Agent of Change: Lynne Jeffries Hunt ‘75

by Marnie McLeod Santoyo

Amid post 9/11 criticism for the FBI’s handling of the terrorist attacks, Lynne Jeffries Hunt stands primed to help guide the nation’s top law enforcement agency to change.

The year was 1978. Lynne Jeffries was 25 and fresh from law school at the University of San Diego. Seeking a new adventure, and on the suggestion of a friend she decided to apply for a job with FBI.

It would be just a couple of years, she told herself reassuringly, a couple of years to give herself a change of scenery before she settled into a predictable law career in California.

But as she walked through the doors of the FBI field office in Los Angeles for her first screening interview that hot August morning, Lynne had no idea her actions that day would change the course of her life forever.

One glance at the resume of this 24-year FBI veteran and Lynne Jeffries Hunt could be mistaken for a lead character in a Patricia Cornwell novel. From her early days chasing mobsters in Chicago to leading the charge to fight health care fraud in the 1990s to her latest role as assistant director of the Inspection Division—a high-ranking position at FBI headquarters reporting to Bureau Director Robert Mueller—Lynne’s life is far from suspense novel fodder.

Now this transplanted California native—who calls Baltimore home with husband Jack Hunter, a retired FBI agent-turned-special intelligence consultant, and their two daughters, Nicole, 18, a college freshman, and Kelly, 15—is headed for new heights. In her new post serving as “the eyes and ears for Director Mueller,” Lynne will play an integral role in revamping the image of the FBI, which suffered heavy criticism for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “I’ve been involved in every aspect of this organization, and I’ve seen the good work it has done,” Lynne says, “However, I also know it’s a large organization made up of people, and people make mistakes. So it’s not always going to be perfect. But again, I’ve seen this organization under fire before when it’s had to perform, and it does, so I feel we’re building from a good tradition of being able to do things well and solve problems.

“I’m in no way a Pollyanna, but I am a firm believer the FBI is a strong organization that this country can rely on,” she concludes.

Coming Up Through The Ranks

Being a veteran with the Bureau was not on Lynne’s radar screen when she first applied. She was simply looking for adventure—and that’s what she got.

“I had lived in California my whole life and I was looking to do something different,” Lynne says. “I heard about the Bureau from another FBI agent, who was dating a friend of mine at the time. Its sounded fun—something I could do for a couple of years. It wasn’t until I spoke with the application coordinator that August day that I really got excited about working for the Bureau.”

The adventure was just beginning. After passing the FBI’s rigorous application and training process, Lynne entered the organization as the 91st woman hired.

“At that time, the FBI had only been accepting women since 1972, so I was the 91st woman agent of 10,000 total agents,” she remembers.

But her minority status didn’t stop her and other women from achieving.

“I was very fortunate,” says Lynne. “My first assignment I went to Chicago, and the head of the field office there saw and important role for women in the Bureau. As a result, he gave women agents there a wide variety of experience.”

Lynne found herself thrown into the action right away with her first assignment to the organized crime division. She spent time undercover, placing wiretaps, developing informants, and then protecting those informants who testified by placing them in the witness protection program.

“Unlike many who enter the FBI, I wasn’t a police officer before; I had never worked with criminals or had to deal with them, so it was different for me,” Lynne says. “The criminals I worked with were people who you wouldn’t want to ride around with or sit on a park bench with. But the most successful agents were able to develop informants, so it was a skill I acquired over time. The key was showing that you cared about the individual. It was part of the job I enjoyed.”

Her time on the organized crime squad led to meeting her future husband, Jack, who worked with her on the same squad. The pair were married in Chicago and left when Jack was transferred to a new assignment in Washington D.C.

“The FBI has a rule that families are transferred together,” Lynne says, “So I earned a transfer to FBI headquarters in their legal counsel division.”

From there Lynne was called upon to supervise white-collar crime investigations and later found herself playing an instrumental role in building the FBI’s health care and insurance fraud investigations. She broke up the complicated web of several medical and prescription drug rings.

“I really enjoyed my work in that unit,” says Lynne, who later served as chief of the Health Care Fraud Unit in the mid-1990s. “It was satisfying to play a role in spreading information about health-care fraud in the field offices and helping them to realize what a huge problem it was.”

As chief, she and her unit were also instrumental in the legislation process, assisting the Department of Justice and Congress in drafting the 1996 Kennedy-Kassenbaum Bill, which helped pave the way for more stringent laws on Medicare/Medicaid fraud and dedicated more dollars to fighting health-care crimes.

Forging An Era of Change

In Lynne’s new post as assistant director of the FBI’s Inspection Division, she stands primed to help lead the Bureau as it embarks on a new age of change in the wake of criticism over 9/11 and homeland security.

“With all the attention focused on the FBI post, 9/11, I have a challenge in front of me,” Lynne says. “In my job, I will be responsible for our internal inspection process of all of our field offices. A major focus of our inspections is to make sure our field offices are following their mandates.”

For example, Lynne cites the Bureau’s heightened focus on terrorism. As part of her job, she and her staff will be charged with making sure each field office carries out that priority and is working well with local law enforcement and the community to stay on top of this very important mandate.

“With the anniversary of 9/11 upon us, we are in a heightened state of readiness,” says Lynne, who began her new post ion in September. “We know we have the American public looking at us for one aspect now—terrorism. The key to fighting terrorism is to stay ahead of it through prevention. We, like law enforcement agencies, have talked about prevention and made efforts, but we were generally in the business of solving crimes. Now that’s no longer the case because another terrorist action is unacceptable.”

But aside from the criticism the FBI has faced, Lynne remains optimistic about the organization’s ability to serve this country. Still, she’d like to see one more change—for more women to consider the FBI as a career.

“The FBI is not considered a traditional career for women, but I can attest, this has been a great career for me,” Lynne says. “There is no glass ceiling here and the turnover is so low. Overall, I think the FBI offers a wonderful career for women.”