Case in Point

Mass-screening interview pivotal in targeting gunnery sergeant

At a U.S. military base, 2,400 rounds of government ammunition were missing. This NCIS special agent suspected a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, but he needed definite proof. The special agent used an unusual mass-screening interview to discover evidence that ultimately led to the gunnery sergeant’s conviction.

In April 2017, I received a report that a Marine allegedly had stolen 2,400 rounds of 9mm government ammunition during a pistol qualification on a local base. As a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Washington, D.C., field office, I took this allegation seriously. No one wants government-owned ammunition to be used in a homicide or terrorist attack.

The complainant alleged a gunnery sergeant had stolen the ammunition and identified two other Marines who could provide amplifying information. After I quietly interviewed the other two subjects, I determined that the only way to definitively prove if the subject committed the crime was to interview 12 additional Marines who’d been on the pistol range the day of the alleged theft. If all 12 Marines confirmed the complainant’s account, the only logical conclusion would be that the gunnery sergeant stole 2,400 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

The problem I encountered was that these Marines were part of a small unit, and the gunnery sergeant was popular. I worried that if I conducted normal individual interviews with the other 12 Marines someone would tip off the gunnery sergeant, which would eliminate the element of surprise and give him time to destroy evidence. So, I decided to conduct a mass-screening interview.

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