The Chief: I'm telling you what we're not. We're not people who jam staples into other people's heads! That's CIA crap!
In popular perception (or at least in popular media), the Federal Bureau of Investigations chases serial killers, busts countrywide fraud rings, checks out paranormal weirdness and is generally portrayed as good and law-abiding.
The Central Intelligence Agency, on the other hand, is often perceived and portrayed as an organization of sociopathic American imperialists who like to lie, cheat, steal from foreigners, overthrow the governments of said foreigners and perform unethical psychological experiments.
Expect lots of Interservice Rivalry and Jurisdiction Friction should they run into each other, especially if they are Working the Same Case. On the off-chance the FBI are the bad guys, expect the good guys to be local cops, either city or county, real salt-of-the-earth honest flatfoot types; for the CIA to be good guys they'd have to be up against the even shadowier NSA. Or actual bad guys, of course.
Interestingly, the FBI is very much aware of this trope. FBI agents are taught to be courteous and professional specifically for the purpose of contrasting with the negative CIA stereotype. As a result, there have been cases where CIA informants have requested FBI handlers because of the bureau's reputation.
There is some overlap however, with the abuses of the longtime FBI head, J.Edgar Hoover, being exposed. The reports of him blackmailing politicians, persecuting political dissidents like Martin Luther King Jr., falsely claiming Ma Barker was a crime boss to excuse killing her in the crossfire of a shootout with the Barker Gang, ruining the lives of competent agents like Melvin Purvis so he could claim all the credit of their work for himself, as well as allegations such as being blackmailed by the mob for being a transvestite have done much to blacken the name of the FBI under his tenure. Now, the image of the FBI is about stressing how much they have moved beyond the legacy of that hypocritical bully... something not helped by the fact that their headquarters still bears Hoover's name.
More recently, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been increasingly portrayed in fiction as engaging in the same kind of dirty operations as the CIA, or even being a full-fledged State Sec of the United States, staffed exclusively by Obstructive Bureaucrats. This is likely a result of the agency's notorious secrecy. As the agency responsible for signals intelligence (SIGINT), i.e., intercepting and decrypting the communications of rival and hostile groups, they would not engage in CIA-style fieldwork. (Although they could and have engage in other naughty business.) See Wikipedia on the NSA in popular culture.
It's worth noting that this kind of public perception is almost completely an American phenomenon, without equivalents in other countries, due to the FBI's unusual role as both a day-to-day police force and a semi-covert counter-espionage and state security organisation. For example, in the UK, the counter-espionage and state security organisation MI-5 is almost always depicted in fiction (and popularly viewed in real life) as being at best a group of utterly ruthless people whose actions might just possibly be justified, and at worst the Conservative Party's private right-wing goon squad regardless of who's in government, while the foreign espionage organisation MI-6 tends to be viewed as slightly more heroic (as is the case with James Bond).
CIA Evil examples
- In El Cazador de la Bruja, the CIA carries out a secret project to create Child Soldiers with Psychic Powers, then murders everyone involved in it when it fails.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex gives us CIA agents who carried out terrorist operations which involved hiring soldiers skinning women and children alive, to break the will of the enemy. One such operative was so horrified by what he had done he takes his war to Tokyo where he does the same thing to make the government give up, while harboring a death wish. This suits the CIA just fine, they were perfectly happy to have him killed and are actually angry about him being taken alive.
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico has a corrupt CIA operative involved in the attempted assassination of the president of Mexico. On the other hand, Once Upon a Time... operates on a general (although not entirely) "Gringos = Evil" principle, and the FBI hardly has jurisdiction in Mexico.
- In Air America, the CIA uses the title airline to smuggle drugs.
- In Steven Seagal's film debut, Above the Law corrupt CIA operatives are smuggling drugs to finance operations in Latin America. Does This Remind You of Anything?
- The newest James Bond movies emphasize the moral grayness of the CIA, though Felix Leiter remains a fairly decent guy.
- The Bourne Series. If the US Government needs to kill off an "undesirable" but have no jurisdiction or other political excuse to actually engage the target, the CIA will just send one of their untraceable brainwashed assassins and frame it on someone else.
- And they're more than willing to kill any witnesses to maintain deniability, including themselves.
- The Bourne Legacy reveals that the NSA have their own batch of assassins, and implies that every American military / intelligence agency has their own collection of brainwashed killers with Treadstone and Blackbriar only being the tip of the iceberg.
- In The A-Team The CIA agent was working with an Army general and a mercenary to steal plates that could be used to print American currency. The general and the mercenary betrayed him, so the CIA agent used the A-Team to hunt them down. He only seemed like a good guy at first note because each member of this conspiracy was pretending to dislike the other two.
