Fbi's First Female Profiler Remakes Life In Retirement (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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FBI's First Female Profiler Remakes Life In Retirement

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Okay, so makeovers can be physical, right? Like the restoration of the skipjack Kathryn. But they can also be professional, like, say, if you're making over your career. In the late 1970s, Rosanne Russo was working as a school psychologist. But she was itching to do something a little more exciting with her life. Russo's career makeover landed her at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. And now, after nearly three decades with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Russo is on makeover number two. Jacob Fenston brings us her story.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:00:38
Television and movies have made famous the FBI's behavioral science unit, so-called criminal profilers who use psychology to help track down bad guys. Many of these fictional crime-solvers are women, as in NBC's drama "Profiler," or the movie "Silence of the Lambs."

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:01:00
In real life, Rosanne Russo was one of the FBI's first two female profilers.

MS. ROSANNE RUSSO

00:01:05
Well, I used to watch the FBI story with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. I think it was aired every Sunday.

MS. ROSANNE RUSSO

00:01:15
But never dreamed as a female that I would be an FBI special agent or that it was even a possibility for me.

FENSTON

00:01:24
That's because when she was growing up, there were no female FBI agents.

FENSTON

00:01:30
Bureau director J. Edgar Hoover refused to admit women for whom he said the job would be too dangerous.

RUSSO

00:01:35
The very first female special agents that came into the FBI were shortly after Hoover's death in '72.

FENSTON

00:01:45
Just one week after Hoover was buried, the FBI announced it would sign on women as special agents. The bureau also let up on the dress code, shirt colors other than white would be allowed and sideburns could be grown out to the ear. A few years later, when Russo started at the FBI in 1979, she says there were still only 200 female agents, out of 10,000 total. These days, one in five FBI agents is female. I asked Russo how women's roles at the bureau changed during her three decades there.

RUSSO

00:02:17
I think back in those earlier years, for some of the men it was a capability question, would a women be able to do this job. And I think, you know, once they all knew we had to qualify with our firearm, that that certainly wasn't an issue for women. We certainly were able to shoot a weapon. I think it was just more of some of our male colleagues -- it was an adjustment in the sense that they hadn't had a woman as a partner. And I think that was an issue for some, but certainly not most.

FENSTON

00:02:52
We're still having these discussions in society, with the role of women in combat in the military, for example.

RUSSO

00:02:59
Yeah, that's exactly right, and that's exactly what I was thinking as we were -- yeah, it's amazing how things just evolve, but the issue is similar.

FENSTON

00:03:09
Did you feel like your role was unique at all, as a woman in the FBI, that you ever felt like you played a unique role?

RUSSO

00:03:19
I would have to go back to, again, being an FBI agent in those earlier years. My first office was in Milwaukee. And I remember being received very well in the Milwaukee office by my male colleagues. And I got to do a whole variety of things, because they found that they felt they could blend in better with me at their side. We could look like we were a couple eating at a restaurant and not look suspicious like we are the FBI. So I think that in the earlier years I was afforded a lot more opportunities because I was female.

FENSTON

00:03:56
In 2008, Rosanne Russo retired from the FBI. But you know how in the movies, they always have to call up the retired agent to help out?

RUSSO

00:04:10
I was asked if I would come back and basically manage a program.

FENSTON

00:04:15
But now she's retired for good. And this is makeover number two.

RUSSO

00:04:19
This happens to so many of my colleagues, as you get near to retirement, your life is just so busy. You don't have a lot of time to think about yourself and any transition. I just never had the time because there was just always so much demand and deadlines. And it wasn't really until after I retired that I started to go through that transition thought process of, okay, now, I've got this time, but I don't want to waste this time, so what can I do that would still be valuable and would still be contributing to society?

FENSTON

00:04:56
She's contributing by volunteering every week, helping feed the homeless, giving tours at the Kennedy Center and helping out here at WAMU where I sat down to talk with her in our newsroom. But does she miss the FBI?

RUSSO

00:05:09
I think what I'd have to say is I miss that camaraderie and just that commitment and that work atmosphere. But do I miss the long hours? I do not.

FENSTON

00:05:22
I'm Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

00:05:24
Are you undergoing a career makeover? If so, tell us how it's going. Our email address is metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

00:05:57
Time for a break, but when we get back, making over a Virginia relic.

MS. LESLIE STONE

00:06:01
Well, the barn turned 75 years old last year. And I think that in our county, with such rapid development, it's really important to save a slice a history where you can.

SHEIR

00:06:11
And preparing for a major makeover in a D.C. industrial neighborhood.

MR. MATT CRONIN

00:06:15
You're going to see major construction and changes over the next two years, three years. Five to seven years, that's when you'll see everyone kind of comfortably saying this is complete different than I remember it.

SHEIR

00:06:25
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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