FBI Agents Don’t Ride White Horses

So you’re well into your latest book and you have the coolest protagonist ever, an FBI agent who rides into town on a white horse to save the day by solving the latest murder. His first order of business…to take charge of, well, everything. First, he gives the local homicide detectives the boot. Next he tells the chief to stay out of his way because this is a job for the feds. Then he scouts the area for just the right female to fall in love with him before the case is solved. Now, it’s time to get down to business.

Of course, you’ve gone to great pains to get your details right by watching Matlock and Barney Miller. And you’ve tossed in a great crime scene, some fingerprinting, DNA evidence, bloodstain patterns, a car chase followed by a huge explosion, the agent saves the girl, he defies orders from his boss to wait for backup…and, here it comes, the big payoff…he shoots the gun out of one thug’s hand and karate-chops another on the back of the neck to render him unconscious, AND THEN the agent catches the best and baddest villain ever concocted by a writer.

Sound familiar?

Well, all that’s all fine and Jim Dandy, with the exception of one minor detail…as a rule, FBI AGENTS DON’T WORK MURDER CASES!! And, they don’t come into town and take over any local cases. And they don’t have to be called in on kidnapping cases. The fact that they can work a case involving children doesn’t mean they work ALL of them. Each state has its own kidnapping/abduction laws. Local detectives work kidnapping cases all the time. Besides, someone would have to call the FBI before they’d even have a clue that a child has been abducted. Every single town in the good old USA doesn’t have an FBI field office situated next to the corner Piggly Wiggly, you know. Sometimes, agents are hours away from a town. In fact, they’ve probably never set foot in many of your towns. Nope, they probably don’t know that Dinglebop, Rhode Island even exists.

Okay, I know this one will be difficult to grasp, but here goes…FBI agents do not have a crystal ball that sounds off every time a child is abducted or a murder is committed. I know, what a shock. So take a moment to settle down and catch your breath before reading more of this crazy new information.

What? You want to know what cases the FBI does work?

Hmm… I’m not sure if you’ll be able to handle the truth. After all, you see all of the above in so many books.

I know…it’s hard to take in all at once.

Yes, I’m sure you’re frightened, but you’ll be fine.

What’s that you say? Your literary agent said that IS what FBI agents do.

Wait a minute. Let me fini—


Please don’t cry.

I know she told you about the white horse—

Yes, and the explosio—

Ah, so that’s where you guys are getting the cordite information….

Well, I’m sure your literary agent has a long history in law enforcement (big eye roll here).

Okay, don’t worry about what your agent says. After all, with the way self-publishing is going these days, agents may soon be forced to start querying writers. Now wouldn’t that be ironic.

Anyway, see for yourself. These are the cases the FBI works. No, I didn’t make this up. It’s straight from their website. For more details about the overall crimes be sure to click the link in the headers.

Cases Worked By The FBI

1. Terrorism
– International Terrorism
– Domestic Terrorism
– Weapons of Mass Destruction

2. Counterintelligence
– Counterespionage
– Counterproliferation
– Economic Espionage

3. Cyber Crime
– Computer Intrusions
– Online Predators
– Piracy/Intellectual Property Theft
– Internet Fraud
– Identity Theft

4. Public Corruption
– Government Fraud
– Election Fraud
– Foreign Corrupt Practices

5. Civil Rights
– Hate Crime
– Human Trafficking
– Color of Law
– Freedom of Access to Clinics

6. Organized Crime
– Italian Mafia/LCN
– Eurasian
– Balkan
– Middle Eastern
– Asian
– African
– Sports Bribery

7. White-Collar Crime
– Antitrust
– Bankruptcy Fraud
– Corporate Fraud
– Financial Institution Fraud & Failures
– Health Care Fraud
– Insurance Fraud
– Mass Marketing Fraud
– Money Laundering
– Mortgage Fraud
– Securities and Commodities Fraud
– More White-Collar Frauds

8. Violent Crime and Major Thefts

– Art Theft
– Bank Robbery
– Cargo Theft
– Crimes Against Children
– Cruise Ship Crime

– Gangs
– Indian Country Crime
– Jewelry and Gem Theft
– Retail Theft

21 thoughts on “FBI Agents Don’t Ride White Horses

  • William Simon

    Thank you VERY much for this, Lee. I cannot tell you how many people have asked a question, I give them a realistic answer, and 8 out of 10 times, the response is, “But that’s not how it works on CRIMINAL MINDS!”

  • Jennifer Brink

    I often wonder when reading/watching stories involving the FBI, ‘Why this crime? How did they find out about this? Why would the FBI travel across the country to find murders to solve when they are officed in D.C.?’ Then I wonder if people who write these things read/watch the news or do basic research before putting it out there. My answer to myself has just been, maybe that’s how they did it way back in the day and the writing community doesn’t realize that like many other things the FBI job description has changed. I still don’t know the answer but you’re reasoning sounds good too.

