When Dana Caro enrolled at The Citadel, the South Carolina military college, he had his sights set on a career as a Marine officer.

Upon graduating in 1959, he went into the Marines, but friendships he developed with FBI agents he met while stationed at Quantico -- also home to the FBI training academy -- introduced him to an intriguing new world.

In 1962, he put aside his Marine lieutenant's bars and joined the FBI. One of his first assignments was tracking fugitives in the Chicago suburbs.

Now, nearly 24 years later, Caro has been named the special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, the largest FBI office in the country after New York, and he has no regrets about what he termed his "glorious experience" with the bureau.

"I believe we were responsible for bringing law enforcement into the 20th century on the federal, state and local level," said Caro in a recent interview.

Caro, 49, is no stranger to Washington. Since 1982, he has headed the FBI's Baltimore office, a job that, because of its proximity to the nation's capital, brought him in regular contact with federal and local law enforcement officials in the Washington area, including U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova.

"It's nice when you don't have to start from scratch and you have an existing relationship with the U.S. attorney," said Caro.

DiGenova said he was "delighted" by Caro's appointment. "We're very lucky to have him here," said diGenova. "He's a respected professional and has a reputation of being a tough taskmaster."

Caro, who has been in his new job only a week, said that he expects his top priorities to be combating Washington's inner-city heroin problem, foreign counterintelligence and public corruption cases.

He said last week's sentencing of former D.C. deputy mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson to seven years in prison -- a corruption conviction that resulted from a joint investigation by the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. attorney's office -- "sends a signal . . . to any individual that violates the public trust."

The FBI, with the assistance of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, has been making inroads against the heroin problem here, Caro said, and he wants the bureau to make an even greater impact.

"Heroin trafficking in the District of Columbia is significant by all accounts," which means that the FBI, DEA and District police have to continue their joint efforts to fight the problem, Caro said.

The Washington field office employs nearly 1,000 people, including 550 agents. It is nearly three times the size of the Baltimore office, largely because the D.C. office deals with foreign counterintelligence cases, which have received much attention in the past year because of a number of espionage arrests. Caro said that the Baltimore office was involved in several of the cases, including the case of Ronald W. Pelton, a former National Security Agency employe accused of spying for the Soviets.

A native of a Boston suburb, Caro, like many FBI agents, has been stationed throughout the country, including tours in Houston, Indianapolis, Tampa, Fla., and Montgomery County.

The father of two daughters and a son, Caro lives in Howard County with his wife Eunice, who is a nurse. Caro's son attends West Point and appears headed for a military career.

But if his son should have a change of heart, Caro said, "I'd be extremely proud if my kid followed me" into the FBI.