Tom Betro '81 directs agency that fights crime, from drug trafficking to terrorism

By Tom Nugent | Photos by Sean McCormick


He knew he was in trouble.

Then a special agent for the U.S. Navy’s major law enforcement agency—known today as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service—Tom Betro ’81 was sitting in a car in a deserted gas station in Norfolk, Virginia. He was supposed to make a drug buy—two bales of marijuana for $2,000—but was met by four guys armed with knives taped to ax handles.

He knew there were a dozen cops waiting in the darkness. To summon them, all Betro had to do was utter “rip-off” into the hidden microphone taped to his chest.

“Rip-off!” he said, as the four guys drew closer.

Nothing happened.

“Rip-off!” he barked again. And again.

“The stupid thing didn’t work,” Betro recalled, sitting in his flag-draped office at the Washington Navy Yard recently. “I’m yelling ‘Rip-off! Rip-off!’ and no one’s coming.”

The first ax handle broke the van window.

“It’s not transmitting, it’s dead, and now they’re reaching for the door, and I’m trying to lock it ... but I’m too late, and the first guy pulls it open.

“So I just jammed the gas. The tires are screaming, ... and the guy with the ax handle is hanging on the door. And I’m ripping out of the parking lot, ... I’m going over the curb, ... and they’re all running after me, and it’s just chaos in the streets.”

Betro lived to fight crime another day—and eventually to head the $500-million-a-year naval law enforcement agency now familiar to millions of viewers of the popular television crime drama, NCIS.

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