FBI Agent Tutorial, What Do They Do? Pete Klismet

What do FBI Agents really do?
by Pete Klismet
One question I’ve been asked by more people than I can count is, “What do FBI Agents do?”  Another frequent one has been, “What is (or was) it like to be an FBI agent?”  
As I recount in the first chapter of my recent book, “FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil,” there is really no set or pat answer to that question.  I’d like to make the answer simple, but I really can’t.  When I received my appointment as a Special Agent in 1979, we had about 183 federal crimes to investigate.  When I retired in 1999, that list was over 270.  I have no clue how long the list is now.

In FBI Diary, I try to answer that question by saying “it depended on which of 59 field divisions you worked in, and to which squad you were assigned. In Los Angeles in the 1980s, I was assigned to an Organized Crime squad. Back then, it meant my squad investigated the Sicilian and Italian Mafia. It was all about gambling, prostitution, labor racketeering and control of the pornography industry, as well as a variety of other criminal activities they engaged in to make a living. We had several undercover operations going, one of which was setting up a pornography distribution business in the San Fernando Valley. Much to our surprise, five Mafia members showed up one day to muscle in on our operation, and we wound up taking out the entire Mafia family in Los Angeles. Eventually dubbed the ‘Mickey Mouse Mafia,’ these characters certainly were prime candidates for ‘Stupid Criminal’ recognition. It’s not usually a good idea to threaten to extort the FBI.”

Other squads in Los Angeles were dedicated to bank robberies, truck hijackings, interstate transportation of stolen property, foreign counterintelligence, white collar crime, and a myriad of other federal violations. Bank robberies in Los Angeles were a plague in the ‘80s, and continue to be. On Christmas Eve of the first year I was in Los Angeles, we had twenty-four, which was then a national record. It’s probably been long-since eclipsed.

As we progressed into the 80’s and 90’s, violent crime and drugs surged to the forefront, and priorities again changed.  The murder rate skyrocketed to over 20,000 in the mid-80’s, with drug gangs fighting for turf and simply because someone happened to be wearing the wrong color shirt or tennis shoes.  Agents were taken off other duties and dedicated to drug task forces, as well as working with local, state and federal officers to stem the tide of violent crime.

And then came the turn of the century.  Priorities changed again.  With the attacks of 9-11, the priorities of the FBI were drastically rearranged.  Agents who had worked criminal cases most of their careers suddenly found themselves trying to adapt to working terrorism.  The transition was difficult, to say the least.  Terrorism cases are an entirely different ball of wax, and I never worked one in over 20 years in the FBI.  We had no training in terrorism when I went through the FBI Academy, because realistically there was only a minimal threat back then.  Suddenly, terrorism became far more than a blip on the radar screen.  I don’t know this for sure, but I’d suspect that about half of all 10,000 FBI agents in the world are dedicated to terrorism full-time.

I did some research to see what the current priorities are now.  They’ve been switched around to where there are now two general categories, which are:

National Security
Many of these areas are specialties unto themselves.  Let’s say an agent is trained to work Cyber Crime.  He or she is going to need some very specific training to understand the federal statutes, and exactly how to conduct an investigation involving computer crimes.  Working and being trained in one of the many areas of White Collar Crime does not translate into a successful transition to Violent Crime, for example.  Everything about the crimes and federal statutes is different.  A former accountant would be more comfortable with White Collar Crime, while an ex-cop like me would transition well into the Violent Crime classifications.  And that’s exactly what I tried to do during my career, with some success.  However, I just happened to be named the 1999 Law Enforcement officer of the year by an international organization for both solving and convicting a group of people who were responsible for over $60 million in fraud.  Fraud?  Me.  Somehow I managed to figure it out, all the time while working in a two man Resident Agency.  Don’t ask me how!

Since this all seems fairly simple, cut and dried, let me throw a wrinkle at you.  There are 56 FBI field offices across the country.  Each has a headquarters city where most agents are assigned.  But, each field office has Resident Agencies, smaller satellite offices which, depending on the size of the area they cover, or the city they are in, can be manned by two to forty agents.  All of the violations you see in the list above can be the responsibility of the agents in those Resident Agencies.  You literally become a jack-of-all-trades, or what’s called a generalist.  You spend a lot of time flying by the seat of your pants, trying to figure out violations you’ve never dealt with before, and aren’t trained to investigate.  How do I know this?  I spent about fifteen of my twenty years in the FBI in RA’s.    If you wonder what I did, and how I survived, that is covered in the first third of FBI Diary.  And then they threw a new wrinkle at me.  If I didn’t have enough to do, and I certainly did, they wanted me to go through profiling training.  And that’s the rest of the story.  If you read the book, you’ll discover how I survived.  Barely!

