FBI's 'voice' saying goodbye to robbers and reporters
Special Agent Robbie Burroughs, who for years has been the public face of the FBI's Seattle office, is retiring at the end of the year.
Seattle Times staff reporters
For as long as many Seattle reporters can remember, Robbie Burroughs has been the patient and public face of an operation that prides itself on keeping things under wraps — the FBI.
As the primary public-information officer (PIO) for the FBI's Seattle office, Burroughs has been the agent whose unenviable job it is to stand in front of the TV cameras and say something that really says nothing. It's a skill, particularly because she seldom fell back on the most obvious answer to those prying questions: "No comment."
Burroughs, 54, is retiring at the end of the year after 32 years with the FBI, 28 of them as a special agent — an accomplished career in which she spent far more time chasing violent criminals and bank robbers than rubbing elbows with the Seattle media.
Over the years, according to her bosses and colleagues, she proved herself as a tenacious and smart investigator.
During her tenure at the FBI, Burroughs pushed her button-down supervisors to release information and grant media access when they least wanted to. Indeed, over her nearly 20 years in Seattle — 17 of them working with the media — her bosses have come to rely on her to call them out when they're inclined to retreat into the federal fallback position of saying nothing.
"She's been very aggressive in getting us out there," said David Gomez, the Seattle FBI's assistant special agent in charge [ASAC] for national security.
Gomez said Burroughs was commended for a media strategy that helped solve the 1993 disappearance of Mercer Island housewife Elvia Long. Two years after the case had stalled, Burroughs and others on the Puget Sound Violent Crimes Task Force mounted an investigation and media campaign that led to the arrest of Steven Long, the woman's husband. He was convicted of second-degree murder in 1996 and sentenced to 21 years in prison.
"She's pushed everyone to think about these things," said Steve Dean, the ASAC over the office's criminal squad, and Burroughs' supervisor. "Robbie's been a tremendous resource."
Which is not to say that Burroughs would answer every question. But she promised fair consideration and would take the time to run any query up the chain of command, regardless of how unlikely any meaningful response.
"Sorry, we're not going to talk about that one," is what she'd say, or something like it.
But when she could, she provided helpful information to reporters. Since 1996, her name has appeared in 133 news stories in The Seattle Times, many involving bank robberies.
She also had the last say on using catchy, amusing nicknames for bank robbers being sought by the FBI, a tool to enlist the media's aid. "We don't want it to be too funny," she once said. "It's a serious issue."
Among the names that passed muster with Burroughs were "Attila the Bun," for a female robber who wore a messy hair bun; and the "Man Hands Bandit," a nickname for a male robber who dressed as a woman and evoked a "Seinfeld" TV character who expresses dismay over the enormous hands of a woman he is dating.
Burroughs also found herself explaining that a 6-foot-2, 190-pound man who robbed a credit union wearing a pink and lavender flowered dress, purple hat and white gloves was possibly doing so to distract witnesses from looking at his face.
She's also had her own all-too-close encounters with bank robbers. In March 1999, she was shot at by fleeing suspects during a high-speed chase through Seattle streets. The culprits, brothers Wayne and Everett Morris, went to prison for crimes that included assault on a federal officer — Burroughs.
She joined the bureau in 1977, right out of college. She worked as a fingerprint clerk and analyst at headquarters and moonlighted as a tour guide. Three years later, she moved to San Francisco as a surveillance specialist.
In 1982, she was appointed a special agent and completed training. She worked in San Francisco and on the bank-robbery squad in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, where she met her husband, David, who is a retired FBI agent. In 1989, the couple moved to Seattle.
Gomez said Burroughs is also an accomplished cook and noted that the TV in Burroughs' office — when not tuned to local news or CNN — could be found on one of the cooking channels.
In a farewell e-mail sent out earlier this month, Burroughs said her immediate plans include cooking school and a trip to Europe.
For working in a public position, Burroughs is a very private person. Ray Lauer, a special agent and alternate PIO, was protective when asked for a Burroughs anecdote or two. "Does she know you're doing this?" he asked a reporter.
In her farewell e-mail, Burroughs nixed the idea of a retirement party.
"I hate to be the center of attention, so no party," she wrote. Which also explains why she declined to be interviewed for this story.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this story.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.