The enduring image of FBI special agent George Piro will be his "60 Minute" interview from 2008, in which he sat across from CBS investigative journalist Scott Pelley.
One of the few Bureau agents who spoke fluent Arabic, Piro was the sole interrogator of Saddam Hussein while the Iraqi dictator was in US custody after his arrest in 2003. Piro met with Hussein daily for several months, eventually earning his trust and getting him to share critical information.
In his mid-thirties at the time of the Hussein interrogation, Piro was a fairly young agent who had only been with the FBI for five years. Nice job for a man his age that landed him on national television.
Pelley's questioning of Piro was straightforward. After all, it was 60 minutes, and no such interview would be complete without a grilling of “coercive techniques” and “weapons of mass destruction”. At one point, Pelley asked Piro if he had ever resorted to the torture technique of waterboarding while interrogating Hussein.
"," replied Piro.
"Never?" Pelley shot back.
"Never," said Piro.
". It's against FBI policy …"
Special Agent Piro stayed cool throughout the interview. He didn't flinch, didn't go defensive, didn't snap at Pelley's questions. He was calm and composed, just as he must have been with Hussein. And just like him now, over a decade later, as one of the highest-ranking agents in the FBI, as a special agent responsible for the FBI Miami Field Office with more than 900 employees, which is responsible for all of Southeast Florida and the USA Caribbean, Mexico as well as Central and South America.
body is born with serenity. It's learned and developed. At the FBI, they call it "quiet confidence," and in large part it comes from a commitment to exercise. Because of this, all FBI special agents must maintain a basic level of strength and stamina.
In the Miami office, Piro sets a good example. At the age of 53 he trains twice a day, five to six days a week. The morning before work, Monday through Friday, he does an hour of strength and / or cardio training in one of the two fully equipped gyms on the FBI campus in Miami. After work, he practices Brazilian Jiujitsu at the nearby American Top Team, one of the best mixed martial arts gyms in the country.
Consistent training naturally keeps him physically fit. With 6 & # 39; & # 39; and between 170 and 173 pounds and about 5% body fat, Piro can hold its own against light and medium-weight BJJ fighters decades younger than him. In his leadership role at the FBI, however, he relies on the intangible benefits of training more than the physical ones.
"It's no secret that a strong body develops a strong mind," says Piro. “The two go together and reinforce each other. The more physically fit you are, the stronger your mindset, which is reflected in these intangibles. I am able to cope with and balance stress incredibly well, much better than if I were not so physically fit. "
Sarah E. Kyle
The art of training
Piro's martial arts training dates back to childhood when he and his brother did martial arts at school in Beirut, Lebanon. However, shortly after it started, their practice was interrupted in 1975 by the Lebanese Civil War because the brothers could not go to school. The Piro family eventually escaped the war and moved to the United States at the age of 12. At that point, the boys were able to attend a karate school near their home in Turlock, CA.
Piro played karate through his teens and well into his 20s, using his skills as a defensive tactics instructor after becoming a police officer. He wasn't introduced to BJJ until he moved to Miami in 2014, 15 years after his FBI career.
"I went to the first training session and fell in love with the gym," he says of the American Top Team, which has become known as a training home for top UFC fighters like Amanda Nunes, Piros trainer Wilson Gouveia and his training partner Thiago Alves. "I joined and have practiced religiously ever since."
In terms of martial arts disciplines, BJJ is particularly well suited for law enforcement officers, whether police or FBI. Rooted in non-violence and self-defense, Jiu Jitsu is predominantly a ground-based discipline that includes various chokes and submission grips to de-escalate physical confrontations.
"(Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) essentially allows a smaller individual to defend themselves against a larger, stronger opponent," says Piro. “There was also a study done by the LAPD in the 1990s which I think is still very accurate and shows that over 90% of law enforcement body fights end on the ground. As an FBI agent, or just a law enforcement officer in general, your goal is to control or subdue your opponent with minimal harm to the suspect or yourself. So Jiujitsu is probably the most practical and applicable martial art for law enforcement. "
Culture of strength
For the past several decades, strength and conditioning protocols have become widespread among law enforcement agencies and the military, in large part due to advances in exercise and nutritional science since the 1970s and 80s. where is this trend more evident than with the FBI.
The Miami Field Office alone is equipped with not one, but two gyms – an interior consisting of traditional dumbbells, plate-loaded machines, cardio machines and even special areas for boxing and martial arts. and a functional outdoor workout room that resembles a CrossFit gym. Then there's the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, which sets the standard for law enforcement training facilities, including full-time strength and conditioning instructors.
Unlike law enforcement agencies, whose fitness standards vary from location to location, all 14,500 FBI specialty agents around the world must pass an annual fitness test that consists of pushups, situps, a 300 meter sprint, and a 1.5 mile – Run exists with age-dependent minimum standards. FBI SWAT members are subject to even higher standards, only surpassed by the bureau's hostage rescue team, whose training is on a par with Navy SEALs.
"Physical fitness is vital to the FBI and is encouraged from day one when you enter the special agent ranks," says Piro, who not only has 476 special agents and approximately 430 professional staff in the Miami Field Office, but also in Miami oversees SWAT and the hostage rescue team when dispatched under the authority of its office. It is vital to us on three different levels. "
These three levels are:
- Be physically fit. “Our jobs are inherently dangerous,” says Piro, “and if you are physically fit it can potentially save your life. We encourage and require our agents to be in shape and we give them the ability and opportunities to train (on site). "
- Be mentally fit. “It's a very demanding and difficult job, and being physically fit helps you balance work and life,” he says. "It's a great way for us to ensure that our employees are not just physically healthy but also mentally healthy. There is nothing better than physical to relieve stress and deal with the effects of their specialty agent jobs to be fit. "
- Sharpen critical intangibles. "The FBI's core values are loyalty, bravery and integrity," says Piro. “And these values require our agents to have a strong sense of themselves, character, discipline, commitment and dedication. There really isn't a test to measure these things, but physical fitness is a way to sharpen and develop these intangibles. "
Protect and serve the country
These third-level intangibles are even more important to Piro today than they were during his 60-minute interview. For example, earlier this year (February 2021), two FBI agents on duty were killed in Sunrise, FL. As head of the Miami Field Office, Piro stood in front of the cameras and again answered specific questions from the media. These are the press conferences that nobody wants to do, but Piro does them. Always cool, always composed.
When asked if it's a track to say that his composure in such tense, public situations is partly due to his training program, Piro says, ", it's not a track. It absolutely helps me. In these very difficult situations and in crises there is a lot of stress. And my ability to deal with stress is crucial for me to be able to lead my employees, but also to represent the FBI to the highest standards and to meet the expectations of the American people for what a FBI leaders should do. Being physically fit gives me confidence that I can deal with any crisis. It instills that calm confidence. "
The commitment and dedication to training go beyond the three levels and far beyond the special agent Piro. It legitimizes the “brand” of the FBI and, according to Piro, also affects everyday Americans.
"When people hear the three letters F-B-I, we want them to feel comfort and confidence," he says. “The men and women here are very committed to the FBI's mission, which is very simple. Our mission is to protect the American people and defend the United States Constitution. That's it.
"I've been doing this job for almost 23 years. And I can tell you that the FBI makes our people the world's leading agency. It's no different. We don't have a stealth bomber, no warships, no giant satellites and incredible technology and all." Our greatest asset that makes us so successful and unique is our dedicated people. The only agency our country has relied on in the past for challenges has been the FBI. It's the only agency that has always been there to protect the United States. "