Tahlequah Daily Press

March 31, 2014

Policing the Air Force

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Everybody knows about the Navy’s Naval Criminal Investigative Service, better known as NCIS, the subject of two wildly popular television programs.

But you might not know the Air Force has its own investigative service, the Office of Special Investigations, which has a similar mission but lacks highly rated network TV exposure.

Special Agent Jason J.K. Akana is a member of OSI detachment 438 at Vance Air Force Base, a small unit charged with fulfilling the mission of conducting criminal investigations and providing counterintelligence services.

“We are the premier investigative agency for the Air Force,” Akana said. “We investigate all felony- level crimes, as well as assist with force protection issues.”

OSI agents investigate mostly felonies within the Air Force — crimes like murder, robbery, rape, drug use and drug trafficking. OSI agents also are involved in investigating cyber crime and economic crimes such as fraud.

“Security forces deals primarily with misdemeanors, OSI deals with felonies,” Akana said. “We have first right of refusal for any investigation. A smaller case that may come up, typically security forces might handle it. If we feel that there may be more to it, we may step in and accept that investigation as our own.”

OSI’s jurisdiction includes all airmen, who fall under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and everyone on federal exclusive property, which includes many areas of Vance. OSI agents have apprehension power within the Air Force. If a civilian suspect is involved, local, state or federal law enforcement agencies are called in.

If a civilian is involved in an alleged felony on base, “We will contact and coordinate with local law enforcement,” Akana said. “It depends where on the installation it is. Certain areas are federally exclusive, certain areas aren’t. There are a couple of different options open for us as far as investigating. But we do, almost always, at minimum, do a joint investigation, regardless of whether it’s civilian, contractor or active duty.”

If an Air Force member is suspected of being involved in a felony off base, local law enforcement agencies would respond first, then contact OSI.

“As soon as we get notified, we will respond with them,” Akana said. “Anything, especially involving an active-duty member, we’re going to be right there with them.”

Vance’s OSI office works closely with the 71st Security Forces Squadron, as well as local and state law enforcement agencies.

“Security forces has their own investigative agency,” Akana said. “We deal with them frequently, as well as the rest of security forces. As far as force protection goes, they are the primary for the installation and we are here to support them with our resources.”

The detachment has close ties with local law enforcement agencies, Akana said.

“We have a great relationship with Enid Police Department,” he said. “It’s probably one of the better ones out of my career. The same with the sheriff’s office and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.”

Vance’s OSI office doesn’t have forensic capabilities, but is supported by a regional field investigative unit. The field investigation region affiliated with Vance’s OSI office, region four, is aligned with Air Education and Training Command located at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

Throughout the course of their criminal investigations, OSI agents coordinate with, but do not report to, unit commanders, up to and including the wing commander.

“We have our own command structure completely separate to the installation,” Akana said.

OSI agents can be either military members or civilians, but even active-duty airmen favor civilian clothes over uniforms.

Wearing civilian clothes, Akana said, “Gives us a certain position of authority, as opposed to having to walk around in uniform.”

Wearing civilian clothes also helps OSI agents in their dealings with local law enforcement agencies.

“Most of the time we are the lead liaison for any local law enforcement agency,” Akana said, “so if we are going to coordinate with local law enforcement, it is better that we fit in as opposed to sticking out.”

Agents who are military members have ranks for pay scale purposes, but don’t use them in order to protect their authority.

“If we have a staff sergeant who’s going to interview a colonel, we don’t want the colonel thinking he can use his rank to influence the interview,” Akana said, himself a military member.

When asked to describe a typical OSI investigation, Akana said that was impossible.

“Every investigation is different,” he said. “You’re going to come across different scenarios, different extenuating circumstances that may extend it. There is no set standard of how long an investigation will take.”

OSI, which was formed in 1948 by then-Air Force Secretary Stuart Symington, was patterned after the FBI.

“The first director of OSI (Joseph Carroll) was a former FBI assistant director,” Akana said. “It (OSI) was designed very much along the lines of the FBI.”

Like the FBI, OSI has its own set of most-wanted fugitives. The OSI website currently carries the mug shots, names and descriptions of seven men wanted by the OSI for various offenses, including desertion, wrongful use of controlled substances, rape, forcible sodomy, brandishing a pistol, indecent acts with a child, security issues and flight to avoid prosecution.

OSI and NCIS agents all are trained at the same location, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Ga. OSI and NCIS trainees go through the same federal law enforcement training, then split up into training specific to their particular agency.

“I’d say the biggest difference between the two agencies is NCIS is primary civilian, while we are a combination of civilian and military,” Akana said.

Unlike their NCIS television counterparts, OSI agents do not solve crimes in an hour.

“45 minutes, because you have commercials,” Akana said, smiling. “Some (NCIS agents) are fans (of the TV shows) because they think it is the funniest thing they have ever seen, and some absolutely hate the show.”

OSI agents take their turn deploying overseas, Akana, said, where they are more involved with force protection than criminal investigations.

Akana, a native New Yorker, joined the Air Force hoping to be in security forces, but he didn’t qualify because of color vision problems. Later in his career he decided to give OSI a try because of his ongoing desire to be involved with law enforcement. He has been an OSI agent for more than seven years. He has been at Vance for just more than two years, and prior to that he was deployed to Kuwait.

Vance is a small base, but still a busy one for Akana and his fellow OSI agents.

“We see everything here that I’ve seen at other installations,” Akana said. “Child pornography, drug use, drug distribution, sexual assault cases. We run the gamut.

“Surprisingly enough, for a place like this, we’re definitely busier than I thought we’d be.”

OSI agents hold briefings for newcomers to Vance, as well as those who have been around for a while, letting everyone know of their role in protecting the base, its assets and its people.

OSI has 2,738 active-duty, Reserve and civilian personnel. It is the Air Force’s second-most requested career field, second only to pilots. Some 230 new agents join OSI each year.

In its 66-year history, the OSI has lost 10 members, the most recent being Master Sgt. Tara Brown, who was shot and killed in Kabul, Afghanistan. The deadliest year ever for OSI was 2007, a year in which five agents were killed.