say that we're going to need some help down here, and we need particularly, your evidence response team, our team and the Dallas Field Office evidence response team were the first to respond.
Rosenberg: What would you see?
Hess: Well, at first, we were told to stay away from the scene because they weren't 100% sure what was going on? There are a lot of things happening right then. Timothy McVeigh was ultimately stopped in a traffic stop few miles north of there, and there was a lot of confusion. And so, they told us, “check into the hotel, and then go to the command posts.” The command post was located About a good 10 blocks away from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. And so, it wasn't until closer to that evening, when it became dusk, we were finally allowed to, to approach the scene. We walked from--and it was fairly cold too, by the way, it was April but and I didn't expect it to be that cold in Oklahoma in April--but it was, it was pretty brisk. We walked from the command post, the 10 or so blocks to the scene. And as we rounded the corner, all of a sudden, the view opened up, and you're confronted with this large building, probably nine stories or more, and the whole front of it has been sheared off, it's just gone. And you realize that the magnitude, the magnitude of what just happened--and as you look around, all these other buildings, were in various stages of basically being demolished, and you had cars that had been incinerated that were in the parking lot and--it was it was surreal.
Rosenberg: What about the smell?
Hess: The first thing that struck me was, arriving that evening, was that the smell of charred things, of burnt vehicles or, or papers, or buildings, or those types of things. You smelled, you could still feel the heat really from these things. And it several days in as we continue to process, that's when the decay started to set in. And granted, I had been on the Evidence Response Team and, and we had done some for searches for some dead bodies, but it was nothing like that smell. That was an overwhelming smell of decay that we were faced with for the next 14 days.
Rosenberg: There was a daycare center in the Murrah Federal Building. 19 children were among 168 victims?
Hess: Yeah, yes. Back then, they had daycares and federal buildings. It was a change that was made afterwards, that that was no longer the case. But among our responsibilities, was to search that location for evidence, part of responsibilities with the evidence response team, we're looking for pieces of the barrels that were in the back of the Ryder truck that housed this ammonium nitrate fertilizer,
Rosenberg: You're looking for the bomb, for its components.
Hess: Or pieces of the truck. We're looking for little plastic pieces of the barrels white or blue plastic pieces of the barrel that we had determined were in the back of this truck, or pieces of the truck, or pieces of the fusing, or anything that would help us put this together. And so, as we gridded off the area, many, many people were involved in the search and the recovery of victims, but then also the recovery of evidence. And so, one of our areas that we had to search was the area of the daycare. And I remember we were searching that area--it was during the day and you get very focused on what you're doing. You're looking at the ground, you're looking through blades of grass or what's left of it. You're looking through Rubble, you're looking through rebar, you're looking through concrete, and artifacts for these little pieces of plastic or fusing pieces. And I remember I, I looked up at one point, to see where my teammates were, and what they were doing. And I was getting a little too absorbed in what I was doing, I want to make sure that I checked up occasionally on status of everybody else. And I remember seeing one of our teammates who was actually also on the SWAT team, that time you could do both of those things: be on the SWAT team in ERT. And I remember looking over at him, he was kneeling down on the ground, and he was holding a baby's shoe. And I knew he had young children. And I watched as he just dissolved in tears. And it struck me at that point that we were so engrossed in what we do that all of a sudden it occurred to me what happened. The evil that happened there in Oklahoma City on April 19, in 1995 struck me at that moment. While we were there to do a job, and we were doing our job, there were real people. Those were real people who were going about their daily activities. Up until 9:02am, they were having a normal life. And then that all changed because of this evil that had infiltrated their city.
Rosenberg: Where did you go from Kansas City, Amy?
Hess: From Kansas City, I had the opportunity to come here to Louisville. Being from Jeffersonville, I had always, sort of, wanted to be back home and near my family. And so, after nine years in Kansas City, I had gotten married by then, agent on the squad. And what they did at that time, was they would combine your time in, and average it to put you on a seniority list. My husband accuses me of targeting him because he had a lot more seniority than I did. And so, as a result, it advanced us on the list to get to my home of Louisville faster.
Rosenberg: You're a squad supervisor.
Hess: I was. I actually transferred to Louisville as an agent, and so did he was never in management. But we both came to Louisville here as agents and we worked cases, I worked domestic terrorism. And then 9/11 happened. And every field office was impacted by that, obviously. We all set up command posts. I was in charge of running our command posts here in the Louisville Office, and it was after that that my supervisor was removed. And our executive management asked me to apply for the job.