Pete Klismet served two tours in Vietnam on submarines, attended college in Denver, then was a police officer in Ventura, California for ten years.  He was appointed a Special Agent in 1979 and retired from the FBI in 1999 after 30 total years of law enforcement service.  He was one of the original ‘profilers’ in the FBI, serving in four FBI offices.  He was named the 1999 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by a national organization.

Having recently retired as a college professor, Pete and his wife Nancy live in Colorado Springs, CO.

Crafting Killer Thrillers ~ Steven James

Steven James is the national bestselling author of The Pawn, Opening Moves and The King. Publishers Weekly has called him a “master storyteller at the peak of his game.” John Raab, the editor, of Suspense Magazine raves, “Steven James sets the new standard in suspense writing.” Steven lives near The Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, three daughters, two lazy cats and a python named Buddy.

Crafting Killer Thrillers
by Steven James

If a thriller does not thrill, if it doesn’t give readers an adrenaline rush, it’s not a thriller. As you craft suspense novels, it’s vital to remember the essentials of storytelling and the secrets to creating reader interest and intrigue.
Here are three keys to writing high-octane thrillers that will grab readers’ attention and keep them flipping pages late into the night.

Key #1 – Include less action and more promises.
At its heart, a story is about tension, and tension is created by unfulfilled desire. So the secret to writing a story that draws readers in and keeps them turning pages is to create more and more tension, not to make more and more things happen.
So plotting stories is not a process of asking what should happen next, but what would tighten the tension.
This shift in perspective will forever change how you shape and tell the stories that you write, whatever the genre.
Romance stories are not about romance, they are about romantic tension. As soon as the actual romance happens, it is the end of the story.
Action stories are not about action, they are about resolving problems. Once the conflict is resolved, the story is over. One exciting event happening after another does not make an intriguing action story. In fact, it gets boring unless the reader can see what is at stake, unless he can understand and identify with the unfulfilled desire of the main character.
Thrillers are not stories about scary things happening, they are about the promise of pain. Suspense happens between the promise of something dreadful happening and the actual event itself. So when writing suspense, the key is to include less action and more promises.
And then, as the story rises in escalation, to keep all the promises you’ve made.
So what this means is as you write a story, you’ll save time and write better stories if you stop asking yourself, “What should happen?” and start asking, “How can I make things worse?” It also means that stories, at their essence, are neither character-driven or plot-driven. All stories are tension-driven.
For example, you can write a fascinating description of a character or have thirty chase scenes in your novel, but after a while readers will grow tired of hearing about what the character is thinking or eating or wearing or doing if we do not know what their unfulfilled desire is. And we will get bored of seeing car chases unless we know what the people chasing (or being chased) want.
Readers need to know what the character wants.
Readers need to know where the action is leading.

Key #2 – Always give the reader what he wants or something better.
Thrillers fail when they don’t deliver both believability and surprises. Every time a character does something unbelievable the reader begins to lose trust in the storyteller. And yet, if the story does not contain satisfying twists, the reader will end up dissatisfied. So, your goal when writing thrillers is to write stories that end in ways that are both unexpected and inevitable.
If they are not both, they will fail on an essential level.

Key #3 – Include both internal and external struggles.
Typically, the strongest stories will be centered on a protagonist who has both an internal struggle and an external struggle.
The internal struggle is a question that needs to be answered; an external struggle is a problem that needs to be solved.
Whether a story is considered character-driven or plot-driven, historical romance, cozy mystery, techno-thriller or literary fiction, this dual focus on the internal and external struggles of the main character will help snag readers’ interest and keep it. Genre will dictate which struggle takes precedent in the story, but all commercial fiction today needs both internal and external struggle.
Thrillers, despite the danger, action and suspense, will typically include a satisfying internal struggle so the reader will be deeply drawn into the emotion of the story.
When I work on shaping one of my thrillers I’m constantly asking myself how I can make things worse within the context of the character’s primary struggle. So, if the character’s struggle is despair, I have to lead them to the very edge of depression, the deepest and most hopeless situation imaginable. If her struggle is loneliness, I need to sharpen that loneliness to its most extreme limits.

