I’m celebrating 100 episodes of FBI Retired Case File Review with a special crime fiction show exploring clichés and misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. What most people know about the FBI comes from popular culture. This list features what writers of novels, scripts and screenplays sometimes get wrong about the Bureau and FBI agents. This is my second list. In Episode 50, I also wrote about this topic. Both lists were created for those who read and watch crime fiction about the FBI, write crime fiction and thrillers about the FBI, and who have always wanted to join the FBI.
Why should you care if entertainment media gets things wrong about the FBI in books, TV, and movies? Why does it matter if films and novels occasionally contain false information about the FBI?
I’m excited to be celebrating my 50th episode of FBI Retired Case File Review this week, along with the success of my crime novel Pay To Play. While producing and hosting my true crime – crime fiction podcast over the last year, I’ve conducted interviews with my retired FBI colleagues about the high-profile cases they worked while on the job. And during almost every interview one of us comments about some aspect of the case or an investigative method that had been portrayed in books, TV, and movies as a cliché or inaccurately. I noted at least ten (10) misconceptions about the FBI that were repeatedly discussed. Just as some attorneys don’t read or watch legal dramas, and some doctors avoid medical shows and novels, for this special episode I’m joined by retired agent Bobby Chacon, a technical advisor for the TV show Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders for a lively discussion about why some FBI agents might not be reading that bestselling book series or watching that popular show depicting the FBI (In episode 8, I interviewed Bobby about working Jamaican drug gang cases and leading the FBI dive team).
Most people will never meet an FBI agent. The only connections they have with the FBI are the ones they make through books, TV, and movies, along with, of course, the news.
So, what if fictional portrayals of FBI agents are clichés or inaccurate? Does it really matter?
In this special episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, Special Agents Greg Branch and Bill Toland are interviewed about the qualifications and requirements needed to become a special agent with the FBI. Greg joined the FBI in 1995 and has been assigned to squads handling reactive matters, such as drugs and bank robberies and to white-collar crime investigations. For the past seven years, he has been task with recruiting efforts and is the Applicant Coordinator responsible for managing the special agent hiring program in the Philadelphia Division. Bill, a recent graduate of the FBI Academy, is also based in the Philadelphia Division where he is on a Cyber Squad. They provide a thorough and personal review of the FBI Special Agent hiring program and what it’s like to train at the FBI Academy. I encourage all listeners interested in joining the FBI to apply, especially women and minorities. All potential FBI Special Agent candidates must start the application process online at FBIJobs.gov.
Retired Special Agent in Charge Wayne Davis served 25 years with the FBI and during his career ran the Detroit and Philadelphia Offices. SAC Davis was among the first group of African-American agents to attend the FBI Academy. In this episode of FBI Retired Case File Review, he provides a fascinating personal and historical account of diversity in the FBI and his private meeting with Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1965, at which time the Director openly expressed his views about Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement.
FBI Director Comey was in town last week and asked the Philadelphia FBI Office to arrange for him to meet and speak with me. Well…actually Director Comey extended the invitation to all retired FBI agents in the area, but I believe if he knew what a fan girl I am he would have asked for me specifically. The session with him was an intimate gathering of less than fifty of my former agent colleagues, men and women I had worked with during my more than 20 years in the Philly division. I sat in the front row with my pad and pen and took copious notes.
There’s a saying in the FBI – “Don’t embarrass the Bureau.” The behavior of each special agent is seen as a direct reflection of the agency. It’s expected that everything an FBI agent says and does will project a positive image and mirror the viewpoint of the “front office.”
That’s because agents take that whole Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity stuff pretty seriously. Translated to real life situations those words connote loyalty, confidence and well… integrity. Our training allows us to quickly assess a situation and determine priorities. Even when mission focused, we are trained to be flexible and shift directions if required.
And guess what? All of those ingrained, highly-effective, self-motivated management skills are totally transferable. That’s why retired FBI agents make great second career hires.