Rosenberg: Your first job in management in the FBI.
Rosenberg: It was not your last.
Hess: It was not. It was interesting taking over the squad that I had just been a part of. In that case, I was essentially asked to now supervise the people who I was previously colleagues with, I was working alongside, so that was a little strange to be supervising my peers.
Rosenberg: That's hard.
Hess: It was hard.
Rosenberg: I did the same thing as a federal prosecutor.
Hess: Right? It feels like one day, you're buddies, and you're going to lunch and you're talking to each other as colleagues, and the next day, you're conducting their performance reviews. And it puts you in a very awkward position, or at least, it made me feel awkward because I felt like who am I to grade their performance?
Rosenberg: Some people become very good leaders, some people don't, but if you become a very good leader, it's almost inevitable that you've had really good mentors.
Hess: That's true. That's true. I have been so fortunate in my FBI career, to have had some amazing mentors, not just Roger Yates as my training agent, but all these other people who gave me opportunities, who supported me, or at least made me believe that I could do the job.
Rosenberg: You told me about one gentleman named John Lewis, who is the Special Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Field Office of the FBI. Later in your career, you went to Tucson, part of the Phoenix division. And John was your boss.
Hess: I was really looking for Tucson to be a special experience for me because I had never been to the southwest before. And that particular field office was responsible for, among other things, the FBI investigates border related issues, whether it's corruption or human trafficking or human smuggling, and things that I had not experienced. And so, I thought, not only would that be unique, but also would be unique in the sense that it's one of the few offices where you have a resident agency, a large resident agency, which, in this case, was Tucson, and there was an Assistant Special Agent in Charge position there.
Rosenberg: That was you.
Hess: That was me, that was not co located with the Special Agent in Charge the person responsible for the whole field office.
Rosenberg: Explain that structure, the resident agency Field Office headquarters structure.
Hess: Sure, in the FBI, we have about 56 field offices and over 350 resident agencies, that are satellite offices out of every field office, and they range in size anywhere from, could be one person up through 100 or more, or many more in large cities. And so, some of those offices, those resident agencies have satellite officers are so large, that you need multiple levels of management, and as a result, the position I had in Tucson, was the person supervising those supervisors, what we call the Assistant Special Agent in Charge. Basically, the deputy below the SAC, the Agent in Charge Special Agent in Charge of that office. All offices have multiple ASACs, we call them deputies. But most of them are located at the same place where the Special Agent in Charge is in view offices like Phoenix, one of those Assistant Special Agents in charge, is not co located with the SAC,
Rosenberg: Not in Phoenix, but in Tucson. Correct. And that was
Hess: That was me.
Rosenberg: Did you like it?
Hess: Oh, absolutely. It was a fantastic experience. Because not only did I get to learn about all these things that I had never previously experienced, including not only border issues, but also what we refer to as Indian Country crimes. So, crimes on, on Native American reservations or among Native American people. But in addition to that, my supervisor was not like right down the hall. It was sort of like having the opportunity to run your own office, but you still have a safety net, because your boss is two hours up the interstate. And so, he's accessible, but yet, you're still sort of on your own on a day to day basis.
Rosenberg: Now, you had told me that John Lewis, who I didn't have the honor of meeting, was not a warm and fuzzy type, but that he was a great mentor.
Hess: He was. John could be very polarizing to people. Some people really liked him, and some people really didn't. But, he was very clear and confident in his direction. I appreciated that. He also was a man who knew what he wanted. And so, I paid attention to that, and he didn't know me when he hired me as his deputy, ASAC, in Tucson. But we got to know each other through that experience, and, of course, being the new person, I wanted to impress the boss. So, for his first visit, when he came down to visit me a few weeks into my job, I had a whole agenda lined out for him. I wanted to reassure him, that he had made the right pick, that he had selected the right person for this job. And so, I lined out this agenda where we were going to meet with this chief, or this sheriff, and we are going to receive this briefing, and this squad was going to tell him about this case. And we were going to do all of these things. And I had a very structured agenda lined out for him. And I remember distinctly that he came down that day. And I told him, I showed him the agenda, and he said “That that's all great. But the first thing we're going to do is visit Reuben.” Reuben was he was a linguist, a translator for the Office for the Phoenix field office located in Tucson, but he had not been at work for a while because he had a terminal illness.
Rosenberg: And you mentioned by the way earlier that about two thirds of FBI employees are not special agents. Reuben was one of those people.
Rosenberg: He was not a special agent.
