PDA

View Full Version : Question (with a hitch) about being married to an FBI agent



mreilly19
06-30-2015, 03:17 AM
Hi all, I was wondering if anyone has some input on what it's like to be married to an FBI agent - in 1997, where my prospective story will be set. I realize procedure and policy may have changed since then, though I suspect most of the foundation will be the same.

I already understand that an FBI agent's life is much less glamorous and more rigorous than the movies, that it may involve more tedium or paperwork than glorious car chases or dramatic shootouts, and that the agent in question will not be able to tell her spouse (my protagonist) anything about her day-to-day activities or cases.

What I'm wondering is whether she can assist my protagonist, somewhat of an amateur sleuth, in any investigative work? For instance, in my prologue she stops a crime (attempting kidnapping) at my protagonist's father's restaurant. Since the FBI investigates kidnappings, would the case then be hers or would she hand the suspects over to the local PD?

Also, let's say my protagonist was looking into some other suspicious issues on his own; could she provide any further information (I'm guessing no since it would have to be an official FBI case for her to act on it) on her own?

Lastly, how would an FBI agent identify themselves to criminals - as a "federal agent" or just plain "FBI?" It's these little things that make up a realistic story.

Thanks for any advice or information!

MDSchafer
06-30-2015, 03:53 AM
What I'm wondering is whether she can assist my protagonist, somewhat of an amateur sleuth, in any investigative work? For instance, in my prologue she stops a crime (attempting kidnapping) at my protagonist's father's restaurant. Since the FBI investigates kidnappings, would the case then be hers or would she hand the suspects over to the local PD?

Absolutely not. There is this thing called chain of custody for evidence and suspects. Basically the law wants to see how many people touched the evidence and make sure no one tampers with it. If there is some amateur sleuth muddies the chain any relatively aggressive defense attorney can get the charges bounced.

For example, none of the suspects Batman giftwraps for police would ever go to jail. All they would have to say is that "Batman planted the evidence on me," and since they can't call Batman to the stand to dispute that they would all get off. Same thing here. Anyone who isn't a sworn law enforcement officer muddies the water and makes a case incredibly difficult to prosecute.

mreilly19
06-30-2015, 05:11 AM
Thanks - makes sense. What if the guy just needed more info on a possible crime (or one that might be about to occur) or maybe for his wife the FBI agent to interface with local police on his behalf? Like if she were to lean on a detective for not following through on a lead, or look up a possible bad guy's background info just to see if he had an arrest record/any wants? Would she be able to provide any assistance from a federal capacity?

frimble3
06-30-2015, 08:18 AM
I dunno, but if an FBI agent helped a dilettante with no standing (your amateur detective) by 'interfacing' (leaning on, interfering with, bullying) with an actual police detective, about a 'possible' crime, that 'might' occur, and used her 'official capacity' to do so, I could see her being in a lot of trouble when word got back to her superiors.
Not to mention looking up a 'possible bad guy's background info just to see if he had an arrest record/any wants' sounds like harassment or, indeed, potential framing of an innocent person.

If she knew the detective and asked for a favour, yeah, maybe, but waving her FBI credentials in support of her husband's hobby sounds really bad. The potential for abuse is pretty high.
If you were writing the kind of cosy where the female amateur sleuth got her FBI husband to misuse his position in this way, my copy of the book would hit the wall at this point.

Maybe I'm oversensitive, but we had a police officer near here who was fired for getting the license plate numbers from cars parked in front of a women's health clinic, looking them up and passing the information to his anti-abortion buddies. Which could be written as almost exactly your situation. Random people, no crime, but 'something' might be going down.

mreilly19
06-30-2015, 03:13 PM
Great stuff, thanks. I think I see a better opportunity here which is for my FBI agent to decline to get involved with any of her husband's endeavors and a potential character conflict between them whereby the protagonist thinks "I've got a major resource here in my wife but she's sticking to the straight and narrow and won't go to bat for me.... what the heck?" The fact I have her stop a crime on his behalf since it's occurring right in front of her could be a good source for this unmet expectation that she's going to provide further assistance outside her capacity.

Then of course I have to figure out some way to tie in their respective plotlines without using some ridiculous coincidence or deus ex machina.

asroc
06-30-2015, 05:31 PM
With regards to the first two questions, no, the case will not be hers, even if she did actually happen to work in the right division. She'll be a witness with a personal connection. Around here the local field office and the local PD usually investigate cases that involve both jointly. The only way I could see the second scenario happen is if she had a friend in the police department, but that's already very dangerous territory and not likely. The FBI doesn't outrank the police; she can't just waltz into an investigation she's not involved in and say: "I'm FBI, gimme that evidence."

As for the third question, that kind of depends on the situation. What's your scenario there?

MDSchafer
06-30-2015, 05:42 PM
Also, the FBI doesn't investigate most kidnappings. From their website: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/faqs


If a child is missing and possibly kidnapped, but no interstate transportation is known, will the FBI begin an investigation?

Yes. The FBI will initiate a kidnapping investigation involving a missing child “of tender years,” even though there is no known interstate aspect. “Tender years” is generally defined as a child 12 years or younger. The FBI will monitor other kidnapping situations when there is no evidence of interstate travel, and it offers assistance from various entities including the FBI Laboratory.

Especially since the kidnapping was foiled their wouldn't be any reason for the FBI to become involved.

