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The FBI is finally going to start recording suspect interviews

May 22, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Did you know the FBI hasn't been recording its interviews with suspects?

Neither did I, but a national story this morning said FBI agents are finally going to start making electronic recordings of their interviews, except when it jeopardizes national security. According to NPR at, the standard practice – even in 2014 – has been not to record interviews. Instead, according to the AP, the FBI agent to interview the suspect, take notes and then write up a report with a summary of what happened.

That sounds like a perfect way for certain things to get "lost in translation" on the way to the courtroom or to never get recorded at all. If the suspect and the FBI agent have two different versions of events, whom do you think the judge and the jury are likely to believe? In the interest of justice and just plain accuracy, tape-recorded interviews ought to have been standard by the 1950s or 1960s. I suppose in the age of J. Edgar Hoover that was probably about as unlikely as Hades freezing over.

Still, this might well be a sign that the FBI knows something the rest of us don't about the National Security Agency and its domestic spying and the general insecurity of the Internet. So do the Russians. Last summer, it was reported that the Kremlin has been buying up electric typewriters for its security officials. The Russian newspaper Izvestia reported that the typewriters are used to type up sensitive reports that are presented to the big cheese, Vladimir Putin. Russians have probably gotten an earful from Edward Snowden about just how extensive the NSA's spying has been and they're taking no chances. One account about the Russian typewriters can be found here:

Most indications are that the NSA's spying on ordinary citizens is even more intrusive than we currently know. In a surveillance state, the only way to maintain a modicum of privacy might be to go old school and invest in a pen and paper and a typewriter or to hand-deliver important letters privately instead of trusting them to the U.S. Postal Service.

But I don't think the FBI ought to be allowed to do any of the above, not when a suspect's freedom is on the line. All government agencies, from the FBI to local police to social service agencies, ought to be required to make recordings when they do interviews and those recordings ought to be made available to suspects and to their attorneys.


Article Comments



May-23-14 1:06 PM

Tampering can probably be detected in a lot of instances by a knowledgeable enough computer expert. I suspect that not recording their interviews has probably had negative consequences for the FBI in court. It makes it easier for a defense attorney to pick apart the testimony of the FBI agent. It likely works the other way too, with innocent people being convicted on the basis of the testimony of an FBI agent who slanted or didn't tell the whole truth.

The NSA's surveillance capacity is terrifying and I think there is a very real possibility that they will investigate people who contact foreigners and/or have expressed unpopular political opinions. The capacity is there to take over someone's computer remotely and plant incriminating files that the person is not aware of. Given what happened in the Watergate era, I do not think it's paranoid to think it's a very real possibility.


May-23-14 8:30 AM

Problem is, anything can be tampered with. Recordings can be digitally changed, Video recordings can be digitally altered. Is there any real truth left? Conspiracy theorists, talk amongst yourselves.


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