Hess: He was not a special agent. He was what we again term professional staff
Rosenberg: But really important to the mission of the FBI.
Hess: Critical to the mission of the FBI. So, his specific job as a member of our professional staff was as a translator, as a linguist, specifically a Spanish translator, Reuben had a terminal illness. After many hospitalizations, he was sent home, he worked remotely. So, he would work on his translations from there. So, when John said, “We're going to visit Reuben,” I had heard of Reuben, but I hadn't yet met him. I'd only heard of him through other people in the office in passing. I had a big learning curve ahead of me, because this was all new to me. I'm the Assistant Special Agent in Charge for essentially all southern Arizona. I have about 100 people under me in addition to my folks in Tucson, I've got three other locations with people in southern Arizona and actually up through the western side of Arizona, that I'm responsible for. So, I didn't have a lot of time to get to know every single person, and nor did I have time to know and meet Reuben.
Rosenberg: So, John Lewis, the boss is coming down, you have a whole bunch of things that you want to show him to demonstrate your competency. And he just wants to go see Reuben.
Hess: That's right.
Rosenberg: What happened?
Hess: I tried to convince him that we could do that, maybe later or at the end of the agenda. But he was insistent, he was insistent that we go see Reuben. And I gotta say, I was I was a little annoyed, because it threw everything off. I now had to make, or have my staff have other people make, multiple notifications to people who were expecting us at certain times.
Rosenberg: This is the engineer in you, Amy, isn't it?
Hess: It absolutely was. So, my OCD kicked in. And, and now all of a sudden things were off schedule. And so, we were, we were off script, and I had to change the plan for that day. Not that that's bad, it's just annoying, but I thought it was questioning why we couldn't do this later. And so, we drove out to visit Reuben. And I remember, we walked up to the door and his wife met us at the door. And she was just smiling and so welcoming, but she brought us in to see Reuben and he was seated in the living room, in a chair. And he was clearly not in good health. But his eyes lit up. We walked in. And here's this frail man and his, his eyes just lit up, that we were there to visit him. And for the next like, hour and a half, he asks about his coworkers, he talks about work, he's, he's asking about “how is so and so and, and how is how's their baby and how is you know, how is so and so getting along, the new agent getting along in the office,” and he's asking all of these questions about other people, and, and eventually he takes us into his office area. And he, he sort of, hobbles into that room, and he shows us all these transcripts he's been working on the work that he's been doing, and presents it to me to as the ASACs to take it back to the office. This is his work product.
Rosenberg: You had not met him before.
Hess: I had never met him before. And so, I didn't know what kind of worker he was if he was even working, you know, remotely. That's not a normal thing in the FBI. We don't have too many people who work remotely, especially not from home. Because we have a lot of closed systems, a lot of classified systems. And so, that's, that said, that's not a normal occurrence. And so, I questioned it as to him working at home. And yet here he produces all this work that he's been working on despite his clearly his ill health. And while he's doing all that, all he cares about his how's everybody at the office, and asking questions, and he's so excited. Did that were there. And so, the rest of the day we go on about our agenda, and this happens several other times. Every time the SAC, John lewis would visit, he insisted we go visit with Reuben. About a year later, I am deployed to Afghanistan. And at the waypoint when we arrived at the waypoint in Doha in Qatar, I get off the plane and I checked my phone. And at that point, I learned that Reuben had died. I returned from Afghanistan several months later, and the family conveyed how special it was that the SAC and I had visited with Ruben, those times, and how thrilled he was to be connected to his FBI family because it was so important to him. Not only was his real family important to him, but his bureau family. And it meant so much to him to be part of that and to be seen as part of that. It struck me that this is the lesson that John was teaching me, is that there's a lot to be said about the type of work that the FBI does. But the fact that we do it together, the fact that we're part of a family, the fact that we're part of a team, as Roger who taught me all those years before, that's the essential element, the magic in putting it together, and making it meaningful.
Rosenberg: And so, John Lewis, this man who could be difficult, those are my words, not yours, had the soft side to him.
Hess: Some people would agree with those words. But yet, here's someone, he had his priorities straight. He knew, he knew how important that was, how important it was for us to see each other as people. And he made some hard calls that some people were not in favor of that therefore painted him in a different light to them, but yet I saw this side of him where I recognize that he understands what's truly important.
Rosenberg: Another thing strikes me about that story--I mean, John Lewis isn't visiting Reuben for praise or adulation or because it's going to be publicized in some way--John Lewis is visiting Reuben because that's what leaders do.