To summarize, stop asking what should happen and focus instead on tightening the tension—making things worse. Typically the worse you can make things for your protagonist (within the contexts of these two types of struggles), the better the story will be for your readers.

Put these three keys into practice and you will see your stories begin to improve immediately. And your readers will keep coming back for more.

Authentic Interrogations in Fiction

3 Ways to
Make the World of an Interrogator Ring True
by Martin Ott
As a former US Army interrogator, I have explored the
subject of the interrogator in numerous short stories and poems. My biggest
challenge was in creating the world and the main character Norman Kross for my
debut literary suspense novel TheInterrogator’s Notebook
published by Story Merchant Books in February of this year.
Here are 3 tips to keep in mind if you’d like to create the
character of an interrogator or an interrogation scene in one of your stories.
#1. Research
If verisimilitude is important in fiction, it is even more
important in a story about truth-telling. In the many drafts I wrote of The Interrogator’s Notebook, I made sure
to keep an eye on recent news stories related to interrogation to ensure that
my references and character backstory did not feel dated. I read no fewer than
20 books that I kept on a shelf by my computer and used sticky notes to mark
key sections. Even after completing the novel, the research wasn’t over as my
copy editor challenged me to dig even deeper to make sure that the information I
provided was correct.
#2. Make Your
Interrogators Real People
Whether it’s a character in TV shows such as Homeland or 24, or the protagonist in a John Le Carré novel, we are interested
not just in what takes place in interrogations, but the private lives of those
people under intense pressure to gather intelligence. We want to see their
strengths and foibles, and the impact of having power over others. Often, a
great counterbalance is to create some weakness or powerlessness in the lives
of these interrogators in order to raise the conflict in the story. In The Interrogator’s Notebook, my
protagonist Norman Kross was a master interrogator expert at seeing the truth,
except when it came to understanding the truth about his relationships with his
own family and friends.
#3 Provide an
Interrogation that No One Has Seen Before
With the popularity of police dramas and military thrillers,
we have all witnessed dozens, if not hundreds, of mock interrogations involving
a myriad of techniques. So how do we make our scenes stand out from what has
come before? In The Interrogator’s
, I decided to have the antagonist George Stark, an actor, only
agree to be interrogated while playing the role of another person. This was not
a one-sided relationships, and the interrogations provided a game that both
parties were playing with increasing stakes. Dialogue is also important— don’t forget
that it needs to be realistic and relevant to the plot.
About the Author
Martin Ott is a former U.S. Army interrogator, blogger and author
of the novel The Interrogator’s Notebook,
Story Merchant Books, and three books of poetry.

Making Fantasy Fiction Feel Real ~ Robert Liparulo

Best-selling novelist Robert Liparulo is a former journalist, with over a
thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His first
three critically acclaimed thrillers—Comes a Horseman, Germ, and
Deadfall—were optioned by Hollywood producers, as well as his Dreamhouse
Kings series for young adults. Bestselling author Ted Dekker calls The
13th Tribe, released in April 2012, “a phenomenal story.” Liparulo is
currently working with director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, The
Guardian) on the novel and screenplay of a political thriller. New York
Times best-selling author Steve Berry calls Liparulo’s writing
“Inventive, suspenseful, and highly entertaining . . . Robert Liparulo
is a storyteller, pure and simple.” Liparulo lives in Colorado with his

