Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sucking the Sexy out of Spying: 5 UnFunny Facts About U.S. Intelligence Agencies

I've read quite a few books about espionage and spying in the thriller genre. And no matter how outlandish some of the stories may have been, they are still enjoyable because of the great writing that goes into it. How "real" the situations matter less than how much I connect to the character and want to follow them through their journey. So, in no way am I "dissing" the genre. As a matter of fact, in order to thrill and delight my audience, I've written a number of scenes and broken a lot of rules I swore I'd never break because the truth of the matter is--real intelligence can be UBER boring...except when it's not.

When you've actually worked in the intelligence community, you tend to read stories with a different eye than most only because you kind of know what goes on behind the scenes. So when you read  certain scenarios, some tend to make you laugh, while others tend to make your eyes roll...all before the story yanks you back in and you finish read the darn book as fast as you can,  of course.

So, today I thought I'd share a blog about some of the Intelligence Community fallacies that tend to make me chuckle or give me a quick eye roll when I see them in fiction.

1. Gun Play? No Way

I'm always amazed at the number of guns in espionage/spy novels--especially those stories that take place in the United States. Firefights galore, bombs, bombs, bombs.Ummm...not so much. FBI Agents are law enforcement and thus carry guns. CIA? NSA? Uh-uh. Some DIA personnel carry sidearms if they're operating forward in war zones. But in the United States--nope. Of course there are special operations groups and covert operations conducted  all over the place and the personnel involved do a lot of cool, dangerous, stuff in some parts of the world. But the truth is, the real purpose of the Intelligence Community is to prevent that kind of crazy chaos from happening waaaaaaay before an international villain can get their hand on a gun or a bomb and they do a good job MOST of the time. It's not a bad record if you think about the enemies Americans face today. 

2. Spying = Schmoozing

As I said before, while there's a lot of sexy stuff going on in the intelligence community the overwhelming majority of spy work is, well, kind of boring. If you're a CIA Case Officer without the big recruitment, your days are spent trying to find one. You know how they do that? Talk to people. Wine and dine. And talk. And wine and dine. Schmooze. And talk some more. Then they get the thrill of going back to the station and--wait for it--writing it all up in cables and reports. Exciting, right? I'm exaggerating a touch Just a touch. Of course they meet a lot of interesting people and some of those interesting people turn out to have big secrets to sell. But getting to that point is a long slow process of talking to people and eliciting information.

3. NSA = Nerds

Nothing brings a chuckle faster than a BADASS No Such Agency Agent. In 20 years, I've never met one. Nope. Who I have met are the nerdy computer geeks who speak "code" and "signals" and a bunch of other stuff I'd need to be a rocket scientist to even slightly comprehend. We're talking ultra smart, MIT-graduating, pocket protector people. Not bad ass killer agents. But the idea that they could be is an entertaining thought in an of itself.

4. C.I.A. in the U.S.A.

The CIA doesn't operate in the United States...much. The U.S. is the FBI's sandbox. Everywhere else in the world is the CIA's sandbox. There are some few exceptions (which I will not go into here) but suffice it to say, if you see a CIA case officer running around with a gun, chasing suspects on U.S. soil--either he's really FBI or he's crazy...and you should call the police...now.  

5. No, the FBI isn't really Big Brother, Father, or Mother.

The FBI isn't watching everybody for two key reasons: There are too many friggin' people in this country and their budget is too small. There aren't enough personnel. Plain and simple. They can't be everywhere all the time, so they tend to focus on the high-level bad people who are operating in multiple states. Terrorists, spies, criminal organization, white collar crime (like the show), bank robberies. Stuff like that. Uncle Joe's murder? Nope, that's for your local police. Or county police. Or state police. Not the FBI.

So, now that I've sucked the fun out of your view of the intelligence community, what are some of your misconceptions? And does it matter how "plausible" a story is?

I just wanna be entertained. But the more plausible the more I'm entertained. :)



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