Hess: That's right. To that point, he didn't mention it, we didn't talk about it, we didn't go back to the office and he told other people, I told other people, I told them that the SAC had us go visit Reuben, right, and talk about, you know, yeah, the SAC, every time he comes down here, he wants to visit Reuben in a positive way because I saw how impactful it was. But he, he didn't do it for any of those reasons. He didn't do it to, to gain the respect or the admiration of the people in the office. He did it because it was right thing to do.
Rosenberg: And that's what leaders do.
Hess: That's right.
Rosenberg: What were you doing in Afghanistan, Amy?
Hess: I was the on-scene commander for the FBI’s counter terrorism operations. What that means, is I was responsible for about 40 people. In country, we had everything a range of individuals doing different things, everything from polygraph examiner's, to bomb techs, to evidence response team members, to interviewers. And also, we had people helping the military on special operations, SWAT or hostage rescue team members, tactical operators, who are actually on the battlefield.
Rosenberg: Did you like it?
Hess: It was an amazing experience. It was something that I wouldn't trade for the world. I didn't have a military background. My family didn't really have a military background, at least not my direct family. And so, this is the first time I had really been immersed in another culture. I'd been in the FBI at that point for about 17 years. But yet, I had never been immersed in someone else's culture. And so, to see not only what we were doing in national security and counterterrorism on the ground on the battlefield, and how important it was that we get that information and we get it back to our people in the United States or other agencies who are responsible for protecting America, but also how the military operates, and the way they go about doing the things that they do, and how meaningful that is. That was very meaningful work. And as part of that process, I also got to meet some amazing people, some people on my team who I had never met before, but yet, were so committed to the mission and understood why we were there and others who were like me, it was all nascent to them. They were over there for the first time and it was enlightening, and I'm watching them learn at the same time I am. It was incredible.
Rosenberg: When you get back from Afghanistan, Amy, you continue to ascend through the ranks of FBI management. We'll talk about how high in FBI management ranks you went a little bit later, but at one point, you are now running the Memphis field office. You're the Special Agent in Charge of Memphis for the FBI. And I know you told me a story once about an incident that happened there that also taught you lessons about leadership. I was hoping you might share that with us.
Hess: Yeah, I was the Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis field office because I was looking for course, the next step in my logical progression. And the Memphis field office particularly interested me because I'm looking for new experiences. I had never really spent a lot of time in the south, in someplace like Memphis. I mean, the, the heart of the civil rights movement, the Civil Rights Museum, an amazing place to visit. This is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed. And so, I thought, this office has a reputation for having some amazing work going on. And it had responsibility for not only Memphis, but Nashville. And so, two really, sort of very different cities and to different, really areas of responsibility: different threats, different problems, different crime problems to deal with. I thought it'd be an interesting challenge. I was selected, fortunate enough to be selected as the Special Agent in charge of the Memphis field office, went out there and, and started to learn my job. And so, as a result of being a new SAC, I made a lot of mistakes. And it was a very formative time for me. I was only there unfortunately, one year. But during that time, I had a lot of lessons learned. I remember distinctly that, one day, I'm visiting Nashville, visiting my folks over in the Nashville resident agency, the RA, supervisor comes to me and says, “Hey, I just got a call from the state Bureau of Investigation.”
Rosenberg: The Tennessee State bureau of investigation.
Hess: That's right, the TBI. And the TBI wants me, he's telling me the story, wants us to summon a particular TFO, Task Force Officer, who's assigned to one of our squads.
Rosenberg: We should explain that federal agencies have relationships with local partners throughout the country and local police departments or sheriff's offices will contribute Task Force officers to an FBI or DEA or ATF Task Force. When you refer to a CFO, you're talking about a man or woman, from a local agency working in this case with the FBI.
Hess: That's right. We could not do our job without the assistance of state and local departments, particularly, those that assign these Task Force officers to work alongside us. They are embedded in our offices on these squads. And to be able to put these cases together, we treat them like agents like the investigators that are permanent employees of the FBI. And so, as a result, some of these Task Force officers they, of course, are treated like FBI employees and tend to think of them like colleagues,
Rosenberg: They sit in your space, they have access to your systems and they work with the men and women of the FBI.
Hess: That's Correct. We develop lifelong relationships. I personally spent, the majority of my agent time assigned to task forces working with Task Force officers. And so, you develop very close relationships with them.
Rosenberg: But in this case, the TBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, had a concern about one of your Task Force officers.