- X-Men Film Series:
- This is a large part of the plot twists to Safe House: There is a faction within the CIA (and every intelligence service in NATO) working to cover up their more... questionable activities of the past, believing that given the danger of their work, they are above any kind of civilian oversight or traditional legal framework. Anyone who's tried to reveal this has been killed or branded a "Rogue Agent," such as the two leading characters. In general, the CIA is shown to do a lot of "dirty jobs" and "wetwork", skirting the various treaties and international laws they should be beholden to, as well as altering official reports of events and manipulating their own staff to get what they want politically. While various characters question these actions or outright protest, the old guard maintains this is what working for the CIA (or any intelligence service) entails.
- In The Numbers Station, the CIA is portrayed as murdering innocent bystanders who witness it assassinating people. In America.
- In the fourth film of the Transformers series, a part of the CIA called Cemetery Wind is dedicated to hunting down every single Transformer, including Autobots. They also kill humans who get in their way. On the other hand, the President (technically the head of the FBI) is firmly on the Autobots' side.
- In Get Smart, the chief chastises Agent 23 for stapling a piece of paper to someone's head. CONTROL agents don't do that. "That's CIA crap."
- The Mission: Impossible portrays the CIA as much more ruthless and less concerned with collateral damage than the heroic Impossible Missions Force. They usually serve as the Inspector Javert to Ethan on occasions when he's believed rogue. In Fallout the head of the CIA even decides to keep the IMF active after all of the plot has happened and she discovers the hard way that her top agent was the terrorist mastermind "John Lark" not because of admitting she was wrong (openly) but because, as she says, it will save her the trouble of figuring out how to keep collateral damage to a minimum in future operations.
- Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Played as straight as an arrow! The Vigilantes have to fight Henry "Hank" Jellicoe, a CIA agent gone rogue. At one point between a conversation between a former FBI director and a former CIA director, the ex-CIA director says that he has no redeeming qualities at all, while the ex-FBI director can say that he's been kind to children and puppies. The CIA is definitely much worse than the FBI in this series!
- Played straight in Wildside, a novel by Steven Gould (the same author who wrote Jumper. After the protagonists discover a portal to an alternate Earth where humans apparently never evolved, a CIA agent shows up as an antagonist despite everything happening on American soil and thus not falling into CIA jurisdiction.
- Alias subverts this in the pilot by having a secret CIA branch committing a murder, only to later reveal that the branch is not CIA at all, and the real CIA is out to get them.
- Intelligence (2006) is a series partially about employees of Canada's spy service, and the CIA was a frequent foe due to their habit of planting spies in the Canadian government.
- Leverage: At least one CIA faction is using its connections to a top-secret college club to test new torture techniques on homeless veterans. The team avenges the man who died of a heart attack and ruins the cocky student running the experiment, but at the cost of making themselves known to the CIA.
- In Person of Interest, the CIA look like a bunch of cold blooded killers that the FBI wants to take down. Agent Snow in particular loves to use the You Have Outlived Your Usefulness trope on anyone that works for him. In several instances, the CIA is actually behind the criminal rings the protagonists are fighting. There's also Northern Lights, a related organization focused on anti-terrorism with similar scope and authority; they may mean well but they're very "ends justify the means" and have no objection to killing anyone who gets in their way. And MI-6 shows up at one point and is, surprise, also corrupt. The three agencies each contribute to the Rogue Agent pile-up that is the show, as agents keep figuring out it isn't healthy to stay with their respective teams.
- Zig-Zagged in Madam Secretary season 1. On the one hand, the Big Bad of the arc is a Renegade Splinter Faction in the CIA that includes DCI Andrew Munsey. On the other hand, Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord is a former operative and President Conrad Dalton was DCI under George W. Bush In-Universe, and both are definitely good guys. The FBI is mostly only present in the background in the series.
- In NCIS several CIA agents are eventually found to be corrupt and often involved in the current case. This includes producing the Port-to-Port Killer with an assassin training program; Ray Cruz who abducted and tortured a military officer so he could sell classified information on the black market; and Trent Kort, who was generally reviled but managed to just barely keep his nose clean until he killed Ziva trying to cover up his part in selling secrets (he claims he didn't mean to and the guy he hired went too far, but the deed was done).
