When I started writing my novel, being a newbie, I needed all types of special assistance. At first, I suffered in silence, not wanting to look dumb, and privately searched for answers. Later, in desperation, I started asking for help. To my surprise, I found nearly everyone I asked willing to assist me. Even the FBI.
The writing community has been wonderfully supportive. When I asked questions via comments on blogs, tweets or Facebook status messages, I got quick, helpful replies.
I launched this blog as a response. I felt an obligation to give back in return.
I’m a stickler for accuracy. In my novel, The Thread, FBI investigations play a critical role. So after I’d written about half the story, I started getting nervous. My source for FBI process and techniques were books and movies. But they often portrayed things differently. Which were right?
I searched online for more reliable sources. I found ex-FBI agents who wrote or commented about their activities. That helped a lot. I considered writing to some of them to get my questions answered.
Then I tripped across a page on the fbi.gov website titled Working with the FBI: A Guide for Writers, Authors, and Producers. It started:
We can help: if you are a writer, author, or producer who wants to feature the FBI, we may be able to work with you to create an accurate portrayal of the Bureau.
We’ve been doing it since the 1930s. Most recently, we have assisted the motion pictures “The Kingdom,” “Shooter,” and “Breach”; television programs like “Without A Trace,” “CSI,” “Numb3rs,” “Criminal Minds,” and “The Closer”; and books like Big City, Bad Blood; Lone Wolf-Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw; and Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.
I wrote to them immediately and asked for help. It took a couple of days before I got a pleasant reply from a person in the FBI Public Affairs Office. She asked what I needed to know. I sent this huge list of questions:
- Do agents typically work alone, in pairs, or in larger teams.
- Are all FBI special agents equal, or are some more special than others? Are the agents in charge of large investigations at some higher level. If so, is there a name for them?
- Who oversees agents? Who assigns investigations? Who decides when to assign more resources to a case? What if help is needed in some other part of the country?
- A lot of times, local law enforcement agencies are involved. What are the rules of engagement? In what scenarios does the FBI request local help? How does this get communicated to the local agency?
- Do agents ever provide updates to higher-ups on progress? I assume there are written reports; but what about in-person updates? If so, who and how extensive? One-on-one with a boss? Or, on large, complicated cases, are there conference room presentations? If so, who attends?
In the opening scenes of my novel, a small, propeller commuter plane is hijacked. The hijackers simulate a crash (in the mountainous Northwest part of the USA). When wreckage cannot be located, the FBI is called in to investigate. My question on this involves inter-departmental issues. Obviously, the FAA and the Homeland Security would be involved. Questions:
- Would the FBI lead this investigation?
- Doesn’t Homeland Security have their own investigating group? If so, who leads, who follows, etc.
- I’m concerned about the transition from Search and Rescue to FBI investigation. At first, everyone thinks the plane crashed. Then there are suspicions that the plane might not have crashed. Finally, Search and Rescue gives up and concludes no crash. At what point should the FBI be notified?
In my story, two of the FBI special agents had an intimate relationship in the past. Each is leading a different investigation. The evidence trail brings them together. Sparks fly. Questions:
- What are the rules relating to dating and intimate relationships between agents? Permitted? Disclosure required? Not assigned to same case? Etc…
- In the above scenario, how would these rules be applied?
My story includes a leak. It becomes obvious that the bad guys have access to FBI investigation details.
- Who would investigate?
- I assume these investigations are not public. If so, what are the rules for “non-public” investigations? (Who has access to the details on these cases?)
A couple of days later, I got an email from a Special Agent with this message:
Is there a good time to call you today regarding your questions?
We arranged a time and the agent spent about 45 minutes answering all these questions and more. When we finished, I asked if I could send manuscript pages for review. The agent welcomed me to send these in when they were ready.
I took pages of notes from our conversation. I had to re-craft some of what I had written. In other areas, I just needed to tweak.
A few minutes ago, I sent off a half-dozen chapters for review. I didn’t send everything, only scenes containing FBI activity.
When I mentioned to other writers that I had a FBI Special Agent assigned to assist me with my manuscript, to ensure I portray the FBI sections accurately, most were surprised. (Some wondered whether having a FBI agent assigned to look over your shoulder was a good idea…)
As I indicated in my opening, I’m in awe of the support available simply by asking. What unexpected support have you received?
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