Created By: SKJAM on November 9, 2010 Last Edited By: SKJAM on November 12, 2010

FBI Agent

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An agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or one of its fictional counterparts.

The FBI is the investigative branch of the United States of America's Department of Justice, and is generally considered the top law enforcement agency in the USA. It was founded as the Bureau of Investigation in 1908, using agents transferred from the Secret Service. At first, its duties and powers were limited, as was its effectiveness. When J. Edgar Hoover was appointed Director in 1924, he began reorganizing and strengthening the Bureau, which gained its current name in 1935. In addition to a near-tyrannical management of the Bureau's internal structure, J. Edgar worked hard to project an image of tough, intelligent and dedicated agents to the outside world, particularly the media.

This worked well from the late 1920s through the 1950s; "G-Men" were seen in fiction as incorruptible forces for law and America, with very rare exceptions. However, J. Edgar Hoover's suspicion of the politics and motivations of prominent civil rights activists, and growing paranoia about the social changes in America, caused the FBI's activities to become increasingly out of step with the times. Mishandled cases and other scandals, some decades old, were talked about more publicly. After Hoover died in 1972, a law previously passed to limit the tenure of FBI directors came into effect. Scurrilous rumors of J. Edgar's sexual pecadillos or connection to organized crime figures got a lot more play once he couldn't sic his agents on those reporting them.

Media portrayals of the FBI since then have depicted a flawed but usually well-meaning organization, some of whose agents are corrupt or evil. Works of fiction will often use a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of the FBI and Hoover.

FBI agents during the majority of the Hoover period were Always Male (there had been female agents before he took office, but he felt that women were unsuited for the work) and agents of color were rare to non-existent, which made working in certain communities, especially infiltration, difficult. Special agents must have a 4-year ("bachelor's") college degree, with a preference given to Law and Accounting.

Sometimes overlaps with Men in Black.

Works that feature the FBI or its agents include:

  • The James Cagney movie G-Men, was released in 1935, and was the first movie about the renamed FBI.
  • FBI agent Lemmy Caution appeared in Peter Chaney's novels This Man Is Dangerous (1936) and Can Ladies Kill? (1938).
  • Will Graham and Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs.
  • The F.B.I., a television show with fictionalized versions of real FBI cases, starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
  • Twin Peaks featured FBI agent Dale Cooper.
  • X Files has a fictitious two-person "department" of the FBI that investigates possibly paranormal connections to cases.

Your thoughts, more examples?

Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • November 9, 2010
    FBI is highly prominent in the seventh season of 24, at least the Washington D.C. branch. Agents include Love Interest Renee Walker and her boss Larry Moss. Eventually, the D.C. branch is overrun by the events of the day (not to mention the nationanwide inteligence infiltration by African militia no less) and has to be saved by merging with "CTU Lite" (ie.: Chloe O'Brian).

    Agents of the FBI are also featured in the show NCIS with Tobias Fornell being somewhat a regular in the show. They even get to play Internal Affairs on the NCIS Main Yard in one episode.

  • November 9, 2010
    The FBI is an important part of the plot in the Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang. Rex Stout (the author) really hated J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, so the novel is pretty much entirely a Take That against them.

    The FBI show up (and torture the player character) in Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

    The FBI are all over the place in Tom Clancy's Ryanverse novels. Several FBI agents are major characters, including one who saves the life of Ryan's daughter during a terrorist attack.
  • November 9, 2010
    Veronica Mars (Donut Run): Two FBI agents come to Neptune to investigate Duncan's disappearance, but they spend most of their time snarking about backwater Neptune and belittling Sheriff Lamb. They are portrayed as Lawful Neutral leaning toward Good (and one of them is Lucy Lawless!)
  • November 9, 2010
    • Booth from Bones.
    • In Castle, Beckett has an ex in the FBI who she occasionally hits up for favors.
    • Fitz from The Wire. He's friendly with McNulty; as a rule, he genuinely wants to help the Baltimore police department with whatever problem they have that needs federal resources, but is constrained by the department's post-9/11 focus on counterterrorism.
    • In Leverage, FBI agents Taggert and McSweeten pop up once or twice a season. They're portrayed as well-meaning but incompetent; it's a Running Gag that the scams in all their episodes have the side effect of giving them a gift-wrapped high-profile arrest (in one case literally -- Parker tapes a bow on the guy before locking him in McSweeten's trunk).
  • November 9, 2010
    • Dog Day Afternoon. FBI Agent Sheldon is portrayed as being tough, unflappable and in charge, and the bank robber Sonny clearly respects him. Agent Murphy is chosen to drive the getaway car, and he cleverly asks Sal (the other bank robber) to point his gun up so he won't accidentally shoot anyone. When they arrive at the airport Murphy uses a gun stashed in a hidden compartment to kill Sal while Agent Sheldon captures Sonny.
    • Die Hard. Two FBI agents take over the law enforcement response to the takeover and, as Al Powell says, "They've got the universal terrorist playbook and they're running it step by step." This plays right into the hands of Hans Gruber, who takes advantage of their tactics to break into the vault. The agents then try to slaughter the terrorists while risking the hostages' lives and get blown up by a terrorist trap.
  • November 9, 2010
  • November 10, 2010
    Related trope: Jurisdiction Friction.

    • Heavy Rain: Norman Jayden is an FBI profiler who also has access to technology that lets him be a one-man CSI team.
  • November 10, 2010
  • November 10, 2010
  • November 11, 2010
    Possibly worth noting that Deadly Premonition's Agent York is quite heavily inspired by Dale Cooper. (Or does that go without saying?)
  • November 11, 2010
    In Death Note, twelve FBI Agents are sent to Japan to investigate Kira. They all die.
  • November 11, 2010
    I think that there should be a generic "government agent" trope (eliminating the US-specific agency-specific nature) and the rather good summary turned into a "useful notes" page.
  • November 11, 2010
    Turns out we have a "generic government agent" trope, Government Agency Of Fiction ...which covers both fictional government agencies, and fictional agents of real government agencies. Needs More Love, but I think we have enough examples here to split out the FBI.
  • November 11, 2010
    Jurisdiction Friction example: As the boys from South Park are playing detectives they get trumped by another group of boys playing FBI who take over their "kidnapping" case.
  • November 12, 2010
    Zeke Kelso and assorted other agents in That Darn Cat.
  • November 12, 2010
    Webcomic: Mr. Verres/Mr. Exposition.
  • November 12, 2010
    Which webcomic? The Mr. Verres in El Goonish Shive, is he confirmed to be working for the FBI or a Captain Ersatz of same?