The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across a keyboard

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Military v. Civilian Crime Investigation Who's in Control? Info for Writers with Daniel Chamberlain

In this article, I'd like to introduce you to Daniel Chamberlain, who
was a Special Agent with the Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Recently, he was telling me about a c
ase (none of this is classified, I promise) which involved an Air Force asset who had been working as a double agent for nearly a decade. They were surveilling the final meeting between this guy and his handling agent in Germany. At the end of the night, he got a nasty surprise and the German government was able to roll up a fairly large network. Oh, and if you want another case, check out Jens Karney. Karney was another spy Daniel had a hand in trailing. While never friends, Daniel had dealings with him before it was discovered he was also a spy. 

And now, Daniel, you're turning your experiences into fiction. What are you working on? What genre do you enjoy writing?

Daniel -
My first two books were categorized as "Westerns," but the first was a murder mystery, and the second an historical fiction. My 3rd was my first venture into an action/adventure. Right now, I'm working on a sequel to that. I don't want to get fenced into a particular genre.

Fiona -
Can you tell us a little bit about your job in the Air Force and how your experience influences your writing? Or does it?

Daniel - 
Prior to the Air Force, I was a street cop. After entering the Air Force, I was recruited into the Office of Special Investigations following a fairly brutal crime scene where some of the agents had an opportunity to watch me work. A few days later, I was summoned to the detachment and asked if I'd consider a cross train. I worked a lot of drugs and crimes against persons, but my heart was really in larger crimes, espionage, black marketing and things like that.

Fiona - 
Does this influence how you write scenes in your books?

Daniel -
I'm a very visually oriented person. At the same time, I'm very observant. I want my scenes to be imaginatively stimulating as if I'm looking at the scene that very moment. I also insist on authenticity. I won't make a mistake about a weapon, or piece of equipment, or for that matter, an investigative technique. Nothing can be imaginary. It has to exist and I have to know how to use it. 

Fiona -
You fit right in here on ThrillWriting - we are writers who strive to write it right and readers who like to be entertained and also learn cool new stuff (that's the technical term) from the books they choose.

How were you trained to enter a scene? As an investigator can you take us through the steps and thought processes?

Daniel - 
A scene - as in crime scene - may have defined borders, but initially you may not know this. You have to enter from the spot it was discovered, or as closely as you can. I stop and do an overall scan to get a sense of the scene, then I move closer to my point of observation, mentally marking anything that may be of evidentiary value, what I might want photographs of later. I decide what track I'll use when entering, because nothing irritates me more than someone who blunders into a scene and steps on things that could be evidence. (Read more about that and Locard's Exchange Principle HERE)

After I decide the route I'll use to enter, I do so, slowly and with great deliberation. Even a fleck of blood is evidence.

I once had an agent step into a death scene and accidentally kick an expended bullet that had gone through the victim's head, bounced off the ceiling and lay on the floor at the entrance to the apartment.

Fiona - 
You mentioned kicking a spent bullet case. What other things might you be on the lookout for? How do you decide that something is significant?

Daniel - 
Ah, everything has the potential to be significant. I didn't work this case, but OSI had a murder involving a Non-Commissioned Officer in base housing. He was bludgeoned on his patio. The case agent swept the patio with a vacuum. In the bag, they found a grasshopper with one broken leg. Later, once they'd identified a suspect, a search of his room involved taking his clothing that he'd worn that day. In the cuff of his pants, they found the broken leg of the grasshopper!

Often, one doesn't know initially what will be significant and what won't. So, you take way more than you need to, and sort it out later.

Fiona - 
Very cool story.

You worked in public arena and in the military dealing with criminal activity. Here at ThrillWriting, we're trying to help writers write it right. Are there any differences writers need to be fined tuned about -- differences in how crimes are handled by these two entities?

Daniel -
I think the biggest difference isn't so much how things are done technically, but what resources are available to various departments. 

If you watch CSI, you get a very false idea of how crimes are processed in major departments. It's exciting and thrilling, and nothing could be further from the truth. 

Crime scene processors, or criminalists are methodical people who gather evidence, bag it, tag it and the majority of it is sent to a crime lab for inspection and analysis. That's not to say major departments don't have labs at their disposal, but many departments across the country rely on contract labs, or the FBI. The military has some very good crime labs as well, but in many cases we send our stuff to the FBI. Regardless, very little of it is thrilling.

