One of my favorite axioms from my years in the FBI is: Recruit everybody, every day. It includes your colleagues, secretary, greengrocer, paperboy, even your supervisor, whether you’ve just met them, or have known them all your life. It’s especially applicable in the FBI in working foreign counterintelligence cases. Sometimes it’s doing unasked-for favors, or just being thoughtful with a compliment.
Many don’t take these little steps, and some never will, but if you want to accomplish something in the field of human endeavor where the actions of others come into play, and if you don’t “recruit everybody, every day,” your chances of success are diminished. You don’t know who might help you on the next go-around, but you shouldn’t expect them to. With this axiom comes a way of living too few have figured, and doing it makes you smile a lot and feel good about yourself. It also leads others to want to do things for you—things you might never ask of them. Don’t act this way just so others will help you, but it usually follows that they do.
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In the early ‘90s when I was assigned to the San Diego Division of the FBI, I would go home each day driving north on First Avenue for about six blocks, and then left, down the ramp to Interstate-5, north. At the intersection where I turned was a homeless man who looked as if he were fifty, but could have been in his early thirties. He had a slender frame and scraggly blond hair and beard. He stood patiently with a sign, but nothing like, “Will work for food,” which was almost never true. It just read “Homeless,” and he patiently waited for someone to give him something.
My poor-boy upbringing in Philadelphia did not often let me contribute to such people, but this man struck me as a bit different from other homeless men. He had a certain calmness, and his eyes were alive.
I checked my brown bag from lunch that day and found I still had a box of Sun-Maid raisins. I rolled down my window—a move the man was obviously on the alert for—and he came over. Usually, he would receive money from people, but I held up the box and said, “I have raisins from lunch. Do you want them?”
“Sure,” came his answer, and he put out his hand. I gave him the box and asked his name. “Dennis,” he told me.
“My name is Wayne. I drive by here most days. I’ll see you around.”
“Sure thing,” Dennis told me.
The next day, there he was, again. Again, I rolled down my window and, this time, held up a green Granny Smith apple. Dennis trotted over and gave me a big, “Hi, Wayne!”
“Will this work for you, today?”
The light was still red and I told him I wasn’t usually at that intersection at that time because I was an FBI agent and covered leads all over the city. This didn’t seem to affect Dennis one way or the other, but he told me, “No problem. I’ll still be here.”
It wasn’t for another week that I saw Dennis again, and that day I had saved one of two chocolate Tastykake cupcakes—a real treat for Philadelphians on the West Coast—on the chance that I might see him. I had the opened end folded back and taped closed and asked him if that was all right. “Okay by me, Wayne, and thanks a lot.”
This went on, on and off, over the next several weeks. Whenever he saw me he would come over. If I didn’t have a bite of food, I would tell him I was sorry, but he still stood there and we talked through the long wait at the red light.
I had no objective in mind, I just kind of felt for the guy and liked him, but we moved in different worlds.
Several weeks later I was covering a late-afternoon lead with Ginny DeLorenzo, a squadmate, and our path took us past Dennis at his regular position.
I stopped at the light and Dennis saw me in my familiar car. He trotted over and I looked into my lunch sack and pulled out a sandwich bag with some potato chips. I rolled down the window and Dennis gave me a big “Hi, Wayne,” then “Thanks a lot!”
Ginny was shocked and couldn’t help but ask, “What the heck was that?”
“That’s my pal, Dennis,” I told her. “We met here at his regular spot a few months ago and if I have something left over from lunch, I give it to him.”
She was incredulous, but laughed out loud, making a comment that I was “really something!”
The next Monday at our weekly squad meeting, when we went around the room mentioning anything new or interesting in our cases, Ginny spoke up.
“Wayne has a new source!”
Everyone looked at me, waiting for me to fill in the blank. I had no idea what she meant.
“Go on, Wayne, tell them about Dennis, the homeless guy up at First Avenue and I-5, the new big source you’ve recruited.” She laughed out loud and so did I, and then the rest of the squad. It seems it was “typical” me.
Another couple of months later a teletype came into the field office from the Baltimore Division. A homeless man had committed a double murder, and it was learned he was hitchhiking his way across the U.S., aiming for San Diego. The FBI does not usually investigate murder cases, but when the subject of the investigation crosses state lines, he puts himself in our crosshairs.
Tony DeLorenzo was the fugitive squad supervisor and mentioned the teletype that night to his wife, Ginny. He was lamenting how difficult it would be to cover the lead to find a homeless guy, especially, when so many look alike. Ginny laughed and told him, “Go find Wayne. He has a source who’s a homeless guy.”
The next day Keith Moses walked into our squad area and over to my desk. He had the teletype and a photo of the murder suspect and asked if I could help.
I had no idea if I could do him any good, but I told him to meet me back at my desk at five o’clock.
By 5:15 we were on our way up First Avenue—but there was no Dennis. Another homeless guy was in his spot.
I rolled down my window and signaled to him. He trotted over and I quickly grabbed a box of raisins and gave it to him. I told him I thought this was Dennis’s corner and asked if he knew where Dennis was. The guy was friendly and figured I actually knew Dennis.
He told me Dennis had moved to another, better, corner that was working out for him. I asked where it was, and he told me in La Jolla, off of Ivanhoe. I thanked him and we took off to track down a homeless man who, it was hoped, could help us catch another homeless man who was a double-murderer.
In about twenty minutes, we arrived at Ivanhoe in La Jolla and drove slowly, looking for Dennis. As though on cue, there he was, standing with the same sign as always, and waiting patiently by an intersection with a long red light.
I pulled up near him and rolled down the window. With a really big smile, Dennis trotted over and put out his hand. He was not looking for a freebee, but was shaking my hand, pumping it, actually, and telling me about this “better corner,” and that he was sorry he wouldn’t see me on First Avenue downtown any more.
I told him it was okay, but that I needed to talk to him for a few minutes. He got in the back seat and I introduced Keith. They, too, shook hands.
In a few words, I told him what had happened back in Baltimore and showed him the photo of the fugitive. He looked at it gravely and shook his head. He hadn’t seen him, but he also did not want to share a shelter with a murderer. He said there were a couple of places he could check out for me. He asked if we could drive by again in a couple of days.
Keith agreed and told Dennis he could keep the photo.
Two days later we showed up at Dennis’s new corner and he had a big smile. He ran over and told us he found the man in the photo. He said the guy would likely be in the same place tomorrow where he had seen him that day, and we agreed to meet Dennis at eleven in the morning back on his corner.
The next day Keith had another agent from his squad driving a second car. Dennis got in with us and we drove a couple of miles to a homeless shelter I had not known existed. It seemed Dennis really got around and had gone to several locations looking for the fugitive. How he did it, I never knew, but he came up with the identification we had hoped for.
We downplayed our presence in the shelter and first spoke with the man in charge. Calmly, we walked down an aisle of men, already in line for a lunch meal, and when we passed the man from Baltimore—it was an easy arrest.
I left the reward issue up to Keith. Dennis obviously would profit from helping. But he was a homeless guy, a life, at one point, he had actually chosen, and any reward money wasn’t going to change that.
I didn’t see Dennis much after that, but did drive by his corner once in a while, always with a box of raisins or a Granny Smith apple at the ready for my old friend.
The moral of the story is, “Recruit everybody, every day.” It keeps you sharp and engaged, and enables you to deal with every level and dimension of humanity—and you never know what might come of it.
Wayne A. Barnes
Coral Gables, FL
April 13, 2011