- NCIS: Los Angeles: The CIA appears to be behind the series' latest and most serious mole, getting almost the whole team framed by different agencies in "Hot Water": Director Granger by the LAPD (assaulting a woman who happens to be the mole's operative, who later reveals she's being controlled by the CIA), Deeks by LAPD IAB (he really did do something wrong for the right reasons but there's no proof), Hanna by the DEA (dead body and drugs), Callen by the ATFE (dead body and explosives), and the remaining team members by FBI/SWAT (undetermined).
- NCIS: New Orleans: A rogue CIA agent smuggled a war criminal into New Orleans who went on a killing spree when his identity was being investigated. Another CIA agent pinned a plane crash on the only Arab-American on board to cover up that they secretly smuggled in a Colombian cartel witness — not evil but definitely not good either.
- In M*A*S*H, the part-sinister part-ludicrous Colonel Flagg is a "secret military policeman" belonging to the OSS, the immediate predecessor of the CIA.
- The Punisher (2017): Frank Castle's entire family was killed by a CIA black ops group that was trying to kill Frank so he couldn't blow the whistle on war crimes they engaged in over in Afghanistan.
- Miami Vice: In Southeast Asia, Castillo's DEA team went up against a drug-trafficking general with CIA connections. The DEA tried to ambush an opium shipment, but the CIA had sold them out, and they got slaughtered.
- In Sherlock, a team of three CIA agents torture Mrs. Hudson and take her hostage to get Sherlock to surrender Irene Adler's phone. Sherlock tricks two of them into leaving and throws the lead agent out the window. Repeatedly.
- The "Weird Al" Yankovic song "Party in the CIA" pokes fun at all of the controversial activities done or allegedly done by the CIA.
Need a country destabilized?Look no further, we're your guys.
- In Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the CIA Agent that The Squad is sent to support turns traitor and tries to get you killed.
- Naked Snake of Metal Gear Solid 3 is a CIA agent, but is also a good guy... At first.
- Played completely straight in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker also portrays the CIA as being one of the villains. Well, kind of: The group that was in Costa Rica, the Peace Sentinels, while technically of CIA origin, was apparently a rogue CIA group from some hints dropped in the game.
- Averted in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, where Snake was revealed to be a former CIA agent, and besides which, one of his radio contacts, Holly White, was a CIA agent, and yet was not a bad person at all.
- In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the player assumes control of a soldier recruited as an undercover CIA operative who participates in a Russian airport massacre.
- To be fair, you don't even have to shoot any civilians or cops until the riot teams start arriving toward the end.
- In Muv-Luv Alternative, the CIA is implied to have manipulated events that result in a coup towards the Imperial Japanese government, nearly killed the Japanese Shogun, and the destruction of a battalion of American F-22A Raptors, as well as the elite of Imperial Japan's army.
- In Spec Ops: The Line, the CIA's goal appears to be defeating the 33rd and rescuing the civilians in Dubai. Unfortunately the actual goal of the people they have on scene is to wipe out the remaining survivors by destroying the city's water supply, as part of a cover-up operation which they believe will avert a war between the US and the Middle East. How much this counts is dubious though, considering the group in question were likely cut off from contact with the CIA proper and acting on their own initiative like everybody else.
- The CIA, sometimes known as the Ministry of Love, is one of the most dangerous groups that oppose the Liberal Crime Squad.
- In Syndicate the CIA has re-invented itself as the IIA, or Independent Intelligence Agency, which is one of the seven largest corporate syndicates on the planet.
- The plot of Yakuza 3 deals with a rogue CIA cell that turns out to be a terrorist cell.
- Zigzagged in Beyond: Two Souls. The higher-ups are definitely portrayed as an unscrupulous lot, their plans including assassinating the elected President of Somalia, putting Jodie's mother into a medically-induced coma, and literally attempting to conquer the afterlife. On the other hand, Ryan Clayton becomes a Defector from Decadence.
- In Mafia III, the protagonist is aided by Agent Donovan, an incredibly shady CIA agent who trained him as a special forces soldier and aids him in his fight against the local mafia family. It's revealed at the very end that his true purpose was to take down the family due to them being involved in the JFK assassination, with the game ending with him shooting a senator who is also connected to the asssassination during his court hearing and walking away.
- Schlock Mercenary: While the CIA has long since faded away by the 31st century, the various UNS military intelligence agencies fit the spirit of this trope. Int-Aff-Int usually plays the "FBI" role, being a beleaguered group of spies who spend most of their time trying to prevent other UNS spy agencies from accidentally starting civil wars. The agency under the command of General Xinchub and later Admiral Emm works in the "CIA" role; they are supposed to be de-weaponizing an immortality project and escorting the human race into the future, but they spend most of their time using this project to mind-hack UNS citizens by putting a sociopathic soldier into their heads, and then using him to kill anybody who knows about the project. Notably, the heroes manage to de-weaponize the immortality project in a few short months after the agency had been working on it for decades.
