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A Special Agent's Secret Job: Hit Man

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employs special agents who pose as hit men to stop contract killings.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives employs special agents who pose as hit men to stop contract killings.

GQ Magazine correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas calls him "Special Agent Charles Hunt," but that's not his real name. He's sometimes known as "Thrash" or "Hammer," Laskas says (also not his real name).

That's because Hunt is a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, specializing in deep undercover work. Specifically, he poses as a contract killer.

He's the hit man "who is not really a hit man," Laskas writes in the November issue of GQ.

In her profile of the agent, she reports that the ATF "employs an army of guys like [Special Agent Hunt] whom nobody's ever heard of and nobody is supposed to know about." Their job is to prevent contract killings.

Laskas tells NPR's Arun Rath that watching the special agent adopt the clothes and the mannerisms of a supposed contract killer is "like watching an actor really become someone else."

Interview Highlights

Jeanne Marie Laskas is a correspondent for <em>GQ Magazine</em>.
Scott Goldsmith / Scott Goldsmith
Scott Goldsmith
Jeanne Marie Laskas is a correspondent for GQ Magazine.

On the agent's daily routine

Every day, pretty much, he's changing into his "dirtbag gear." He said it's "putting on his jewelry." But he works the streets ... finding out who out there needs what. But the word gets out that he'll do anything for a price. Anything. And so when someone needs a hit, they hear about him ... This is a word-of-mouth kind of job.

On the agent's life outside of undercover work

He's just a lovely, lovely man. ... He's sort of soft-spoken, kindhearted family guy. A couple kids, lovely wife. You know, this is his job, to pose as a hit man. He's kind of playing like a little bit of Superman role. He has his disguise and he gets changed into his hit man gear, and he goes out and pretends to be a hit man.

On the personal toll of the job

[This agent] has been through many of these experiences with horrible things — people wanting fingertips, people wanting eyeballs — just really gruesome things. And at one point, he was undercover for months at some Aryan Nation kind of biker home. And he didn't come out of that whole. He came out of that having a hard time remembering who he was. And, in fact, his marriage did not last through that whole period of his life. So I think it does take quite a toll on these people.

On how writing the story changed Laskas' perspective

We kind of live in our sanitized lives. We don't get exposed to violent crime in our daily lives. But maybe it's right underneath our noses and we don't realize it, and there's this army of agents out there kind of keeping things at bay.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.