Why Do FBI Agents Always Touch Their Ears

When you see American FBI agents on Television or in films, maybe you noticed that they are consistently touching their ears? Well, at least one of our readers did and asked me to find out why.

By the ‘Matrix’ movies, Agent Smith and co touched their ears so as to better mimic the behaviour of genuine FBI agents. Consequently it is visibly a defining trait of secret service agents, at least in United states. It’s clearly something they have been doing for quite a while now. Although, the ‘Agents’ also did it to better receive signals on the machines who ran the Matrix program itself…

Inside the real world (assuming, naturally, that this IS the real world hmmm….), the reason that FBI agents touch their ears is not that different. Forrest Wickham, of www.slate.com, has the advice:

Are those earpieces uncomfortable? No, it’s just so they can hear better. Pushing in an earpiece makes for a tighter seal, which could mean the difference between hearing or missing a Secret Service codename or another agent’s message about the president’s position while standing in a noisy room. While earpieces are not uncomfortable, they do sometimes come loose, requiring readjustment.

There you have it, a rather embarrassingly lo-tech answer, FBI guys push their radio earpieces into their ears as that makes the instructions come through louder and clearer. Like a fanatical ‘Spinal Tap’ fan, I cannot help but echo the bemused query of Marti DiBergi and ask “why just make the earpieces louder?” but that’s obviously an issue for another time.

Back to you, Mr. Wickham:

“Earpieces aren’t the only communication devices the Secret Service uses, and not all earpieces have the same design. Some devices, for example, look like iPod ear buds. The one-ear headphone often shown in the movies is standard and comes with a curly wire that runs down under their shirt to a hidden microphone worn in different locations depending on the circumstances of the assignment. One standard spot is just under the shirt sleeve. (That explains why agents are always lifting their wrists to their mouths.) Earpieces also come in different colors, and some agents choose a device that matches their skin or hair”.

So they don’t take action to appear sinister, or to receive instructions in the engine world that secretly runs all our lives. They do it as, well, their equipment is a little bit crappy, evidently.

However, I suppose that if you were attempting to hear very specific, essential information in a busy and loud environment, then any earpiece you used could be sternly challenged. It is hard to listen to everything over the sound of large crowds as well.

Mr. Wickham also provides a bonus explanation. At the end of his article post, Wickham tells us why the secret service guys forever seem to be wearing shades.

“Why are Secret Service agents always wearing sunglasses? To keep the sun out of their eyes. While the Service has often cultivated a certain mystique, preferring to remain “cloaked in silence and mystery,” spokesmen insist they wear shades merely for their traditional purpose, and not, say, to keep would-be assassins from knowing which way they’re looking. The Secret Service has no set uniform, but agents say that wearing sunglasses on a sunny day helps them to scan a crowd for suspicious behavior”.

Sounds adequate to me.