Leader of Norfolk FBI retires this week, but taking a new job in town

Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-27 17:18:22-04

NORFOLK, Va. - A top leader in law enforcement in Hampton Roads is retiring.

Martin Culbreth is the special agent in charge of the FBI in the Norfolk region, and his last day is Friday.

“I have worked for Uncle Sam since I was 18 years old,” said Culbreth.

He attended the Naval Academy and then was commissioned in the Marine Corps, where he spent five years. He said one day, his master chief was reading the base newspaper when he saw an advertisement about the FBI recruiting people, and he encouraged Culbreth to apply.

“The FBI was coming off a three-year hiring freeze, and they were looking for special agents and master chief said I should apply, and you listen to what the master chief says,” said Culbreth.

He went to Quantico in 1995 and was then assigned to the Washington Field Office and worked in the Counterintelligence Squad before moving to the Public Corruption Squad and the Campaign Financial Task Force.

His various positions took him around the world for different assignments.

“I did several trips to Afghanistan, several to Iraq, and I’ve pretty much been to every Middle Eastern country that you can think of,” said Culbreth.

He has been in in charge of the Norfolk office since 2016.

“Several of my classmates from the Naval Academy are commanding officers of ships here, so it’s really neat to be able to interact with them,” said Culbreth.

He said since being stationed here in the region, he has been able to catch up with old military friends.

He said the FBI offered him the opportunity to travel around the world. He said, “They put me in 32 different countries. I got to see a whole lot of the world, and the FBI was fantastic.”

Culbreth has devoted his life to keeping others safe. Culbreth provided support to special events such as Super Bowls XXXIX and XLII; the 2004 and 2006 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, and Turin, Italy; and in 2009, he received the Director’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Law Enforcement Community for his service during the 2009 presidential inauguration, according to the FBI.

One of the many highlights of his career was helping to take down Robert Hanssen.

Culbreth became a certified, technically-trained agent and provided technical operations support as they investigated Hanssen, who was an FBI agent-turned-spy who was arrested in 2001.

“We put a tracker on his car, put microphones and cameras in his office, and we were able to help arrest one of the worst spies in U.S. history,” said Culbreth.

Culbreth played a vital role in helping Virginia Beach Police with the mass shooting investigation, and he says he was amazed by the community. He said the outpouring of support from the people of Hampton Roads was astonishing.

“Unfortunately, Virginia Beach became part of the fraternity of cities that have had to deal with a mass shooting,” said Culbreth.

He also took the lead on the Ashanti Billie case. He said it was heartbreaking to inform the family of their tragic loss. He said he will forever remember Ashanti and the mass shooting for the rest of his life.

“Two of the more poignant moments, not only my time here in Norfolk, but throughout my career,” said Culbreth.

He has worked to open the doors and try to show the Hampton Roads community what the FBI does and hear from community leaders.

He said some communities do not have a positive history with law enforcement and he has worked to improve relationships.

“It’s our job is to build a bridge. I think we’ve done a really good job here. We’ve done it with some really great community leaders,” said Culbreth.

Now, he is retiring after 25 years of an exciting and adventurous career.

He said he is excited about his new role as Chief of Security at Smithfield Foods.

“It’s really going to be different. I’m relishing in the challenge and something else to do. It was a very hard decision, but it was a phenomenal opportunity and after 25 years, I feel like it was the right time and the right opportunity,” said Culbreth.

He will be forever grateful for the immense opportunities the FBI has provided him.

“It’s just been a phenomenal career. I’ve been so very lucky,” said Culbreth.

He encourages others to look into a career with the FBI and said he could never have imagined all the places the job has taken him.