- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

The FBI Academy at Quantico, Va., is a police school unlike any other in the world. "It's the Harvard of law enforcement," says author Ron Kessler, who has written two books about the government's top investigative agency, the most recent being "The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI."
The exclusive training venue for special agents, housed on a sprawling 531-acre campus within the 60,000-acre Marine Corps base, compares with any Ivy League school but with a difference.
Competition for admission is high and standards are rigorous for the specialized law enforcement training. Prospects must be 23 to 36 years old, have completed at least four years of college and been employed full time for at least three years. Most are on a second or third career.
The admissions process can take two years or more. Preliminary testing involves not only physical and oral exams, but a writing sample and a background security check. Being married is a plus, as it indicates maturity and stability, according to Andrew R. Bland, section chief in charge of new agent training.
Beginning in February, after Congress granted funds for the FBI to hire additional personnel and the agency began a widespread recruiting campaign, some 74,000 people applied for admission. Some 54,000 met the minimal qualifications, and about 25,000 of those seemed to have the critical skills the agency looks for: a background in computer science, information technology, physical science, engineering, foreign languages, accounting or counterintelligence. These days, classes of roughly 50 people begin every two weeks.
Fewer than 20 percent of those initially qualified will be taken. Seven percent will flunk the training or leave voluntarily. Between Oct. 1, 2001 and Sept. 30, the FBI hired 923 agents. They are hoping to hire 862 new recruits to join the bureau's current force of 11,600 agents in fiscal year 2003.
"Some think they can get over on the polygraph because it isn't an exact science," says Joe Bross, acting chief of the applicant process section. "We knock out more than one of every two [with the polygraph]."
Diversity is the new byword, but common sense and street smarts count for more. Class time spent on counterterrorism and counterintelligence training has doubled in the last three months, and a seven-hour leadership development course has been added at the instigation of FBI Director Robert Mueller III.

The recruits generally are alpha types, high energy, competitive people who are accustomed to taking charge. "Leadership and followership are two sides of the same coin," says Mike Ferrence, the leadership unit chief. "They [new agents] are going out to work with multiple agencies and they won't always be in charge."
The leadership promotion material every agent receives reads, "Support an appropriate balance between work and non-work life."
Blond, blue-eyed 28-year-old Ashley is an accountant who has handled firearms since she was a child hunting game with her father in rural Mississippi. "I felt very blessed when I got the letter [of acceptance]," she says, noting that the hardest part of training is "the amount we have to learn." (Last names are withheld at the bureau's request to protect agents who might later go undercover.)
At 5 feet 2 inches and 110 pounds, Cindy, 27, is an epidemiologist who worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the anthrax scare. Long interested in bioterrorism, she didn't tell her father a former agent about her decision to join the FBI until she was selected.
She does not feel at a disadvantage tackling larger, much heavier men, she says, even though out of her class of nine women and 41 men, two trainees left in the first two weeks and three others have had injuries.
"We," she says of women recruits, "are more flexible and can use different tactics."
A male recruit says the training has changed him. "My view of society has changed through things we have been exposed to," says Bobby, 28, a lawyer of Middle Eastern descent who speaks Farsi. "I didn't know people did stuff like that. When you see it in reality, you think, 'wow, I thought it only happened in movies.' I mean this is the first time I've ever held a gun in my life."
Bobby says the most difficult part for him was taking a big salary cut and having to change his habits, "to be at a certain place on time."

Indeed, all three agree that "time management" is the most challenging part of the program.
Their time in training is relatively short 17 weeks, during which students sleep two to a room in dormitories with doors that can only be locked from the inside.
No one is considered fully qualified until spending two years "in the field" after graduation.
The "field" can be headquarters, or any one of 56 domestic offices and 50 posts abroad including one in Barbados. The "special" in their title refers to times when these government agents become part of a "special investigation," academy officials say.
Another unusual feature is that students are paid the equivalent of a GS10, or a minimum $36,000, while in school. They wear navy blue tops and khaki trousers at all times, and carry regulation size imitation pistols and handcuffs at their waist.
The buff brick buildings and landscaped grounds look serene enough, but the 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. mandatory class schedule includes several hours on an indoor or outdoor shooting range, firing a total 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition and other types of weapons.
Failure at firearms training inability to pull the trigger on a gun or hit a target is cause for dismissal.
In forensic science, veteran agent Charles McGinniss, who worked on the Unabomber case, uses wide-screen, close-up photos of a strangled body to illustrate the importance of attention to minute details such as the wire markings on the victim's neck. "This is really bizarre stuff," he tells his students.
Students will learn that only one of five bullets are likely to hit a shooter's mark particularly vital information if they find a gun pointed at them.
They are trained in legal and ethical matters, defensive driving techniques and arrests, and even train on their own fake movie-set village, called "Hogan's Alley," playing cops and robbers with contract actors who play victims and assailants.
The "reality" classes often require body-to-body contact. Duane Young of Stafford, Va., one of the actors, is also a karate instructor.
Matthew Staley is a part-time stunt performer from Oakton. (The role players are hired from Tessada & Associates of Springfield, Va.) They may simulate dying six times in a two-hour period so that supervisory instructors can correct agents' mistakes.
"I look at what I do as a special kind of patriotic duty," Mr. Staley say. "We're helping them so they can do their job better."
Inside the local "motel," converted for the day into a mock field office, another group of agents-in-training interviews housewife-actor Linda Richardson of Woodbridge, Va., playing the role of a disturbed woman hoping to pass on to the FBI what she thinks is important information about possible terrorist activities in her neighborhood. (Cases are based on actual events.)
The agents know that Mrs. Richardson is an actor, but they do not know the script she has been told to follow or whether she has a weapon.
They do know they will be judged on the tactics they use to handle the situation.
On some occasions when she's playing a role, Mrs. Richardson has carried an unloaded .38 pistol in her bra. An agent has to know how to "pat her down" or risk being "shot." Split-second timing is key.
The agent taking the lead probes carefully but realizes soon enough that their would-be informant is delusional. "Osama bin Laden is calling me over the television to do what he says," she tells them.
The next challenge is how to get her out of the office and possibly find her help, keeping in mind as a supervisor later reminds them that the FBI is not a social service agency.
"Keep in mind that this person is not a subject," the supervisor says. "You are not going to arrest 99 percent of your physical encounters.A lot of people are just looking for someone to talk to."
"I go home to a normal life," Mrs. Richardson says while waiting next door in the wings for her entrance. "The agents are being trained to make decisions that can be a matter of life or death. You see them from the first practical [scenario] to the last. Like watching your child go from kindergarten through 12th grade."

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