Review of FBI Girl (1951)

FBI Girl (1951) – Filmed more than two decades before women could become agents, this crime drama starred Cesar Romero, George Brent, Audrey Totter, and Raymond Burr.

Here’s the premise: The governor from fictional Capital City plans to launch his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. However, he’s afraid when the FBI conducts an investigative check on him, they’ll discover his secret criminal past. So, a low-level FBI employee is coerced into stealing his fingerprint file from FBI headquarters. When she’s murdered, two FBI agents ask another female fingerprint clerk to assist in the investigation.

Since March is Women’s History Month, I wanted to find a movie or TV show to review that had a female FBI main character. My choice was right in front of my face, staring at me.

I had received a framed FBI Girl movie poster as a retirement gift and it’s been hanging in my home office for years, but I had never actually watched the film. I guess I doubted I would find teachable moments about FBI procedures and policy in a movie that was 73 years old. I was wrong.

By the time the ending credits rolled across the TV monitor, I had noted three learning opportunities. 1) The need for women agents. 2) The modernization of the FBI fingerprint system. 3) The role the FBI plays regarding background checks for elected congressional officials (prepare to be shocked).

In FBI Girl, the agents seek the help of a female fingerprint clerk to go undercover and record incriminating statements made by the man suspected of murdering of her co-worker. She agrees, even though she is unarmed and untrained.

This movie plot is not farfetched. Prior to women joining the Bureau in 1972, agents often asked women clerical employees to play the important roles of wives and girlfriends during surveillances and undercover scenarios.

To learn more about the first women agents, check out this FBI Retired Case File Review episode:

264: History of Women FBI Agents

The principal theme of the movie revolves around fingerprint cards. During my FBI career, I developed proficiency in rolling inked fingers onto an FBI Fingerprint Card.

There was nothing more frustrating than fingerprinting a subject, submitting the records, and then receiving them back because the fingerprints were smudged and of such poor quality they were unreadable and couldn’t be processed. Of course, by that point, your subject is nowhere around.

Fortunately, unlike in the movie, fingerprint cards are no longer kept in alphabetized storage cabinets and read manually. Digital fingerprint records are now maintained in the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). According to the FBI website, IAFIS is a national fingerprint and criminal history system maintained by the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division. The electronic submission of fingerprints allows agencies to receive electronic responses to criminal requests within two hours and within 24 hours for civil submissions.

Today, it would be practically impossible for an FBI employee, like the clerk in FBI Girl, to permanently delete the fingerprint records of a person attempting to disguise or alter their identity.

Plus, identification is no longer limited to fingerprints. Now, it also includes palm prints, irises, and facial recognition. Did you know CJIS has developed and is incrementally integrating a new system to replace IAFIS. This new system, the Next Generation Identification (NGI), provides the criminal justice community with the world’s largest and most efficient electronic repository of biometric and criminal history information (From the FBI website). Learn more about the Next Generation Identification (NGI) here.

Watching FBI Girl presented one more lesson that may surprise you. As previously stated, the premise of the movie is a governor running for the U.S. Senate is afraid that the FBI will discover his criminal past while conducting an investigative check on him. Guess what? He had nothing to worry about.

FBI background investigations and security clearances are not required for elected House and Senate congressional members. Neither are they required to submit for polygraph testing or random drug tests.

When we vote for a congressional candidate (or president), we are declaring our seal of approval that they are fit for office. This is disturbing, but for the fact that political opponents and the media will scrutinize and broadcast whatever political liability they can dig up. Negative information unveiled does not make candidates ineligible to run for congressional office, but voters can decide not to support their candidacy.

Although the FBI does not conduct background checks on senators and congressmen, depending on what’s discovered by external sources, the FBI can open a criminal case and ask the courts for authorization to use intelligence gathering methods and electronic surveillance technology that journalists and concerned citizens can’t access.

That’s why, by the end of FBI Girl, the governor from Capital City, entangled in an FBI criminal investigation, is no longer concerned about a simple background check.

Watch the FBI Girl movie on YouTube here.

Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.

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