- In the "Site Kilo-29" story, the CIA has been secretly rounding up scores of homeless/insane people and trapping them underground in a gigantic bunker ostensibly to see what would happen to shell-shocked survivors of a nuclear war. Years later, they've become a horde of cannibals, and now a demonic vampire-Terminator-thing from Germany has found a way in. Additionally, the CIA agents with the team brag about how they raped and murdered innocent farmers during the Cold War, as do another CIA death squad sent to kill the surviving soldiers, and it's implied another CIA squad was sent to intimidate "Sgt. Ant's" family (not to mention a mysterious "car accident" Ant keeps trying to forget...).
- In the season 5 finale of Archer, it turns out the CIA shut down ISIS while pretending to be the FBI (needlessly killing one person through their own incompetence), just as part of a larger scheme to arm a fake rebellion against the government of San Marcos. All of this just so that they had something to waste their budget for that year, to justify an even bigger budget the next year.
- Played for Laughs in American Dad!. The CIA, Stan included, are portrayed as excessively violent, frequently make elaborate operations for no clear purpose, are fond of insane, amoral, and pointless experiments, and the members regularly abuse their authority for personal gain.
Director Bullock: We all know the CIA invented crack cocaine and distributed to the streets. But do you know what we never get credit for? Malt liquor.
FBI Good examples
- In Dog Day Afternoon the FBI agents expertly handle the situation by capturing one bank robber, killing the other and rescuing the hostages unharmed.
- In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI agent trainee Clarice Starling kills Buffalo Bill and rescues the Senator's daughter.
- Public Enemies. The FBI is doing everything they can do to catch John Dillinger. Unfortunately, they aren't that all pure and white, but they're better than the alternative side.
- The Rock: Played straight with Paxton and Goodspeed, Averted with Womack.
- Mississippi Burning largely portrays the FBI as this, despite the different approaches taken by the two agents involved.
- In the Transformers series, FBI agent Simmons of Sector Seven starts out a morally ambiguous, but humorous, character. This eventually culminates in a heroic figure in the second and third movies.
- The FBI Story by Don Whitehead.
- The organization of John Ringo's Special Circumstances series, created to handle paranormal related crimes, is a department of the FBI, and are very clearly "good".
- Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: Played with. The book Hide And Seek has FBI director Josh Carpenter (a good guy) die and get temporarily replaced by Mitch Riley, a total Jerkass who wants to be the next J Edgar Hoover. Fortunately, he gets taken down and is replaced by a good guy named Elias Cummings. Elias ends being replaced by Bert Navarro, another good guy. Eventually, a man named Yantzy becomes FBI director, and he is apparently a Noble Bigot with a Badge.
- 24: In Season 7 the FBI views the fictional CTU as a reckless, immoral institution with little regard for human rights and civil liberties.
- The F.B.I. (1965-1974). Based on actual case histories.
- Twin Peaks: Special Agent Dale Cooper, despite his eccentricity, lives up the idea of a G-man being upstanding, incorruptible, and unfailingly polite and professional.
- The X-Files, but only on the agent level. Further up the chain gets a little kinky when the Cigarette Smoking Man gets involved. Additionally, in a season one episode "Young at Heart", Mulder identifies a bad guy as a CIA agent from a distance. Many viewers assumed that this agent was actually the Cigarette-Smoking Man, but in reality his actor William B. Davis was cast as an anonymous CIA agent, not the actual CSM (the show often cast the same actor as two different characters, sometimes in the same season).
- In the season 10 miniseries, the trope pops up again, though this time it's the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When the DHS is assigned to investigate a terrorist attack in Texas, its agents are portrayed as being uncouth and racist, with the FBI as Scully voicing her disapproval.
- In Season 11, the trope returns, but this time it's the Do D that is evil. They are sent as essentially thuggish hitmen to murder Scully's son.
- Season 7 of 24, barring the few inevitable Moles.
- Criminal Minds
- Although there was that one episode where the murderer turned out to be a rogue agent.
- Veronica Mars, inasmuch as she sought an internship with the FBI in Season 3 and in the planned fourth season, she would have become an FBI agent.
