If you’re hooked on Serial (and have already listened to today’s new episode) then you might be interested in an interview we did about the science of false confessions.
There has been discussion about Jay’s interrogation and the power of eyewitness testimony—even without physical evidence.
Listen to the interview with journalist Doug Starr:
On why people give false confessions:
“First of all, there’s a group of people who confess falsely to something because there’s something wrong with them. More than 200 people confessed to the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. … But there are external reasons as well. … If you’re held in a room and you think there’s no way out, but you’re sure that the justice system will eventually exonerate you, you might actually confess just to get out of the situation. When you’re in a situation where [your] denial is batted away no matter what you say and they start lowering the barrier of confession … it becomes the easy way out. Interestingly, naive people, with faith in the justice system, tend to confess more because they’re sure something will work out on the other side. The trouble is confession trumps everything. Even physical evidence will bend once somebody’s confessed because confessions are so compelling.”
Okay, so a lot of media screws this one up. Interpol is a just an advisory agency. Today it’s a part of the UN, though the organization actually dates back to the 1920s (as the International Criminal Police Commission).
They have no actual law enforcement powers of their own, and they have no direct involvement in criminal investigations. Interpol agents pass information to governments and function as administrative liaisons between national law enforcement agencies.
Today, Interpol is mostly just the curator of multinational databases, including things like: fugitive warrants, arrests, fingerprints, and general crime statistics. Interpol Agents are more likely to be tasked with assisting local police in actually having access to, and being able to use those databases, than being asked to consult on specific crimes.
If you’re doing sociological analysis of criminal trends, they’re actually a fantastic source, but, they don’t actually do anything.
They’re not spies, they don’t hunt down criminals across national borders, showing up at crime scenes unannounced. They push paper around. That isn’t to say their services aren’t useful, but they’re not some kind of transnational FBI agent.
Further, Interpol does adhere to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which pretty quickly takes out your “covert assassin” concept at the knees.
If your character is a spy, an Interpol Agent would actually be a pretty terrible cover, unless the intent is just to bug a police detective’s office, get out, and disappear. It’s not a cover they can take into the field, doesn’t provide much freedom of action, and Interpol won’t authenticate it.
On the question of stealthy weapons, one of those things doesn’t depend on an explosion to function. Which will make it much quieter. But ultimately this is a “right tool for the right job” kind of situation.
Remember, in Europe, tight gun control is the norm. If your character is caught by local law enforcement with a suppressed weapon, that’s probably going to be serious jail time. I’m not sure what the fallout from an Interpol Agent going off and operating as a vigilante would be, but the scandal would almost certainly massive.
If your character is going the spy route, The Bourne Identity might be worth reading. Even if you’ve seen the film, dig up a copy. It’s not a fantastic book, but there’s a lot of basic tradecraft in there.
If you’re willing to dig through RPG systems, AEG’s Spycraft core books can work as a basic primer for writing espionage themed fiction, including what you’re describing. The core books are somewhat agnostic on the martini/stale beer spectrum, but, they do specifically provide information for stories of both varieties.
The following is taken from Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide For Writers by Lee Lofland and published by Howdunit.I recommend all three books in the series. The Forensics book and the book on poisons are all worth the money. If you’re low on cash, put them on your Christmas list. If you want to write crime novels, procedurals, or anything involving the police or investigations, it’s really worth a look.
This is taken from the first portion of the section on Undercover Cops, which is really interesting in it’s own right. So, take a look.
Police officers who work undercover are usually detectives from one division or another within a police department. Any officer, from any section of a police department, may be called upon to work a covert assignment; however, to work in the capacity as an undercover officer (UC), they must first learn to rid themselves of all the habits that would give them away as cops. Police officers have a tendency to walk with their arms out and away from their bodies a bit more than the average person, because they’re so used to wearing a gun. If police officers allow their arms to hang normally at their sides, the hammer of their sidearms (pistols or revolvers) will cut, scratch, or scrape the skin near their elbows.
Police officers prefer to sit with their backs to the wall when in public buildings, such as restaurants. This habit allows the officer to watch the entrance and exits of the business, and prevents a criminal from sneaking up on him. Officers have a tendency to absent-mindedly tug upwardon their belts or waistbands–pulling up their pants, because they’re used to the weight of their equipment hanging from their Sam Browne belts.
Police officers are naturally suspicious of people, so they have a tendency to examine others carefully with their eyes, watching every move. They stand with a familiar defensive stance–one foot slightly forward with their gun-hand side to the rear. Police officers look people directly in the eyes when speaking, and they wear clothing that almost spells out the word cop, such as the combination of black, spit-shined shoes with jeans.
Seasoned police officers ask questions–lots of them. They constantly interrogate people; they’re hyperaware of their surroundings, and they drive defensively, always wearing their seatbelts and their hands positioned at the 10 and 2 positions on the steering wheel. These are great traits for uniformed police officers, but not for cops who are attempting to hide their identities.
Crooks look for these surefire signs of police officers. They watch the actions of anyone new in their group, and they ask questions. They ask if the stranger is a police officer, and they sometimes test the newcomers by asking them to perform illegal acts…Officers can be forced to expose their identities, or blow their covers, if a heinous crime is about to take place. They must stop the commission of any capital crime, such as murder or rape. Sometimes the officers are fortunate and can stop the crime by alerting back-up officers and having them foil the crime, which allows the undercover officer to maintain his secret identity.
Police officers have been known to work “deep undercover,” keeping their identities hidden for periods as long as two or three years. This deep undercover mission is the most difficult assignment an officer can encounter. Working in an assumed role for such a lengthy period can have adverse effects. The officer can easily succumb to a criminal lifestyle. He’s surrounded by the criminal element for so long he begins to think and act like the very criminals who are the targets of his investigation. Undercover officers sometimes develop actual friendships with these criminals. It’s important for a department to rotate undercover assignments to prevent officers from giving in to the pressures associated with the project.
Police officers are human. They have emotions like anyone else, and they can become sympathetic or emotionally attached to their target criminals; therefore it’s up to supervisors to monitor the officer’s well-being and state of mind. In the event that adverse mannerisms or behaviors develop in the officer’s character, her assignment to the mission should be terminated immediately. (p. 89-90)
–Police Procedure & Investigation: A Guide for Writers by Lee Lofland
The book is really good, I’m telling you. Some other good sources of research in media for undercover operatives are:
Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino
The Departed (2006) Martin Scorsese
The Shield (2002-2008) with Michael Chiklis
Heat (1995) Michael Mann with Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Val Kilmer. (This isn’t undercover, so much as a story about the similarities between cops and the crooks they chase.)
I really recommend looking into police procedure and investigation techniques, even if your character is a PI and not a cop. The more you know, the more realistic your story will get. If anything, the major problem I’ve found with most of the Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy stories that lean towards the PI is a genuine lack of understanding for how cops, investigations, and people who live the lifestyle actually function.
So, I hope this helps.