Law school applications are already long, but if former FBI agent Asha Rangappa LAW ’00, had her way, background checks and polygraph tests might be added to the requirements.
“I’ve thought about doing fact checks on applicants’ resumes after we admit them over the summer,” said Rangappa, now the assistant dean of admissions at Yale Law School. “We get some pretty amazing applicants and I wonder if the person actually did those things.”
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In a Berkeley College Master’s Tea on Wednesday, Rangappa discussed her former job as an FBI special agent, the changes that 9/11 brought to the bureau and her experience as a woman in a predominantly male occupation. The event was organized by the Women’s Leadership Initiative.
Rangappa said she first flirted with the idea of becoming an agent in her first year at Yale Law School.
“I was tantalized by the whole world of the FBI,” she said. “The idea was sort of marinating in my head because traditionally, FBI agents were lawyers.”
After Rangappa completed the first stage of tests for the FBI, her application was put on hold due to the bureau’s lack of demand at the time, she said. Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and the government realized it needed a larger and more diverse pool of agents. Rangappa said her knowledge of several languages, including Spanish and Hindi, helped her win a spot as an agent.
Each stage of the application process brought its own challenges, and the interviewing stage was no different, Rangappa said. Many students at the tea were curious about the required polygraph exam, and Rangappa had much to say about that nerve-racking process.
“The polygraph is trying to find out three main things — are you a spy, have you done drugs, and have you lied on your application,” she said. “They will catch everything. You walk out thinking you failed the polygraph and you are a horrible person.”
But Rangappa passed her polygraph, and her next step was the FBI academy. She had numerous stories to tell about the challenging 17-week training, from learning boxing to carrying a fake gun around at all times to being pepper-sprayed while fighting off an “assailant.”
“It was even more interesting than I thought it would be,” Laura Heiman ’07 said. “It really sparked my interest to see a female in the FBI.”
Once Rangappa completed the training, she took a position in the counterintelligence division of the FBI, which is responsible for catching spies in U.S.
“Just as we have the CIA, other countries have their people too who come here to find out our secrets,” she said. “It is a different game than the criminal side. You are not kicking down doors, but you are monitoring people and doing undercover work.”
But Rangappa also acknowledged the downsides of working for the agency. She said about 75 percent of an agent’s time is spent on paperwork, but that the other 25 percent is “really cool.”
One of the biggest flaws of the FBI today, she said, is its old-fashioned structure, which does not take easily accommodate the demands of modern family situations, including working mothers. Rangappa returned to Yale to work in the Law School’s admissions office in order to settle down and begin raising a family with her husband, who is currently working as an FBI agent.
“Overnight stays and undercover work [are] really not conducive to being pregnant and being a mom,” she said.
But while Rangappa admitted that being a female in the FBI had its difficulties, she also said a lot of opportunities open up to women interested in law enforcement.
Overall, students said, Rangappa provided a lot of insight into the agency, and her witty accounts sparked laughter among the audience.
“She is really funny and enticing,” said Aarthy Thamodaran ’09, a member of the WLI. “She presented a different side of the FBI, and her youth and passion were both very inspiring for all girls.”