- Monk, although usually just barely played straight. Although they do serve justice, the FBI's portrayal on the show is often shown to not be too good. For instance, in the episode Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather, an FBI agent, Colmes, promises to vouch for Monk's reinstatement as soon as they nab the guy who massacred five mafiosos in a mafia-run barbershop. However, as soon as Monk discovers who truly murdered them (well, its more like manslaughter/self-defense, as the guy was trying to steal a gumball machine as he was using it to hide some double headed pennies that he stole from U.S. Mint, but he didn't know the barbershop was actually a Mob barbershop, but still), Colmes backs out of the deal, despite Monk putting his life on the line and all of that. Stottlemeyer's insistence that Monk not work with him indicates that this wasn't the first time Colmes did this.
- Seeley Booth of Bones fame is an FBI agent who solves murders and is most definitely a good guy.
- Fornell of NCIS may come across as gruff sometimes, and has worked at cross purposes to the main characters, but always does things for the right reasons, and has been proven to be a valuable ally to the team.
- NCIS: New Orleans: The FBI can be very, very uptight jerkasses but their hearts are in the right place.
- A pair of FBI agents are Those Two Guys in Leverage; they think Parker and Hardison are also FBI agents and the team is nice enough to give them credit for a few of their jobs.
- Person of Interest has been fuzzy about this. The FBI has been shown to be the protagonist's enemy, but only because they honestly believe that Reese is a dangerous criminal who needs to be stopped. The FBI have been consistently portrayed as honest and dedicated to stopping crime, and Carter admits they are the only ones she trusts to bring down HR. Donnelly ultimately slides into Inspector Javert territory, but is never corrupt.
- FBI agent Peter Burke of White Collar is the definition of a good guy. And while there is some corruption in the show's version of the FBI, most of the main authority figures of the bureau are essentially good.
- Lampshaded and subverted in the series finale of The Invisible Man: when The Hero is asked why he chose to join the FBI, he replies that they seemed to be the less corrupt organization in all the movies he watched, but quickly adds that they also offered a decent salary.
- The Vanguard Serial Crimes Unit, or VASCU, is one of the Conspiracies in Hunter: The Vigil, part of the FBI. Unlike most Hunter organizations they actually get a fair amount of respect, since they use Psychic Powers to hunt Serial Killers. Of the other governmental forces, Task Force VALKYRIE is rather inconsistent about certain monsters, especially vampires since that's where the vast majority of their funds come from, and Division Six is run entirely for the benefit of the Seers to the Throne from Mage: The Awakening.
- FBI Agent Norman Jayden from Heavy Rain is pretty much the only By-the-Book Cop in the entire story.
- FBI Agent Francis York Morgan from Deadly Premonition is severely schizophrenic and has an appalling grip on reality, but he's also a charming eccentric with savant-level talent for criminal profiling and an unerring sense of justice. The FBI itself seems to pay him extremely well for even the most banal activities and keeps quite a loose leash on him despite his frequently outlandish behaviour, but we might have York's perspective to blame for that.
- The FBI is an ally of the Liberal Crime Squad, if only because they can eventually take down the Conservative Crime Squad
- In Peter Chimaera's fanfiction story Digimon 3: Predator VS Digimon, the brother of said Predator died because his ship crashed due to FBI experiments, causing the Predator to randomly fight Digimon. The story ends with the police having a dinner at Digimon's house to congratulate him for exposing the FBI.
- In Argo the main character is a CIA agent trying to rescue Americans trapped in Iran.
- In Charlie Wilson's War the CIA is seen trying to end a humanitarian crisis by liberating Afghanistan from the U.S.S.R.
- In the James Bond films, Bond's best friend and occasional sidekick, Felix Leiter, is a CIA agent.
- In Die Hard, the two FBI agents are jerkasses who care nothing for the lives of the hostages and are only concerned with killing the terrorists.
- The Guardian features a military version of this trope. The U.S. Coast Guard is portrayed as noble and heroic gentlemen, whereas the U.S. Navy is portrayed as bellicose jerks and buffoonish alcoholics.
- Green Zone has the CIA being good, trying to fight against the Department of Defense's conspiracy to kill a former Saddam regime colonel who's vital to the reconstruction of Iraq.
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: Indy is an alumnus of the OSS (World War Two's forerunner to the CIA), and is investigated and blacklisted by FBI agents who suspect he may be a communist due to his past association with the British spy who just betrayed him to the Soviets. Indy's former OSS superior objects, deriding the FBI's paranoia and citing Indy's war record, but to no avail.
- The President's Analyst from 1967 inverts this trope - the renamed Central Enquiries Agency is a diverse bunch of good-natured college-educated types sympathetic to the hero, while the Federal Board of Regulation are all humorless little men in black who never question orders from their grim, opinion-driven little chief to kill the hero although the former won't hesitate, as a last resort, to kill him either.