Five Elements that Make Fantasy Fiction Feel Real
By Robert Liparulo
like stories that surprise me, show me things I’ve never seen before,
and get me playing make-believe like I haven’t since selling my G.I.
Joes and Legos at a garage sale. Few tales are as make-believe (or as fun) as fantasy fiction—from the ones I call “light fantasy,” like alternate histories and time travel to the hard-core stuff involving space odysseys and dragons. Trouble is, I’m a skeptic, a hard sell. For a story to grab me, no matter how far-fetched it’s supposed to be, I have to see and feel things I recognize, things I relate to.
like common sense, but as a voracious reader of published fiction and a
judge in umpteen writing competitions, I’m here to tell you it’s not as
common as you’d think.
The idea of reality-based fantasy truly hit home when, after writing three reality-based thrillers (Comes a Horseman, Germ, and Deadfall), I decided to tackle a fantasy-adventure story for young adults and a fantasy-thriller for my latest novel, The 13th Tribe.
In the Dreamhouse Kings series, a family moves into a house that turns out to be a gateway to times past. Not only can the family go from the house to the past, people from the past can come through into their house. Someone does—and kidnaps Mom back into some unknown history. Brothers David and Xander begin going through the portals looking for Mom. We
slowly learn that the Kings are in the house for a very specific
purpose, and they must do much more than “simply” find their mother.
In The 13th Tribe, a group of immortal vigilantes try to earn God’s favor by killing sinners. When we meet them, they’re planning an attack on a major city and it’s up to our reluctant protagonist to stop them.
My goal was to make the stories feel as real as possible, and more: I wanted to reach even readers who don’t normally like fantasy elements in stories. I identified a few key ingredients that would help me reach this goal:
1. Characters who feel. The way to a reader’s heart is through a story’s characters. Doesn’t matter if they’re fighting dragons or stepping into the Roman Colosseum during a gladiator fight, a character has to experience fear and courage, love and heartbreak, blood, sweat and tears—all of it realistically rendered in a way the reader understands. In the Dreamhouse Kings, I decided to make the time travel parts feel real by making everything else absolutely real.
poor King boys (ages 12 and 15) suffer so many cuts, bruises, and
broken bones that a popular contest on my website involves identifying
as many wounds as possible on medical body charts. They cry for their
mother, and ache at the possibility of never seeing her again. They also
realize how much they need and love one another, and even find time to
Look, too, at Ender Wiggin in Orson Scott Card’s brilliant Ender’s Game:
That boy went through such a gamut of emotions (loneliness, anger,
triumph, self-discovery) that despite the future setting on a
spacecraft, even non-sci-fi fans ate it up.
2. A character who’s skeptical. Some authors have done so much research and spent so much time contemplating the fantasies of their stories that buying
into the fantastic is a no-brainer for them. Their characters barely
shrug at the concept of vampires or the shattering of the laws of
read a lot of fantasy, but I still want to be convinced every time. It
helps when at least one character mirrors my disbelief. It tells me the
author knows he or she is venturing into fantasy territory, so I trust
that I won’t be left behind. As the evidence slowly convinces the
skeptical character, more times than not, I’m convinced as well. In
other words, the author builds a bridge between reality and fantasy—if
not necessarily with rock-solid explanations, then at least with
feasible theories and suppositions.
3. A learning curve in understanding the fantasy.
“Hey, a watch that stops time—let’s do it!” You’ve probably seen the
equivalent of this many times: the characters instantly grasp and use
some crazy new item or idea. I want to see them stumble, misuse it, make
mistakes, figure it out. A large part of the fun in Dreamhouse
lies in the family’s near fatal mistakes as they rush to find Mom, and
how their assumptions about time travel and the portals consistently
lead them into more trouble. They eventually set up a “Mission Control
Center” to map where the portals take them and what they can and cannot
do in the past.
In Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend
(my favorite book), protagonist Robert Neville is constantly learning
new things about the creatures after him and the virus that turned them
into vampire-like beasts. Readers get to tag along and figure out the
problems and solutions with him; discovery becomes a team effort between
character and reader.
4. Real surroundings and situations. Like
characters who laugh and cry, hyper-realistic environments make the
fantasy elements feel more real—because everything else is. When the
King family finds the house, it’s dusty and run down, the banister
leaves splinters in their palms, when the electricity comes on, old
bulbs pop. Tolkien was a master at this, chronicling in Lord of the Rings the hobbits’ journey in almost painful detail. He gradually pulls readers in until we’re there,
sore—if not hairy—feet and all. Likewise, characters should eat, sleep,
go to the bathroom, whittle . . . whatever makes them real.
5. Consistency. A major Hollywood studio has an offer on the table for the film rights to The 13th Tribe, but part of the deal includes my providing a “mythology” of the immortals: What are their
abilities, how can they die, how does the way they became immortal (it
was a divine punishment) and their time on earth effect their current
behavior? Movie people are particularly sensitive to remaining consistent to the rules of made-up conceits because
audiences can spot inconsistencies easier in the condensed stories of
film (and movies rarely have the time to explain how seeming
inconsistencies really aren’t). It’s a lesson writers of novels would do well to learn, because readers tend to be more demanding when it comes to storytellers staying true to the rules of a made-up world.
Not every story requires equal doses of these elements. Think of them as spices: the amount authors use of each depends on the dish they’re preparing . . . and their personal tastes. But all dishes need spices, just as all stories need to feel real to readers.