The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is visiting college campuses in California to recruit prospective agents. The bureau hopes to attract recruits with the skills needed for its new mission of fighting terrorism.
FBI agents used to be known as G-Men, hard-boiled lawmen who wore fedora hats and tracked down gun-toting criminals.
Over the years, the image has changed, as the bureau sought college graduates to pursue sophisticated lawbreakers involved in financial crime. Today's FBI agents often have specialized training in new areas, says Special Agent Angela Winn, a recruiter with the Los Angeles FBI field office. She supervised an FBI display at a recent career fair at the University of Southern California.
"We're hoping to spark interest in students here," she said, "especially those with various backgrounds such as computer science, engineering, accounting, finance majors, physical science degrees such as biology, chemistry, forensics, and always languages, especially those who speak Middle Eastern languages, Asian languages, as well as Spanish."
Special agent Wynn says the focus of the FBI changed dramatically in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But she says for potential recruits, the attraction is the same as it was before that: They are looking for adventure.
"There's a little bit of mystique there, and Hollywood definitely helps us," she said. "People always want to see what's the real deal and what's the inside story, and we're OK with that. It's a rewarding career. It not only pays comparably with a lot of the other fields out there, but it's something that at the end of the day most people go home with a feeling of satisfaction."
The FBI enticed students on their way to classes with interactive video games, to give prospective agents the thrill of pursuing a bad guy.
Students could test their fitness by climbing a sheer cliff wall. John Wilber is helping them, and says it isn't dangerous. "It's made out of fiberglass and steel. It has auto blades at the top, so that whenever they let go of the wall, they're automatically lowered down, nice and safe," he said.
But FBI work can be dangerous, and the bureau has demanding requirements. Applicants must be U.S. citizens in excellent physical condition. If selected, they undergo a background check, then spend 17 weeks at the FBI training center in Quantico, Virginia. Special agent Winn says preparation is rigorous.
"They will learn the proper use of firearms, defensive tactics. They will also do a lot of classroom work and practical exercises, as well as physical fitness, and that's one of the most important requirements," she said.
Many students are non-committal. Chelsea D'Angona has one year to go before she finishes college, and says she may consider joining the FBI. "Possibly. We'll see what happens. I'm going to read the material," she said.
Her friend, Brooke Ray, is definitely interested. She came here specifically to get more information about a career she has thought of pursuing. "I just always saw myself as a special agent and wanted to be undercover, and do all the fighting techniques. I just thought being an FBI agent would be really cool and really fun, and I'll be in great shape," he said.
Laetitia Allouche and Eric Bushard are marketing students at USC who are helping the FBI with its campus outreach. They're impressed with the bureau's message but say, as for a career, they're pursuing something different, marketing.
Special agent Angela Winn says the FBI's mandate has been clear since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. "Our goal is to hopefully prevent the next 9/11 from happening in this country, and currently our main emphasis, as far as our mission, is in terrorism, counter-terrorism and counterintelligence," she said.
For those who want adventure right here in Los Angeles, another recruiter's display offers other options. Recruiter Iris Sanchez says the Los Angeles Police Department is looking for officers and emergency dispatchers. She says the work pays well and can also be exciting.