- Subversion in The Archangel Project, where the CIA is good, but the FBI agents chasing the heroine and her CIA agent ally are actually private military contractors impersonating FBI agents. The actual FBI never gets involved.
- In most of Dale Brown's work, the CIA either doesn't appear or is portrayed relatively neutrally. The FBI, however, spend most of their time interfering with our perpetually-right heroes, going to absolutely absurd lengths in A Time For Patriots, where they blackmail and injure McLanahan's son Bradley so as to force some sort of confession out of him. This turns into something of a subtle Author Tract when you hear about Brown getting caught in a tax dodge by the FBI back in 2004 - when the negative portrayals of the FBI started.
- The 'FBI good' part of the trope is demolished in the Nero Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang, which was written when Hoover was still director and instances of FBI corruption were beginning to be exposed. In it, the FBI are presented as underhanded, petty and abusive of their authority, having launched into a spiteful campaign of harassment against Wolfe's client when she sent out copies of an anti-FBI book in protest against their actions. They then turn this campaign on Wolfe himself when he accepts the case to get them to back off, only to panic when Wolfe apparently discovers evidence that FBI agents murdered a journalist who was writing an article denouncing them. This leads FBI agents to break into his house at one point to try and recover the evidence. They actually didn't commit the murder, but Wolfe strings them along, holds the credentials of the agents who illegally entered his house hostage and then uses them as leverage to get the FBI to abandon their campaign against him and his client.
- Burn Notice: Inverted due to Michael being ex-CIA (maybe), whereas the FBI are depicted as annoying bureaucratic buffoons (at best) and as corrupt sell-outs at worst.
- On Castle, Castle's father and step-mother, his former handler Jenkins, and his friend Gray are all CIA agents that are good guys but are excellent examples of Good Is Not Nice and Good Is Not Soft. The trope is played straight with Lok Sat.
- In the short-lived CBS spy dramedy CHAOS, the heroes are CIA agents. Although they're portrayed as being at odds with the higher-ups in the agency, it's because their unorthodox tactics don't sit well with their by-the-book superiors, who view them as loose cannons.
- In Chuck, the CIA and NSA are portrayed as, if not exactly good, then at least defending the United States. The FBI is considered incompetent by both agencies.
- The Event appears to be playing this trope straight with Director Blake Sterling, who not only seeks to continue illegally holding nearly one hundred people in a secret Alaskan prison, but also tried to keep the president from learning about the prison and its inmates. This is subverted with agent Simon Lee, who is implied to have leaked files on the prison to the president in order to warn people about the eponymous "Event". The people in question turn out to be aliens, and Lee turns out to be The Mole for them- however, he is still a good guy (unfortunately, the aliens as a whole are are a lot more ambiguous). As the series goes on, Sterling becomes more and more heroic, while the CIA as a whole is mixed with some being involved in a Government Conspiracy but the majority not (the resident Dark Action Girl is ex-CIA), but the FBI is pretty much in the same boat, with most examples we see heroic if antagonistic. Neither are really evil.
- The Sandbaggers: CIA London station chief Jeff Ross is a conspiracy theorist who believes that the FBI is essentially a right-wing militia responsible for the assassinations of Kennedy and King. (Apparently a view shared by the series writer.)
- Inverted in Alias, where the good guys all work for the CIA, while the FBI is involved in the Ancient Conspiracy.
- In Homeland it's more like CIA Good, FBI Incompetent, as they are shown to be overly gung-ho, racist, and otherwise sloppy in doing their jobs compared to the Company protagonists of the show.
- The lovecraftian horror/conspiracy RPG Delta Green provides an interesting example of FBI and CIA good...and NRO evil. note Majestic-12 is partially inside the NRO and uses their assets for their own goals, including the NRO section DELTA, a section of the NRO composed by The Men in Black that hide the existence of aliens and the paranormal, they frequently use burglary, bugging, bribery, blackmail, are not afraid to use lethal force (Although they try to avoid as the first option for pragmatic reasons) and even sometimes act as a local support team for The Greys. Meanwhile, Player Characters are usually agents for the FBI and CIA and portrayed as more heroic compared to their The Men in Black counterparts.
- Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with Mike Toreno who, while remaining extremely morally ambiguous, actually follows through on his offer to get Sweet out of prison.
- Perfect Dark where the CIA agents are treated the same as other civilians and cannot be killed, while the FBI agents are armed and can be. In fact, it's the NSA that are depicted as villains, since they're part of The Conspiracy against the President.
FBI versus CIA examples
- Detective Conan, in which the CIA is portrayed as a Well-Intentioned Extremist organization who isn't above planting The Mole into the Black Organization. This results in one CIA agent having to kill her father, another CIA agent, and the apparent murder of an FBI agent to keep the cover safe.
