For nearly 30 years, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge (now retired) Gina Osborn led the life from which adventure movies and TV series are born.
She traveled the world and saw things and did things that few people ever have the chance, or the desire, to do, and all at the U.S. government’s expense.
Now, Osborn is a motivational speaker who will give a virtual Zoom presentation on the topic “Becoming Unstoppable Through Chaos, Conflict and Change” on Tuesday, June 23 at 12 p.m. as part of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce’s Women in Leadership speaker series. Visit www.NewportBeach.com to register for this free presentation.
Osborn will talk about how she thrived in a male dominated industry, how she did not take “No” for an answer, how she thought outside the box and embraced her authentic self to become one of the best.
Osborn began her career as a spy doing counterintelligence work for the U.S. Army in Belgium and other European countries during the Cold War, then subsequently for 22 years as a special agent at the FBI.
Her many investigations across the world doubtlessly spared countless lives and saved millions of dollars.
From her earliest teens, Osborn knew that she wanted to become a creative writer, even going so far as a teenager to pen scripts for 1970s hit TV shows including “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley.” And as they say in Hollywood, she revealed a rare “chutzpah” in sending those amateur efforts to the shows’ producers, who promptly returned them with a “Thanks,” accompanied with an admonishment she hire a writer’s agent.
The daughter of a Marine, whose greatest wish was to sire sons, he instead raised his two daughters with the type of love only a drill sergeant could express. To put it succinctly, Gina and her older sister, Lisa, could whup just about any boy in the neighborhood. The siblings were laying bricks in their backyard while the other kids played Frisbee and skateboarded.
Perhaps it was Tinseltown’s celluloid images of cops and spies that influenced Osborn to want to join the CIA, and that was her intended destination while attending Orange Coast College in the 1980s, and working to support her education as a waitress at the comedy club, The Laff Stop.
“One day, while I was studying in the library trying to figure out how I was going to pay for my last two years of college, a young man I had never seen before sat down next to me and just started talking about the Army’s counterintelligence program. He convinced me. The next thing I knew, I was at the Army Recruiting Office, and signed up,” Osborn recalled. “Eight months later, I was eating dirt at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.”
Her CIA quest and need for a four-year degree were still intact, but took a little detour. To this day, she wonders if that convincing young man himself was an intelligence agent.
Given many military career options, Osborn chose Counterintelligence, and graduated from the 12-week course at Fort Huachuca, AZ. She was then flown almost immediately to her first assignment to support the US Mission at NATO in Belgium. That she spoke passable high school French doubtlessly enhanced her selection for the Military Police detachment there.
After little more than two years, the Army moved her to Germany, during the first Gulf War, where she joined a “specialized team” that investigated the highest profile espionage cases in the European Theater.
“The most notable case worked on was the Albert Sombolay Case,” Osborn remembered, for which she helped gather the goods on an Army Specialist who was trying to sell sensitive information to a Middle Eastern enemy agent during the First Gulf War.
A statuesque blonde who would stand out in any crowd, Osborn remembers her efforts to follow Sombolay without being spotted. For three months, she remained incognito, sometimes as a “pregnant” local; however, she remembers “having conflicts with the local German police to maintain cover” while conducting surveillance.
“In one instance, one of our team was conducting surveillance in the forest along the German/Belgian border, at which time the polizi let their dogs loose on him. His radio had broken, and he was out of contact with us. He was my husband at the time,” she revealed.
With more reliable means of communications today, she noted that “we are still in contact, and remain good friends.”
Sombolay is not: he was sentenced to 34 years in Federal prison.
Five years and 10 months after enlistment, Osborn left the Army as a Staff Sergeant, and in possession of her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland, which she earned from the university’s respected global distance learning program.
“I used that degree every day in my career as an agent, supervisor and executive with the FBI,” she said.
Having left the Army, Osborn applied for and was accepted to the FBI after an 18-month application and vetting process. Upon Academy graduation, she found herself posted to the counterintelligence squad in Santa Ana; her first arrest just happened to be across the street from Tustin High, her alma mater.
Many fascinating challenges awaited Osborn in her federal law enforcement career. She found herself being the only woman on a team working with the Westminster Police Department and the Orange County District Attorney’s office for five years to crack Asian organized crime rings that specialized in murder-for-hire, extortion, drugs, and other violent crimes and involuntary servitude (prostitution).
“This was incredibly rampant back in the mid- to late-90s,” Osborn said, where the gangsters came from Vietnam, and targeted their own communities. “It was heartbreaking, because the community was reluctant to go to the police, and many people didn’t speak English. This was a challenging time for the police, but we took a lot of violent gangsters off the street.”
Competitive by nature, Osborn’s drive continued within the agency. In 2003 (post 9/11) after both exhaustive competition and 18-months of specialized training, she became a supervisor in charge of the Extra-territorial Squad headquartered in Los Angeles. She explained, “Any time there is a terrorist attack against U.S. persons or interests, we responded.”
Her team investigated bombings in Bali, the Philippines, as well as other Asian locales.
Subsequent executive assignments appeared less glamorous, but were crucial to the operation of the agency, such as being named to the Inspection Staff for 18 months that reviewed field offices and headquarters entities to assure effective and efficient performance.
As the cyber world evolved, so did Osborn’s interest in that esoteric component to criminal investigation. Although not technically trained, she understood the management of this component, thus ultimately becoming for 11 years the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the cutting-edge Cyber and Computer Forensics Program for Los Angeles. Later, she instituted the Orange County Regional Computer Forensics lab in Orange, dedicated to examining digital evidence for local, state and federal agencies in the region.
“I had a great staff, and the funding to set it up,” she said.
After 28 years in government service during which she had to “respond to critical incidents, international terrorism and violent crime,” Osborn left the FBI she loved to re-kindle her never-diminished desire to become a creative writer.
Currently, she’s working on several projects: a book, a TV crime series, and a series of podcasts produced in tandem with Orange County Prosecutor Tracy Miller, titled “Behind the Crime Scene,” in which they discuss specific cases that have haunted first responders, investigators and prosecutors throughout their careers.
Osborn’s sister, Lisa, a veteran broadcaster and news anchor on L.A. radio stations, produces the podcasts, which can be found through most podcast providers or at behindthecrimescene.com
Additionally, Osborn is active on the board of the Girl Scouts of Orange County, which she says she really enjoys. “There’s nothing better than being surrounded by greatness, and that’s how I feel when surrounded by these future leaders of America.”