Hess: That’s right. So, they called the supervisor of that squad. And they said, “hey, what we'd like you to do is call that Task Force officer in to make sure that he stays in the office today.” And the reason was because they wanted to execute a search warrant on his residence. The explanation behind that, that they provided, was that the Task Force officer’s, estranged wife, they were having some difficulty, and she had accused him of stealing property and having it at the residence. So, the supervisor wasn't particularly comfortable with this request because he was concerned that this was a he said she said situation because the TFO and his Wife were not on good terms, and a lot of accusations are being thrown around. And so, he worried that she was making allegations that were unsubstantiated. And he asked me, he said, this is a very well-liked TFO, is that everybody on the squad likes this guy, and I'm not comfortable with this. Do we have to pull them in?
Rosenberg: Essentially, the FBI didn't want to proceed to the request of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to bring this guy in as a ruse, so they could search his house while he's sitting in FBI headquarters.
Hess: That's right. And so, I thought about that for just a few seconds, and I thought I came up with a reasonable middle ground. And so, I got on the phone with the director of the TVI. And I told him, I said, “Look, we're not comfortable with doing this, abiding by this request. However, how about if we get that TFO, that Task Force officer’s parent agency,” the sheriff in this case he was from a sheriff's department, “and get him to call them in to their office to get them out of the way today.” And so, clearly the director of the TBI was not too happy. Here's a little taken aback by this. I wasn't cooperating. But yet, I thought, well, I think it's the right thing to do. I was trying to take my people side, and at the same time still accomplish the goal. And I thought, yeah, I see another way about this. There's always multiple ways to skin the cat. So unfortunately, it was in a confined period of time, and I, I didn't ask enough questions. I didn't, in retrospect, I made a decision quickly, And I told the, the TBI director that we weren't going to, we're going to cooperate.
Rosenberg: We’re not going to help you. We're not gonna help you. What ultimately happened?
Hess: They did execute the search warrant, by the way, and they did recover property that was determined to be stolen.
Rosenberg: So, you had a dirty officer.
Hess: So, I had that at least. Well As time passed what we discover was not only was he accused of stealing this property, but also, he was accused of selling information to the subjects of a drug investigation. So, we had a drug investigation that we were actually working in conjunction with several other agencies, including the state bureau of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and come to find out that one of the subjects said that he was receiving information about where our target locations were, the subjects of our investigations, or plans for operations, and even worse, personal information about the investigators about the agents and the Task Force officers, including personal information about their home residents—
Rosenberg: Their families.
Hess: Their families, and that they were being provided this information by a dirty cop. And we ultimately discovered it was him.
Rosenberg: He's putting people's lives at risk.
Hess: Absolutely. First, we ended up making the arrest and taking him into custody. And it was after that, that I had reached out, actually, to the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and I, I said, you know, “can we talk about this? Can we talk about what happened? Because clearly, mistake was made. Clearly, I made a bad decision and I want to talk through it.”
Rosenberg: You let them down and they were angry with you?
Hess: Yes, they were to the point where they had pulled other Task Force officers that they had the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation off of our task forces. That's how angry they were. To their own detriment, they were pulling Task Force officers. It severed the relationship between our agencies. And that affected not only just me personally, that obviously affected all of the people who, who reported to me, all of FBI’s operations in the state of Tennessee
Rosenberg: As well as state law enforcement operate.
Hess: Absolutely. So, wanted to talk about it. And so, I went to meet with the director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and I thought we were going to have a one on one meeting. And instead, he escorts me into a room where there was a table set out. They also pattern themselves after the FBI. And you have a director and you have special agents of charge.
Rosenberg: Essentially, the director and his top deputies.
Hess: Correct. And so, there were, as I recall, four or five of his SACs, at this table, on the opposite side of the table with the chair for me, facing them. And then they proceeded to, over the course of the next about hour, basically tell me how not only disappointed, but in no uncertain terms how angry they were. They, with elevated voices and you know, with exclamation points, I mean, they were clearly angry.
Rosenberg: Were you there by yourself?
