Salem is a DSS Special Agent who joined the Diplomatic Security Service in 2021 with no previous law enforcement or military experience. In this Q&A interview, he shares the excitement of new agent training and the fulfillment he gained from a his work on a human trafficking investigation. You can also watch the interview on this video.
When did you become a DSS Special Agent and why did you choose this career?
I first joined DSS in May of 2020. By March of 2021, I officially became a DSS Special Agent. I always knew I wanted to work in federal law enforcement. In my senior year, an alumnus from my college presented on his experience as a DSS Special Agent. And he essentially showed me the dream job I didn’t even know about. He described the job in terms of constant opportunities to travel and a wildly diverse mission set. I’ve found everything he said to be accurate.
Where have you been posted and what had been your favorite assignment and why?
I am relatively early on in my career, so it’s been entirely spent in New York City. My first tour was at the New York Field Office. I am only a couple months into my second tour at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations where I am assigned to the protective detail for U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
As a native New Yorker, it’s been immensely fulfilling to work as a Special Agent in my hometown. The New York Field Office provided many opportunities early on in my career. I’ve supported the Secretary of State protective detail in multiple continents and participated in a long-term temporary duty assignment to Poland. I’ve also investigated a human trafficking case and helped rescue and get justice for the victims.
Can you describe new agent training?
In short, it was an incredible year. In terms of the training itself, I loved it. I came to a career in DSS without any prior law enforcement or military experience, so everything was brand new to me. Firearms, driving, protection, investigative techniques; I found it all exciting.
My classmates were the best part though. They were some of the most inspiring and enjoyable people I’ve spent time with. They came from every line of work. It was a blast to train with them and spend my free time with them. It felt like an extra year of college that I got paid for.
How quickly do DSS agents get opportunities to perform in positions of responsibility?
Within a month of getting to our New York Field Office, I was working my own investigative cases and serving in key roles on protective details. Within months, I was the lead case agent on a multi-agency investigation working directly with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I also served as the lead advance agent on protective details for high-ranking foreign officials here in the U.S. for important diplomatic engagements and summits.
What would you say is your most memorable or fulfilling experience as a DSS Special Agent?
I mentioned it a couple times already, but that human trafficking investigation was most fulfilling. Two women were being held and exploited for work. I remember feeling so motivated by the case that I was conducting interviews after midnight protection shifts. Working with agents from other federal agencies and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to hold the perpetrator accountable is precisely the types of experience and outcomes that motivated me to join DSS.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a DSS Special Agent?
It comes with the territory, but your personal life needs to adapt to the work schedule. I can only speak to my first tour at a domestic field office, but between travel and training, it’s not hard to spend nearly half of your time away from home. Then with domestic protection, expect your evenings, weekends, and holidays to be more occupied than in other lines of work. But if something was important to me—and planned—I was almost always able to take leave. DSS leadership knows how important your personal life is and tries their best to support it.
Do you have any advice for those who are applying for the Clarke DS Fellowship program?
Do it! I am honestly jealous of the opportunity to have grad school paid for and then have a career as a DSS Special Agent. For something more helpful, work to become a well-rounded candidate. DSS seeks a diverse talent pool to fill its ranks. I recommend you study the 12-dimensions of a Foreign Service Specialist and intentionally seek opportunities that broaden your skills and experience. You can achieve these requirements in any field of study, volunteer, or work experience, so don’t limit yourself in the types of opportunities you seek.