  • Lee Lofland

    Jennifer – If you read today’s article then you do have the answers to your questions. This isn’t my opinion. Instead, it’s how things are actually done and always have been done. Nothing new. No new policies. No murder investigations (with the exception of death of federal employees, such as on-duty FBI agents, senators, the president, etc.) unless they partner with a local agency. It’s just not what they’re set up to do.

    By the way, though, the FBI has offices located all across the country and in U.S territories.

  • Pat Brown

    Do they handle counterfeiting? If not, who does?

  • Donnell Ann Bell

    Oh my gosh, I am laughing my head off here and so red faced that I may have influenced this priceless blog just a little bit. What a service you perform, Lee. I just want you to know I can’t find Matlock and Barney Miller these days. Are these reputable sources, do you reckon? Funny post. I’m tweeting this!

  • David B. Schlosser

    Pat Brown – counterfeiting is handled by the Secret Service, which until recently was a branch of the US Treasury Department. It is now part of the Department of Homeland Security.

  • Lee Lofland

    Yes, Donnell, you have been a true inspiration this week… :)

  • Dave Bennett

    Thanks for this Lee. I’ve been watching reruns of “Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye” and I think perhaps they have things more or less correct as to what FBI agents do. Anyway, they seem to have had an awful lot of anti-terrorism episodes. It’s the sort of things you mentioned at the beginning that prompted my snarky DorothyL comment a few days ago :O)

  • sz

    Must ad to bucket list. Visit Dinglebop !

    Great post Lee. I too like Criminal Minds shows. And NCIS. However know it is just television.

  • Patricia Smith Wood

    Thanks for this great post, Lee. One of the wonderful opportunities open to writers is attending their local FBI field office’s annual FBI Citizens Academy. In Albuquerque it’s an eight-week course, one night a week, for 3 or 4 hours. It includes briefings about FBI jurisdictions, types of investigations, history of the Bureau, and job opportunities. They even include a session on FATS training ( where the students learn what it’s like to decide to fire or not to fire their weapons) and a day at the shooting range getting to fire FBI weapons. When you graduate and receive your certificate, you will have a much better education about the reality of the FBI and how they function. It’s a fantastic experience I highly recommend to all writers of mystery, crime and thrillers!

  • Lee Lofland

    Patricia – Thanks for the information. By the way, we, too, offer FATS training at the Writers’ Police Academy.

  • Sally Carpenter

    Good info as usual, Lee, and thanks for setting us writers straight (but didn’t “Castle” have an FBI agent as well the CIA come in to assist NYPD–oh, never mind, that’s TV, doesn’t count in the “realistic” department). The list of FBI cases you provided has plenty of writer fodder as is. I’d like to see some mystery authors take on the “public corruption” cases. Writers could have fun with that one!

  • Ken Wishnia

    It’s true: they do NOT ride white horses.

    They ride brown ones.

    (just kidding, people)

  • Di Eats the Elephant

    Wonderful as ever, Lee. Thanks go to Sheila for prodding me a bit to make sure I read this one. I could spend each day reading your posts, new and old. Lots of great info! Glad to know you’re from my backyard, too. (I’m in Greene County OH.)

  • Lee Lofland

    Sally – The FBI assists local department all the time, and local officers are often members of FBI task forces. For example, one of the WPA presenters from last year, Lt. Josh Moulin, is currently the commander of an FBI cyber crimes task force, yet he actually works for an Oregon police department.

    Di – It’s been a long time since I lived in Ohio, and even then it was only for one year. I do, however, have lots of connections and contacts throughout the state.

  • Elaine Abramson

    Hi Lee,

    Both the FBI and the IRS hire outside contractors to help with cases. Fine and Decorative Arts Appraisers are hired to authenticate objet d’art, put a value on it, identify stolen art, identify forgeries, etc.

  • Lee Lofland

    Sure, Elaine. Lots of police agencies hire outside contractors to perform various duties, including some investigative duties. I’ve been approached many times to work as a consultant on various cases.

  • Chester Campbell

    Enjoyed your post, Lee. In my new Post-Cold War thriller, Beware the Jabberwock, I have an ex-FB I agent based on a guy I knew years ago who did some wild things under J. Edgar Hoover. They weren’t your normal assignments.

  • JT Ellison

    This is an excellent primer – but there are circumstaces where the FBI will be the lead investigative agency on a murder – murder of government officials, murders that tie directly to cases they are working on (federal witnesses) and murders on federal land. Definitely not how TV portrays it, but it does happen.

  • Lee Lofland

    True, JT, but murder cases for the FBI are not the norm. And, these (the federal cases you mentioned) are not the cases you typically see in crime novels.

  • Daniel Smith

    Thanks for this list. I’m happy to report my FBI agent is correctly investigating something in #6.

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