Inside The FBI’s Half-Secret Relationship With Hollywood

When director Henry-Alex Rubin requested the FBI’s help with his 2012 cyber drama Disconnect, he wanted notes on the screenplay’s accuracy. But he suspected they wanted something more.

“They understand that perception is everything,” he told BuzzFeed News of the FBI. “The more they are perceived well, the easier their job is.”

He recalled that the FBI employee who reviewed the shooting draft of his film proposed changes to a scene in which two agents aggressively questioned a journalist.

“I remember distinctly the consultant saying to me, ‘This is not at all how we operate,’” he said. As Rubin recalled, the consultant told him that the FBI approaches people in a manner that “at least on the surface” is “kind and cooperative, and that attitude usually yields much more results than being suspicious or aggressive.”

Rubin changed the scene.

The director was right to think that the FBI is keenly concerned with its public perception: Hundreds of pages of FBI documents BuzzFeed News has obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit reveal that the FBI actively seeks to control and burnish its image through consulting work on films. Over the past five years, the FBI’s Hollywood-focused Investigative Publicity and Public Affairs Unit has played a role in the development of hundreds of movies, television shows, and documentaries. Examples are varied, and include the newly released Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, a biopic about the famous Watergate leaker Deep Throat; the 2012 straight-to-DVD Miley Cyrus romp So Undercover; and an episode of the docuseries Fatal Encounters. The bureau views these projects as marketing tools for an agency that desperately wants to build the FBI “brand,” the documents say.

“If we don’t tell our story, then fools will gladly tell it for us,” reads an August 2013 FBI PowerPoint slide advising bureau personnel how to use the media to their benefit. “Most people form their opinion of the FBI from pop culture, not a two-minute news story.”

Read more at BuzzFeed.