MURFREESBORO — “Take yourself out of your comfort zone. That’s the only way you grow.”
That was the message Keith A. Johnson conveyed to eager MTSU criminal justice majors in a combined class Nov. 14 in the College of Education Building. It was a message borne of experience.
In more than 20 years of service with the FBI, Johnson’s assignments included gangs and organized crime, cybercrime, security for the bureau’s 56 field offices and forensic digital media investigations. Those assignments took him to 46 of the 50 states.
“Your mind is your only limitation when you’re working for us,” said Johnson, referring to the FBI.
Johnson’s work as director of the bureau’s Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory in Chicago led to the impeachment, arrest and conviction of former Illinois Gov. Rob Blagojevich. Gleaning information from computers was critical to the case.
“We’ve had criminals try to hide information on PlayStations,” said Johnson. “We found it. We look at everything, and we have software that can pull (deleted information) back. There’s no way to fool the system. You think you deleted it because you put it in the trash bin. You’ve emptied it. It’s recycled. You think it’s gone. I can get it back.”
Blagojevich, who tried to obtain bribes in exchange for political appointments, including an appointment to Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat, was removed from office in 2009. He is serving a 14-year term in a federal prison.
While the FBI does not hire new employees directly out of college, Johnson did offer what he called “pearls of wisdom” for prospective new agents. He rattled off a litany of anecdotes about applicants who sabotaged their interviews with their poor command of the English language.
“We want to understand how well you can write because, when you go to court, you have to testify about what you’ve put on paper,” said Johnson. “And all the defense attorney needs to do is cause reasonable doubt.”
Jace Gallagher, a law enforcement major from Hermitage, Tennessee, said he learned a great deal from Johnson’s presentation.
“This lecture was very informative,” said Gallagher. “It made me think about my days back in the Navy.” Gallagher said he served in the U.S. Navy from 2012 to 2015.
Natalia Hammond, a global studies major and homeland security minor from Spring Hill, Tennessee, said she appreciated the encouraging nature of Johnson’s lecture.
“Sometimes if you’re in a college environment, you really have to tell yourself you can do this and to not give up,” Hammond said.
Professor Lynda Williams’ Introduction to Criminal Justice class and assistant professor Elizabeth Quinn’s Introduction to Emergency and Disaster Management class combined for Johnson’s lecture, but all criminal justice students were welcome to attend.