Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2008 | People

Truth Seeker: Molly Amman

By Shelbi Thomas
Molly Amman's students at the FBI Academy often e-mail her after they receive their first criminal confession. "It's a big milestone," she says, "because it's a confidence builder that reinforces the positive things we teach them."

Forget what you've seen government agents on TV do to get confessions out of uncooperative suspects. Hours of watching 24 and The X-Files won't help you in Molly Amman's interrogation class.

As an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, Amman teaches special agent trainees and command-level police officers how to uncover the truth—without compromising their principles. "Jack Bauer just shoots [suspects] in the leg, but at the Academy, we tell students never to cross an ethical line," says Amman, 93BA. "When you treat people with dignity and respect, you'd be surprised what you get."

While life at the FBI doesn't often unfold like a TV script, Amman uses help from Tinseltown to give trainees practical experience. Students hone their interview skills at Hogan's Alley, a mock town built like a Hollywood set as a training ground for new agents, and actors portray witnesses, victims, and suspects.

During their first exercise, agents-in-training interview a panicked woman who claims she overheard a terrorist plot being hatched at the local diner. Amman uses such scenarios throughout the ten- to 21-week course to teach students what questions to ask, how to act on the information they receive, and how to earn people's trust.

Amman, who began her career as a prosecutor, joined the FBI in 1998 as a special agent. Before teaching, she investigated crimes—including child abuse cases and homicides—on a Navajo Indian reservation. She also served as a national security legal advisor to the FBI.

"I quickly came to understand that [the FBI is] not as dramatic and exciting moment-to-moment [as portrayed in the media]," she says. "It's very much a team atmosphere. There are no superstars who solve all the cases."