So I flew into DC a few days early. Spent the night in a hotel just outside the base that was apparently entirely populated by Marines in between tours of Iraq (and let me tell you how unnerving it is to step off an elevator into the lobby and have every eye in the room--and I do mean every one-- swivel toward you, as if they're waiting for someone to show up with an IED). I kept my hands in sight the entire time since they seemed extremely twitchy.)
Unfortunately according to my GPS the Academy didn't exist, so thanks to directions scrawled on a napkin by the concierge I stumbled in the back gate of the complex. Two checkpoints, each with armed guards. I had one of those moments where I act like I'm doing something wrong even though I'm not (a terrible habit I developed somewhere) and got waved over both times for more intensive scrutiny. Forty-five minutes later I finally made it inside and was waiting in the lobby for the group I was latching on to, a contingent from the latest Sacramento "Citizen's Academy."
The buildings themselves are fairly standard, that brown block style that was such a hit in the late sixties. There's a strange, Habitrail feel to them since they're all connected by windowed corridors. We wove through a few times, until I completely lost my sense of direction and couldn't find my way back if I tried (this might have been intentional).
Like so many tours, it featured sparks of excitement and fascinating tidbits, separated by long periods of powerpoint presentations and minutaie during which even I, devoted FBI fanatic, had to fight to stay awake. There's really only so much a person needs to know about J. Edgar Hoover.
But the tour of the Hostage Rescue Units training facility was amazing. Set inside a huge quonset hut, the entire interior (save for a narrow corridor running along the inside) is a giant maze composed of black padded walls. Sadly, no photos were allowed to be taken there, which struck me as overly cautious since the maze is changed on a regular basis (every room is composed of slats hung from metal beams). Bullet marks pock the walls: live fire drills are conducted here, with instructors walking along the top of the maze monitoring the progress. Suspended above the maze is a nearly full-size mock-up of an airplane, complete with dummies (some of whom appear to have taken a few hits; I'm guessing those trainees failed the course).
Another highlight (for me, at least) was Hogan's Alley, the faux town constructed in the center of the compound. We marched into the fake pool hall, checked out the real/fake deli, and explored a seedy motel. Good times. Plus we got to watch some of the students go through their driver training, performing high speed weaves through the cones on the driving course. And let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've shopped in the FBI gift store. Quantico onesies: who knew?
All in all, it was a thrill ride (with some boring bits). I considered a CIA Headquarters tour as well, but according to those who went it was mainly a tour of the CIA cafeteria (Eggplant espionage!)
Anyway, I made some new friends (see below) and got some excellent source material for the next book. Can't beat that.