CMU alumnus is top agent at Detroit FBI office

Central Michigan University alumnus Andrew Arena says he's enjoyed waking up and going to work every day for the past 20 years even though his work has placed him in some of the most dangerous places in America.

Arena is the Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Detroit Field Office. His prior assignments with the FBI have included investigating organized crime in New York, leading a violent street gang task force in Los Angeles, and supervising the violent crimes and major offenders squad in Cleveland. Since 2001, he's been involved in counterterrorism and counter-intelligence efforts. He was promoted to the top position at the Detroit office in December 2006.

"I don't think of it as a job . . . and a lot of that is because I feel like I'm doing the right thing," said Arena, who returned to campus February 12 for the first time in more than 20 years to share information about his success in the FBI with CMU students.

"One of my reasons for wanting to come back to CMU was the effect that this university had on me. My instructors were the people who really helped shape me and pushed me to do the best that I could," he said.

Arena described one such "push" that came from retired history professors Bill Bulger and Dennis Thavenet

"During my senior year, Bill Bulger encouraged me to apply for the Dennis Thavenet scholarship, so that I could study abroad at Cambridge University for a semester. The history department was hosting an essay competition that Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to select the recipients of the award, and he wanted me to attend."

But when Saturday morning arrived, Arena decided not to participate in the essay competition.

"At about 11:30, there was a knock on my door, and it was Bill Bulger and Dennis Thavenet . . . and they dragged me to Anspach Hall and made me write the essay," he said.

While visiting campus, Arena met with CMU students and hosted a public lecture entitled "Counter Terrorism: What are the Implications for Civil Liberties?" During the presentation, he stressed that Americans do not have to give up their Constitutional rights to protect the homeland or to feel safe.

He also encouraged CMU students to consider a career with the FBI. As the organization continues to expand and as many agents reach the mandatory retirement age of 57, the FBI will be hiring hundreds of employees to fill positions in intelligence, financial, investigative and clerical divisions, to name a few.

"Everybody has a preconceived notion of what the FBI is all about, and it's usually based on something that they read in a newspaper or saw in a movie or television program where the Bureau is portrayed as a ‘super' law enforcement agency," Arena said.

He also noted that while the structure and focus of the FBI has changed significantly throughout its 100-year history, he hopes to see even more improvements in the future.

"When I hear concerns about the FBI, I always say, come work for us. If you want to change the organization, change it from within. Bring your skills, bring your culture, and bring your view of the world into the organization."

Arena received a bachelor's degree in history and political science from CMU in 1985. He received a juris doctorate from the University of Detroit School of Law and joined the FBI in 1988.