- To be fair, the FBI had a mole of their own, the father sacrificed himself to save his daughter's life, and the FBI agent faked his death with her help.
- The two-part fan-made Cold Case Season 8 premiere The Wall and The Company play both ends of the trope straight: With the exception of the Victim of the Week, an ex-CIA operative, most of the CIA agents featured in the investigation have either become disillusioned with secret agent work, or were involved with the murder, specifically the victim's best friend, his young protégé, and his boss. On the other hand, the FBI team that assisted the detectives in the "Last Drive-In" two-parter back in Season 7 make their return here and their assistance is just as valuable to the team here as it was in the previous season.
- In All the President's Men and several other movies taking place around Watergate, it is indicated that Richard Nixon intends to use the CIA to obstruct an FBI investigation. This seems to presume that the FBI is less corrupt (or at least less under his control).
- A variation in In the Line of Fire is CIA Bad, Secret Service Good. The would-be presidential assassin was trained to kill by the CIA, while the movie's heroes, headed up by Clint Eastwood, are the Secret Service.
- The Secret Service and the FBI have a rivalry in Real Life, as the USSS is tasked with protecting foreign dignitaries in the US that the FBI really wants to spy on.
- Played with in Mercury Rising. The film skips the CIA middlemen, pitting Bruce Willis as rogue FBI Agent Jeffries against the NSA (though they are at least portrayed as dealing with cryptography). Ultimately, Jeffries manages to convince his colleagues of the NSA conspiracy, and the circumstances flip flop - the full might of the FBI is brought down on a rogue element within the NSA.
- In the Mr. Magoo movie, the agents tracking down the jewel thief are FBI and CIA, and are not above playing tricks on each other. Their collaboration starts with Jurisdiction Friction ("the CIA has no jurisdiction on American soil") and gets worse. The CIA guy tells his colleague to watch for a suspicious individual who needs a haircut, remote-guiding him until he tells him to turn around to face.. a mirror. FBI guy retaliates by placing a bug so CIA guy can listen in. He puts it inside a metal watering can, then slams the side of the can, causing horrible feedback and temporary deafness in CIA guy.
- In The Siege, Denzel Washington plays an FBI Agent trying to catch the terrorists the right way, while Annette Bening plays the CIA Agent who trained the terrorists, and is willing to cut any corner to stop them, feeling remorse for what she's done. (Both are still on the side of the angels, compared to Bruce Willis's army general, and even he's somewhat sympathetic.)
- In the Assignment series by Edward S. Aarons, CIA agent is portrayed heroically (though sometimes at odds other less scrupulous agents). He encounters a few FBI agents who, while not evil, are kind of jerks.
- The Cassandra Kresnov books have a science-fictional variation. The Federation Intelligence Agency kidnaps Sandy at the beginning of crossover and takes her apart to learn about her Artificial Human physiology, and spends the rest of the book trying to get its hands on her by extralegal means. Meanwhile the Callay Security Agency is the Callayan version of a State Bureau of Investigation, and Sandy ends up joining them.
- In the Ryanverse the CIA was initially a rather shady bunch while the FBI has always been made up entirely of straight-shooting angels who recite the constitution to their kids before going to bed. However, by the time Ryan himself takes the helm of the CIA the agency has gotten a lift in both ethics and image. Most prominent example would be Clear and Present Danger where the FBI is enlisted by the heroes to thwart the unlawful scheme involving the CIA and the President's National Security Adviser that's going downhill fast.
- Wedge: The Secret War between the FBI and CIA— The FBI sees the CIA as intellectual, Ivy League, wine drinking, pipe smoking, international relations types, sometimes aloof. The CIA sees the FBI as cigar smoking, beer drinking, door knocking cops.
- The "Mitch Rapp" series by Vince Flynn plays with this concept quite interestingly. The CIA protagonists are all patriotic, skilled and dedicated people who do terrible and completely illegal things to the enemies of the West (mostly but not exclusively Islamic terrorists). The FBI are equally patriotic, skilled and dedicated people who interfere, obstruct and generally try to prevent the actions of the CIA people, because they believe in the rule of law over expediency. Both are portrayed as correct in their view, though the author clearly and frequently makes the point that by the time the FBI follows all of their rules, the bad guys will have escaped and done other bad things. The actions of the CIA people are evil, but they both share the good motivations of protecting America from truly evil people, though their methods are diametrically opposed to each other.