Hess: No, I had my assistant special agent in charge from the Nashville office with me. But I, essentially, I didn't expect him to say anything. I didn't want him to say anything. He essentially was just in the room as a witness. During the course of this next hour, I felt very much like being on a firing squad. I received, really the intensity of their frustration, of their anger, of all the things they felt that the FBI had, not only in the instance where I had said, “No, we won't cooperate with you by pulling him in that day,” but other things that have happened. For example, when I explained what was happening to the rest of the office, in an all office video teleconference, during a regular meeting that I had, I had meetings with all with the whole office through video link so that I could get all my satellite offices in. I had mentioned this case, I had mentioned that we had a Task Force officer, who you may have heard, I was accused of stealing property and having it at his residence. We didn't know all this other stuff yet, but several of the TBI Task Force officers that sat in on that video tell the link, a teleconference, and thought that the way I presented it was skewed, that it was still taking his side
Rosenberg: Dismissive of the TBI.
Hess: Correct. I didn't feel I did it that way. But that was their interpretation. And so, I got to hear about that. I heard about the clearly the bad call that I made on the front end, and about the relationships that I severed, and how essentially that I was unfit for office, that I, I was the worst SAC that they had ever experienced and the FBI being in their state. And it was damaging, it was it was hurtful, but it was a huge lesson for me, in the sense that there are impacts to your decisions. A decision that you think is maybe not that big of a deal, or you think maybe if I came up with a middle ground--you need to think through that a little bit more. If at all possible, you've got to get more than one perspective, you've got to ask more questions. Sometimes, there are long lasting repercussions. It took, probably multiple SACs after me to repair that relationship because of my decision that day. Well, I absolutely believe you need to take your people side when appropriate. I wouldn't trade that and kind of also ask more questions, and you got to be willing sometimes to make those hard calls.
Rosenberg: One of the difficulties is that when you're in leadership position, you're often making decisions, almost always making decisions on imperfect information, under stress, and under pressure of deadlines.
Hess: One of the phrases I commonly use to keep things in perspective, in most of the day to day, more mundane or routine things that I'm asked to decide on just typical business matters, is, is anybody gonna die? I mean, is it, is it really going to make a difference right now if I don't make this decision right now, this instant? Is anyone gonna die if I don't make this decision right now, even though somebody maybe just presented it to me as if it's a life or death, or as if it is the most important thing and I got to have a decision right now this instant, you don't have time to get other perspectives? What I learned over time is that 99 times out of 100, you do. Regardless of how much of a sense of urgency somebody else tries to instill on you, you do have time.
Rosenberg: The lesson: ask lots of questions, invite other perspectives, get dissenting opinions, you still may make the wrong decision. Those are unavoidable at times, but at least you're doing it with a better process.
Hess: Exactly. Exactly.
Rosenberg: Memphis wasn't the end of your management career, Amy. I mean, just so our listeners know: when you retired from the FBI, you left as one of the highest-ranking women in the FBI’s history. Only six women, counting you, have ever been promoted to the executive assistant director level: Kathleen McChesney, Janet Kamerman, Stephanie Douglas. Valerie Parlave, Maureen Baginski, and Amy Hess, the only six women in 112 years to rise to the executive assistant director level.
Hess: That's right, but that's because, in my view, I was very lucky, but I was also very fortunate to have people who believed in me, great mentors, great coaches, great supervisors, colleagues, people who not only supported me, and made me look good, but people who gave me a chance
Rosenberg: You have a new job now.
Hess: I do. I am the director of public services for the Louisville Metro government. So, it was a position that was presented to me that just excited me because not only do I get to continue public service, but it's in my home of Louisville, I love this city, I love being here, I'm comfortable here. And the idea of being able to not only challenge myself with new things and learning new things, and about how local government works, after I've been involved in federal government for so long--that was exciting. But also, just the idea of being able to, hopefully, do some good, to continue that public service to give back to, to help the community.
Rosenberg: Do you miss the FBI?
Hess: Oh, every day, every day, and I always will, but I think doing something that makes you feel like you're contributing, giving your life meaning, doing meaningful work, I think whatever it is, if you can do that, it's, it's fulfilling.
Rosenberg: Amy Hess, it's a real honor and privilege to sit down with you. I have always admired you and your work. And so, thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Hess: Same to you, Chuck. You're amazing. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
Rosenberg: Thanks to Amy Hess and the wonderful folks at Downtown Recording in Louisville, Kentucky for hosting our podcast. Amy spent her entire professional life in public service. Even after her retirement from the highest ranks of the FBI, she continues to serve in the area in which he grew up, as Chief of Public Safety in Louisville, Kentucky. Following the tragic March 13 shooting of Breonna Taylor, in Louisville this year and after we recorded this episode, Amy was named to lead police reform efforts in that city to reduce use of force incidents, to review police policies and training, and to make recommendations on police disciplinary matters by establishing an independent civilian review board.
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