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23 November 2005

Waste of Time

I had wanted to interview a local female FBI agent for research. I was given the number to the PR person at the headquarters in NY, and was told to put my request in writing (read: email), so I did. My info was passed on to someone else who called me and wanted to know where I came up with the name of my character. Last week, a local female agent--Kate Miller*--called me, but seemed kind of rushed so we didn't do much talking. Instead of calling me back with the info I was wanting, Kate* just emailed me and gave me a couple of links to check out. I have a section in my monthly newsletter called "Getting To Know You" ( It's a questionnaire with silly, nonsensical questions like favorite flavor of ice cream. It's a way to get to know my subscribers (the ones that fill it out, that is) and part of my request was to have Katefill out the questionnaire. I had asked Kate* other more career type questions, and received an email from her yesterday:

"I am not opposed to a face-to-face interview but feel it would be a waste of time due to the fact I am extremely uncomfortable with my name or any of my personal information being used in a book, newsletter or posted on the internet.  FBI Agents occasionally do undercover work and are constant targets of various individuals.  These individuals could be part of a terrorist group, a foreign intelligence service, a gang or simply an individual looking to cause harm to a federal Agent.  I am, at all times, concerned for my safety and that of my family.  For these reasons, I am going to respectfully decline to answer some of the questions" who are your favorite actors/actressess. I can understand how a "terroist group, a foreign intelligence service, a gang or simply an individual looking to cause harm to a federal agent" could turn that piece of useless knowledge against you. Really I can. I'm picturing the torture techniques right now. So here was my response:

For the record:

~ I would not have put your real name in my book or the newsletter. Your identity would have been protected in the form of, or better yet, a fake name. I'm a fiction writer, after all. I make stuff up. It's what I do.

~ Your email came across a million tiny radio waves to get to my Inbox, so I imagine that everything you've just told me could've been picked up or viewed by unseen eyes . We'd like to think our computers are safe from the unsavories out there, but things manage to slip through the cracks anyway (something I learned in a meeting recently).

~ My mother went through the FBI Citizen's Academy a few years ago, right around the time the Oklahoma federal building had been bombed. The agent in charge of transporting the prisoner had actually come to her class and talked a little about the case and procedure. She even did the shooting range. From what she told me, it was a very informative 10 weeks of learning about the different divisions of the FBI. A way of telling regular citizens what the Agency does in hopes that the community won't see them as a distrustful entity was an ingenius idea. Too bad that program isn't open to the general public. I for one would have found it to be an incredibly educational experience. I feel somewhat honored that a member of my family was nominated and chosen. I perfectly understand your need for anonymity, considering the current situation with the CIA. But look at it from my point of view for a moment. I'm a young adult fiction writer, for teens ages 13-18--a genre that's difficult to write for as teens don't have much of an attention span for books these days. My newsletter subscriber base is pretty small--43 to be exact--but I know for a fact that out of those 43 subscribers, 11 of them are girls in the age range  I write for. 11 girls who will probably never meet an agent face to face---a female agent, no less--let alone have a need to talk to one. 11 girls whose impression of FBI agents proably comes from T.V.shows (which we all know aren't accurate interpretations anyway), but would think it'd be "pretty cool" to know which store she would max out her credit card. It would make a real agent seem less like a fictious character, and more, well, real.

You have your reasons for declining and I understand. I'll be sure to check out the links you gave me and put the statement you supplied at the beginning of each book. Thank you for your time (I actually meant "thanks for wasting my time". Do you think she'll read between the lines?)

It was my fault, really. I gave Kate* an out. I told her that if she didn't feel comfortable answering the questions, she could decline to answer. Of course, I didn't expect her to decline to answer the majority of the questions. Am I bitter? Not even. Disappointed? Highly. I found it interesting that she totally skipped over the "fun stuff" and answered the career type questions. And even those responses were vague at best:

As for some of your other questions, I will address them here.  I became an FBI Agent about ten years ago after meeting several Agents who were extremely bright, funny and loved their jobs.  My application process took over a year while I worked in a non-law enforcement job (doing what? secretarial work? the drive-thru at Wendy's? I don't care about the "where", but a "what" would've been nice).  A typical day in the life of an FBI Agent differs by what violation an Agent is assigned to work.  Activities generally include talking to people both on the telephone and in person, conducting research, typing your own reports and possibly a work-out.  Law enforcement is a male dominated field but I usually do not face any major obstacles since everyone has strengths and weaknesses.  The best advice I can give a female is what was told to me by a mature male Agent when I started, “Always be a lady”.  Additionally I recommend that anyone thinking about becoming an FBI Agent should ensure they are physically fit.  This can only make your life easier for so many different reasons.  I hope this helps (um, yeah, that would be a negative, Special Agent Kate*) and wish you well in your endeavors.

 I also find it interesting that the Agency essentially created a "we'll let you in on us, if you let us in on them" type of program, but one agent won't tell a few subscribers of a piddly (well, maybe not so piddly) newsletter what her favorite fast food joint is! Granted, it's one of those many-will-enter-few-will-win kind of programs (my Mom got chosen due to her background in Criminal Justice) and you might as well be applying for agent status because that's what their judging process is like. But it's not like I was going to splash her name, rank and serial number all over the internet. And the only mention of her name in my book would've been a simple "Thanks to the Special Agent who took the time to answer my questions".

I should've known from the initial phone call that nothing was going to come of my request. Some of the questions I had asked, before she hurried off the phone, were shot down with an "I can't disclose that" or "it depends on what FBI violations are being broken". She said she could do some computer research on her own and get back to me when we talked the following week. The follow up phone call didn't come--she emailed me instead. And her computer research--as I mentioned above--turned out to be two FBI links to check out and an official statement regarding a certain issue. Katewasn't the agent I had originally requested, but I had made it known that if Special Agent Mary Moore* was unavailable, I would still like to interview a female agent. The whole time she was probably thinking "I don't have time for this." The Big Brush-Off happened with the quickness of an email. Well, I can honestly say that I really did talk to a female agent. And the experience gave me some nice fodder to use in the future. One of the many things I love about being a fiction writer.

Never fear, though.  I have another option. Hopefully, this one will pan out.

*names were changed to protect the identity of the agents. Gee, how simple was that?

posted by GeminiWisdom @ 7:30 PM |


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