- A German version of this trope also exists: The KiKa teen drama Allein gegen die Zeit features two BKA officers (Bundeskriminalamt - Federal Criminal Police Office - pretty much a German FBI) rescuing top-secret documents from the Ministry of the Interior's archives from two shadowy figures. They later get suspected of being part of the conspiracy when it turns out they just stole files from investigating BND agents (Bundesnachrichtendienst - Federal Intelligence Service - a stand-in for the CIA).
- The Swedish cop show Arne Dahl had an extreme example, with a CIA agent who was also a serial murderer torturing and killing members of a human rights group investigating American torture in Iraq, and trying to frame them as terrorists. A heroic FBI agent helped the Swedish regular characters hunt him down and rescue the human rights group and innocent Iraqis from a back-up CIA death squad.
- Blindspot follows a heroic team of FBI agents as they try to solve the mystery of Jane Doe, a woman with Identity Amnesia, who has been covered in tattoos that provide clues to other cases. One of the tattoos is an FBI case number that the team's Black Boss Lady, Assistant Director Mayfair, is invested in keeping secret; it has something to do with Operation Daylight, which Mayfair and one Deputy Director Carter of the CIA are covering up. Carter advocates killing Jane to maintain the cover, while Mayfair argues against it, though less out of compassion than because it wouldn't do any good—the tattoos are in the system, Jane herself doesn't know anything (though she might if her memory is restored), and an assassination would draw additional attention to the case.
- In Chuck Casey (an NSA agent) is openly disdainful of the FBI, and both his and Sarah's superiors regard them as a nuisance who get in the way of their operations, at best. The few FBI agents who are seen in the series don't often come off well (they'll be lucky if they aren't Red Shirts).
- Criminal Minds had an episode where the FBI had to find a mole inside the CIA. It turned out to be the agent that asked the FBI for help.
- Indirectly happens in Crisis. The Big Bad tries to expose some kind of conspiracy within the CIA, for which he kidnapped children and forces their powerful parents to do his bidding. FBI tries to find him, and to do so have to look into CIA operation themselves, while CIA tries to obstruct them.
- FlashForward (2009) has the CIA represented by Agent Vogel, who, while being on the good side, is not above letting friends and colleagues get killed if it advances his plans.
- He also shot the man who would bring Somalia to peace.
- One of the FBI agents is The Mole for the CIA.
- He also shot the man who would bring Somalia to peace.
- JAG: The CIA and other espionage agencies are evil or morally gray/grey. The FBI is portrayed as using Jurisdiction Friction to take control of the investigation and refusing to cooperate with others.
- In fact, only the JAG lawyers acts like ideal police. Everybody else is concerned with controlling the publicity.
- Person of Interest: One of the characters is ex-CIA who conducted illegal operations on American soil. His superior Mark Snow is still in New York, smuggling drugs and trying to hunt them down. At one point, the FBI comes into the picture, trying to bring down Snow.
- In season four of Sons of Anarchy a federal taskforce with agents from the FBI, ATF and Department of Justice finally has enough evidence to take down an international criminal conspiracy involving the Sons, a splinter faction of the IRA and high ranking members of a Mexican drug cartel. In the very last moment the CIA reveals that it is sponsoring the cartel as a means of stabilizing the political situation in Mexico and the entire matter is dropped to the great outrage of the law enforcement agents involved. To make matters worse, an undercover FBI agent was murdered gathering the evidence.
- Grand Theft Auto V: The FIB and IAA (the In-Universe stand-ins for the FBI and CIA, respectively) are both portrayed as corrupt organizations engaged in perhaps the most irresponsible inter-service rivalry in the history of fiction. The FIB forces the protagonists to commit various crimes that result in untold mayhem and destruction to thwart a plot by the IAA to allow a terrorist attack on US soil so they can get more funding to prevent terrorist attacks, though it should be noted that aside from their willingness to use the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique, which the FIB tops with Cold-Blooded Torture, the only evidence we really have for IAA wrongdoing comes from the mouths of the very corrupt FIB agents that are working against them.
- A Fantasy Counterpart Culture example: in the JRPG The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky, the heroes are members of the Bracer Guild, an organization designed to solve mysteries and apprehend bad guys. Their major antagonist in the first chapter is the Intelligence Division, a government-affiliated group above the law which engages in paramilitary activities, coup plots, and generally pulling political strings from behind the scenes. Seem familiar?
- A major plot point in Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops is the constant infighting between the FBI and the CIA, mostly embodied in Lt. Cunningham—an FBI employee trying to smear the CIA by tricking a terrorist into launching a nuke at Russia so his organisation can have the glory. Neither side is any better than the other, though.