Fiona - 
When is the military investigator the one who covers the crime and when is it a public investigator?

Daniel - 
Jurisdiction is determined using several factors. 
  • If the victim is involved with the Department of Defense, and the likelihood the perpetrator is as well, but the crime occurs off base, then it's a joint venture. 
  • If the crime occurs on base, it's the military's purview. Many of my investigations occurred off base, particularly the espionage investigations, black marketing and fraud. In these instances, we briefed the cases to the US Attorney, and if they wanted to exercise control, we'd bring in the FBI.
Fiona - 
What if you cross catch the bad guy? The military catches a civilian or vice versa, is there a hand over? How does that work?

Daniel -
A lot depends on what crime has been committed. But, we cannot prosecute a civilian for a crime against persons. We must brief the case to a civilian prosecutor. If the bad guy has been apprehended, then he's turned over to a civilian authority with the appropriate jurisdiction. Any crime that occurs on a military base, is a Federal crime and depending on the severity, the FBI gets first shot at seeking prosecution. On the other hand, we often investigate civilian entities independently of the FBI when there is a service connection, such as contractor fraud or espionage.

Fiona - 
If it's a military arrest is the brig (vocab?) like a jail house?

Daniel - 
The Air Force calls it a "Detention Facility." I don't now about the other branches. There are military and federal prisons...but that comes later.

The detention facility functions like a jail in terms of processing prisoners.

Fiona - 
When you read accounts in books or see them on TV or in the movies, what do writers do that make you throw your hands in the air and scream?

Daniel - 
Where do I start? 

For one, the use of weapons, while technically correct, tends to be fanciful. A whole lot of missing goes on in real life. I want to throw something at the television when I watch the investigator moving from room to room and apparently deliberately ignoring the very closet the bad guy will come out of and knock them on the head! 

Speaking of knocking people on the head, that gets way over used in Hollywood. Knocking someone on the head hard enough to knock them out, will more times than not, result in a brain bleed!

On my web site, daniel-chamberlain.com, I have several essays on death scenes, violence, firearms nomenclature and capabilities, aimed at writers who don't have any experience in those areas.
Also, I hate the Bourne movies where it appears the CIA has every surveillance camera in the world patched into their command center
It's total bull crap! They want you to believe there's a bustling command center monitoring every terrorist hot spot in the world. Total fantasy.


Fiona - 
Wait! You mean that stuff's not true????

So let's go to something that is true. It's a tradition on ThrillWriting that we ask the story behind your favorite scar. Will you indulge us?


Daniel - 
One evening, I was talking to a member of the Ojibwa nation named Ray, and he noticed a scar on my right wrist. He asked me where I got it. I told him I’d received it in a fight with a drunk driver suspect. Ray asked, “Did you win?” I replied, “Well, I got the handcuffs on him and took him to jail, so I suppose you could say I won.” Ray thought for a moment, and then asked, “Does he have a scar?” I smiled, “No, Ray, I don’t think he does.” Ray nodded. After a few seconds he said, “You lost.” “How do you figure that, Ray?” I asked. “For the rest of your life, you’ll remember his name. But he can forget he ever knew you.” Ray’s wisdom was soon forgotten. Then, about 20 years later, I encountered the man who I’d arrested and said,” How are you Merlin?” He looked at me for a moment, and asked, “Do I know you?”

Fiona - 
So good. Thank you for sharing.

So tell me about one of your books. What about that story was compelling to you?

Daniel - 
My latest and it's a thriller/mystery with totally authentic tradecraft. A little Jason Bourne but with a real smart ass for a protagonist, rather than a brooding Matt Damon. 

Amazon Link
Fiona - 
We love authentic tradecraft! And my gosh - your cover! It's beautiful.

Daniel - 
The story revolves around an organization that was ended at the close of WWII, but resurrected under Reagan (fiction)







You can stay in touch with Daniel on Facebook. 


As always, a big thank you ThrillWriters and readers for stopping by. Thank you, too, for your support. When you buy my books, you make it possible for me to continue to bring you helpful articles and keep ThrillWriting free and accessible to all.


1 comment: