You may remember Maine PR woman Angie Helton from a story that ran almost a year ago. Helton, president of Northeast Media Associates, and Charlie Berg, president of Blackfly Media, had collaborated on a video public service announcement for the FBI, targeting fugitive gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. The notorious Boston gangster had been on the run since 1995, wanted on charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Less than 36 hours after running the video in national TV markets, Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, were captured in California, thanks to a tip generated from the PSAs.
Well, it turns out that after Helton worked on that case for the FBI, she was invited to participate in the agency’s Citizens’ Academy, a seven-week seminar held in different regional offices. Helton traveled to Boston for the courses, where she and about 35 other people learned from FBI agents about how they work in areas like combating terrorism, counter-intelligence, organized crime, hate crimes and others.
“It’s fascinating –you’re learning all these ins and outs and really getting to learn more about how they operate, what they can and can’t do legally,” says Helton.
The group included leaders from different New England companies, as well as heads of some large non-profits and local government agencies. The goal for the FBI is to get information out about what the agency is trying to do, and to also maintain contacts with community leaders.
One of the highlights, Helton says, was when the class headed to Fort Devens in Massachusetts, where they were able to witness an FBI drill that involved the rescue of a “hostage” from a group of “kidnappers.” The class could stand on catwalks inside the building to watch as the team entered the building, first tossing in a flash grenade (“scared the living daylights out of me,” Helton reports) and then extricating the hostage.
After, Helton and others had some time on the firing range under the tutelage of agents. She shot a 9mm pistol and a machine gun, Helton says, and the entire outing was “the coolest thing ever.”
The graduation ceremony from the academy is next month, and Helton says she plans on staying active through an alumni association of people who have taken the civilian courses. A big bonus for her was the networking with leaders from around the region – which is helpful in any line of work, but especially crucial in public relations.
She says she remains impressed with the work the FBI is doing.
“Everyone we met – through the Citizens’ Academy and on the case – was so passionate and dedicated to what they do, I was just very impressed with their loyalty and their passion for their jobs,” says Helton. “I’m definitely going to stay involved;, I don’t think I can be an agent, though …”
Helton explains that she was fascinated by the whole FBI/CIA agent idea when she was young, but there was a fairly substantial obstacle to jumping into a life fraught with secrecy.
“I had such a big mouth – which is why I went into journalism,” says Helton.