FBI dedicates new South Carolina headquarters as ‘beacon of courage, valor and strength’

A lot of things about the FBI’s new multi-million dollar, steel-and-concrete South Carolina headquarters just off a major road in Lexington are confidential or not easy to know.

How many people will work in the 87,000-square-foot, two-story facility, which the FBI calls a “field office”? Confidential. But employees include gun-and-badge toting agents, analysts and professional staff with various expertises.

How much did it cost? At least $37 million. That’s about how much Congress appropriated for the building, set on on a 10-acre site on a gently sloping hillside and surrounded by tall black metal fences at least 10 feet high.

But the private developer from whom federal authorities are leasing the building for 20 years chipped in money too. And the pricetag doesn’t include the new computers and technology and equipment the FBI uses.

Bottom line — it cost a bunch.

But forget the numbers. FBI chaplain Rich Robinson on Thursday — the building’s official opening — described it this way: “Lord, we ask you to bless this FBI field office as a house for our FBI mission, a home for our FBI family, a fortress for our country’s security and a beacon of courage, valor and strength.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray, who came from Washington, was the day’s keynote speaker at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the building, which appears to stretch at least a football field or more in length toward the back of the site, where reporters were not permitted to go. More than 100 agents and top South Carolina law enforcement officers were on hand.

“Today, as we officially open the doors of our new facility, we renew our commitment to the people of South Carolina, our commitment that the FBI is here, working hard,” Wray said.

Much of the FBI’s work is done without fanfare, Wray said. “Some of our biggest successes are the cases you never heard of - because we stopped something bad from happening.”

Over the years, the FBI has waged war from its Columbia offices — there were three, now consolidated into the new building on 222 Caughman Farm Lane — on all kinds of criminals: violent drug gangs, public corruption offenders, terrorists, child exploiters and those who commit hate crimes, as well as others, said Wray, who did not take questions from local reporters.

Wray didn’t mention by name Palmetto State’s highly publicized crimes the FBI has investigated, sometimes with local agencies like the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, but they include the SCANA nuclear power investigation, the Alex Murdaugh financial crimes cases and the Dylann Roof mass murder of African-Americans at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.

The new site, with its many offices, “centralized presence and ... extra elbow room,” will make it more efficient for the FBI and its partners to fight crime, Wray said. “Together we are going to continue to stop violence, make neighborhoods safer and pursue justice.”

Steven Jensen, the lead South Carolina FBI agent, told the crowd that “this building may have the FBI name tied to it, but it is representative of the strong partnerships that we foster, partnerships we rely on to bolster our capability.”

The building represents a “spirit of collaboration... it’s a hub where local, state and federal agencies converge and share intelligence, expertise and resources to protect South Carolinians,” Jensen said.

Reporters were permitted a brief peek inside the sprawling structure, which has long halls on the ground floor. They passed a closed door to a lie detector room (a sign said, “In Use,”) a gun vault, an ammunition room, a small but serviceable gym, an evidence storage room, a counseling center and a room labelled “Elsur,” possibly meaning “electronic surveillance.” The top floor was off limits.

Somewhere in the building, an FBI official said, were “multiple” SCIFs, an acroynym for “sensitive compartmented information facility,” where people can discuss secret material in a highly secure setting.

On the hallway walls were various inspirational poster-type framed posters and photos of various picturesque sites in South Carolina.

One wall held framed head-and-shoulders photos of all the FBI directors, dating back than 100 years before it had today’s name. The photos included the longest-serving, the late J. Edgar Hoover, director from 1924 until his death in 1972.

South Carolina law enforcement officials at the ceremony included Attorney General Alan Wilson, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel, Columbia police Chief Skip Holbrook, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, U.S. Marshal Chrissie Latimore and U.S. Attorney Adair Boroughs.