WeaselFire
06-30-2015, 07:23 PM
What I'm wondering is whether she can assist my protagonist, somewhat of an amateur sleuth, in any investigative work? For instance, in my prologue she stops a crime (attempting kidnapping) at my protagonist's father's restaurant. Since the FBI investigates kidnappings, would the case then be hers or would she hand the suspects over to the local PD?

What do you need to happen for your story? An attempted kidnapping is not in the FBI's jurisdiction. If you need it to be, have the attempted kidnapper be a suspect in something that is a Federal case. The FBI does not help civilians solve crimes. There is nothing that says an agent could not help a spouse, but if it's a crime the agent's administrators would be rather unhappy that the agent is helping a spouse and not providing the information to the proper law enforcement channels. Agents can be fired, and are, for using FBI resources for personal gain. That includes even running the license on your daughter's boyfriend's car as a check.

As to conversations, agents are allowed to talk about their activities with their families. There aren't many secrets for most FBI cases and when there are, such as in the case of an undercover, agents wouldn't talk anyway. Most law enforcement people learn to compartmentalize their work and personal life. It's a basic human coping mechanism.

FBI agents identify themselves as FBI.

Jeff

ironmikezero
06-30-2015, 09:52 PM
You've gotten pretty good advice so far. I'll just add a few comments from an insider's perspective.

Regarding your FBI Special Agent taking action to foil a felony (most likely a state violation at this point) committed in her presence: she would be acting in the capacity of a private citizen, absent a clear federal violation.

However, there are exceptions. Some states have passed legislation that bestow peace officer status (or its equivalent) to include powers of arrest upon sworn operational personnel of federal LE agencies (such agencies are typically specifically articulated in the state statute). Another exception might be that she is also is cross-deputized as a Special Deputy U.S. Marshal which can convey the power/authority of a sheriff in whatever (US) jurisdiction she may be assigned/working. This authority is unique to the U.S. Marshals Service, and is the basis for the many of the fugitive task forces (combined efforts of state, local, and federal agencies) whose reach can extend globally.

In the circumstance you've described, if she didn't have local authority, and therefore acted in a private citizen's capacity, she would still be required to make a full/comprehensive report to her immediate supervisor. Any further contact/involvement would merit further documentation. This isn't necessarily a rare occurrence; federal agents (of any federal agency) often step in to foil crimes in their presence (if pragmatic and warranted under the immediate circumstances). Prosecutorial authorities don't usually have a problem with this scenario--after all, federal investigators make excellent witnesses.

Regarding any misuse of her authority, resources, or access thereto . . . There are statutory, regulatory, and administrative sanctions. FBI Special Agents do not enjoy civil service protections; those positions (jobs) are defined as excepted service. She could be fired for any reason, without recourse.

Generally speaking, federal agents do not discuss case specifics with those who have not a need to know--that include spouses. Much such material may be or become classified, especially if a Grand Jury is involved. It was no different in 1997.

mreilly19
07-01-2015, 09:01 PM
Thanks for the info. Basically she enters a hostile situation where an attempted kidnapping is underway and the protagonist is in a Mexican standoff with the bad guys trying to stop it. She yells that she's an FBI agent and for them to drop their guns.

mreilly19
07-01-2015, 09:04 PM
Well, what I'm thinking of here is that she stops the kidnapping and the case gets turned over to the local PD. The bad guys refuse to talk and the protagonist digs into their past, find out some shady connected individuals and wants his wife (the FBI agent) to provide more info about them or escalate the case.

Based on what I'm reading here, though, neither would happen in a realistic world so what I think I'll do is have her refuse to get further involved outside of her legitimate realm of operation and for that to produce tension between the protagonist and his wife to fuel the story.

Thomas Vail
07-01-2015, 11:43 PM
Great stuff, thanks. I think I see a better opportunity here which is for my FBI agent to decline to get involved with any of her husband's endeavors and a potential character conflict between them whereby the protagonist thinks "I've got a major resource here in my wife but she's sticking to the straight and narrow and won't go to bat for me.... what the heck?" The fact I have her stop a crime on his behalf since it's occurring right in front of her could be a good source for this unmet expectation that she's going to provide further assistance outside her capacity.

Following this route, you're going to be facing an uphill battle to make sure your protaginist doesn't come across as either myopically self-centered or an idiot, because to most readers it's probably not going to seem like his wife is sticking to the 'straight and narrow' but y'know, being reasonable about not losing her job. Her refusing to go to bat for him seems about as objectionable as if she worked at a bank and refused to 'help' gurantee his loan application get approved extra quick, or slipped him a little bit of money that nobody would notice missing.

asroc
07-02-2015, 12:25 AM
Thanks for the info. Basically she enters a hostile situation where an attempted kidnapping is underway and the protagonist is in a Mexican standoff with the bad guys trying to stop it. She yells that she's an FBI agent and for them to drop their guns.

Not quite your scenario, but whenever I've seen FBI SWAT teams do their thing they would usually yell "FBI," plus additional tactical shouting.

mreilly19
07-02-2015, 05:07 AM
Excellent point but it actually fits in with my protagonist's schtick which is that as a novelist/screenwriter he thinks things are "supposed" to jibe a certain way like in a story- e.g. his FBI agent wife is supposed to conveniently provide answer he needs, and the conflict between the two of them over it wakes him up to the fact that "Gee, this is not one of my stories."