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FBI Laboratory Top Officials Include Chemists

by Rochelle F. H. Bohaty
May 4, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 18

Credit: Rochelle Bohaty/C&EN
Credit: Rochelle Bohaty/C&EN

At the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, in Quantico, Va., two chemists have assumed leadership roles, filling positions of lab director and head of the Chemistry Unit.

Credit: FBI
Credit: FBI

How these chemists got to their positions differs: One came from outside the bureau, and the other rose through the FBI's ranks.

David C. (Chris) Hassell, director of the FBI Laboratory, did not climb the agency's hierarchy nor is he trained as a classical forensic scientist. Instead, Hassell's background consists of a mix of industry, academia, and government experiences.

The bureau "has made an effort in the past few years to bring in more people from outside the FBI to bring in fresh perspectives," Hassell says. But "as an outsider, I wondered how well I would be accepted" at the FBI Laboratory, he says. Since he joined the lab last year, everyone has been very receptive, he notes.

Hassell, 46, received a B.S. in chemistry from Brigham Young University in 1986. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from the University of Texas in 1991.

After completing his degree, Hassell took a job with DuPont, where he developed on-line analytical instrumentation for manufacturing facilities and pilot plants. He also worked on developing automated analysis methods for fermentation processes. It was this work that got him interested in the detection of warfare agents.

To pursue this interest, Hassell left DuPont in 2000 to join Los Alamos National Laboratory. At LANL he served as an expert on chemical and biological warfare agents. He led programs in analytical chemistry, instrumentation development, and forensics of weapons of mass destruction.

While at LANL he also served on the chemical weapons inspection team as part of the Iraq Survey Group. This group was an international team organized by the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction allegedly located in Iraq. He spent time in Iraq inspecting chemical manufacturing sites to investigate whether they could be used to produce chemical weapons.

After leaving LANL, Hassell held positions at the Virginia-based AMTI , a defense contractor that is now part of Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), and at Oklahoma State University Multispectral Laboratories, a university-owned, contractor-operated complex for testing and integration of sensor and security systems. He was appointed director of the FBI Laboratory in 2008.

In contrast to Hassell, Marc A. LeBeau, chief of the FBI Laboratory's Chemistry Unit, spent a number of years with the agency before assuming his current position and has had a long-standing interest in forensics science.

LeBeau says his high school guidance counselor set him on his career path by giving him an alphabetized card catalog of possible career options. And after making it only to the Cs, he says, "I came across criminologist, and I thought that sounded cool." He decided that day he wanted to be a forensic scientist. LeBeau later checked out a book from his school's library on the FBI and set his sights on the agency.

LeBeau, 43, received a B.A. in chemistry and criminal justice from the University of Central Missouri in 1998. He went on to study forensic science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut, where he received an M.S. in 1990.

After completing his M.S., LeBeau wanted to work for the FBI. To his disappointment, he learned that FBI scientists also had to be special agents. With this setback, he returned to Missouri, this time to work for the St. Louis County Medical Examiner's Office.

At the end of a difficult day at work in 1994, LeBeau recalls looking at the job postings in a forensic science newsletter. There, he found an advertisement for a forensic examiner at the FBI Laboratory. To his delight, he saw that the FBI had changed its policy since he first looked for a job there; the bureau no longer required laboratory scientists to be special agents. LeBeau applied for the position, and later that year he started working at the lab.

LeBeau was promoted to his current position as head of the Chemistry Unit in 2000. To become better equipped to do his job, he returned to school and received a Ph.D. in toxicology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, in 2005. Currently, he is also temporarily leading the Counterterrorism & Forensic Science Research Unit at the FBI Laboratory.

LeBeau specializes in investigating and processing forensic evidence recovered from drug-facilitated sexual assault crimes. He has trained thousands of forensic scientists around the world and has also written a book on how to conduct such investigations.



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