Scott Nelson is the film industry’s leading technical expert on all matters FBI. Most recently he was Clint Eastwood’s main point of reference on J. Edgar, the historic biopic of the FBI’s founder. A former and highly decorated marine, Mr. Nelson rose to head the FBI’s public affairs office where he was instrumental in the creation of America’s Most Wanted, as well as convincing the filmmakers of the Silence of the Lambs to shoot on location at the FBI’s academy in Quantico, Virginia.
I sat down with Scott for a coffee and a chat near Westlake Village in Southern California, where he now runs a global security and risk management firm. I wanted to glean some valuable advice for crime fiction writers. This is is the first of a two-part interview. Part two will be posted on Saturday, November 23.
A.M. Khalifa: During your time heading the FBI’s public affairs office, did you ever work with crime fiction writers, and if so, what are they typically trying to research?
Scott Nelson: Yes. Typically crime fiction writers want to know how it works in the real world and then how those basic techniques and tactics can be tweaked to create more interest and more drama. Everyone is looking for that new story, and as times change that new story will always emerge. Plus, old stories can be retooled to present new facts and new views.
AMK: As an FBI insider, what is the number one misconstrued notion about the Bureau that you would like to set the record straight on here, once and for all?
SN: That the FBI always screws over the “locals” (local and state law enforcement). Simply not so. The Bureau works hand in glove with state and local officers and provides ongoing valuable training, research, services and support. In fact, many joint operations are run every day.
AMK: However, I think readers and viewers LOVE it when the smart, omnipotent FBI agent slights the incompetent locals and pulls rank and jurisdiction. They feel secure of a positive outcome when a favorably drawn FBI agent is involved. Do you agree?
SN: Yes, but likewise there is a tendency to show cops merely as doughnut eaters. And therefore, many cops – particularly suits in the front office – are quite defensive and constantly trying to prove their worth. I’ve been blown off on many occasions by locals who do resent the FBI and their own lot in life.
AMK: How accessible is the FBI as an organization to independent authors reaching out to it for technical information, and what specific mechanisms exist to deal with such requests?