For Writers

KN, p. 322 “Training for a Career in Forensics”

If there are no paragraph separations in this article, please double-click on the title to create a more readable version.The CSI shows on TV have generated a tremendous amount of interest in the field of forensics, whether the technicians are in the lab or out in the field at crime scenes. Crime shows (and movies) have changed the way the public looks at law enforcement – not only in how quickly crimes are solved, but how cases are brought to court. As technology has improved, and more efficient ways of assessing evidence have been developed, more careers in the forensic sciences are available than ever before.

It used to be that cops on the beat, or detectives looking into a potential crime, picked up techniques along the way that pointed them to possible suspects. They learned where evidence (like fingerprints or footprints) might be found by using their experience on the job and continued training after attending the police academy. Not necessarily scientific, but hard work and diligence usually paid off.

These days, crimes can involve the dark web, human trafficking, and international cartels, in addition to the forgeries, kidnappings, and drug busts (etc). Heists are more sophisticated, crime lords sink to greater depths of evil, and crimes against humanity are more widespread and complex. We still need the cops on the beat to help keep our neighborhoods safe, but we also need forensic scientists to help unravel the latest iteration of criminal activity.

Let’s take a look at what kind of training is needed for seven of the various fields. You may know someone who’d like to serve in law enforcement, but who doesn’t want to shoot or chase anyone down an alley in order to catch the bad guys/gals. The following specialties are areas in which they can assist without the need of a bulletproof vest.

Computer Forensics: Identity theft via the internet is on the rise, as is corporate hacking, and cyberterrorism. Highly skilled computer analysts are sought after in almost every area of today’s  cyber world. Think ‘Bobby’ in TV’s “Tracker.” Most two and four-year computer forensics programs deliver instruction in investigative techniques, white-collar crime, as well as the laws that oversee the work of searching & seizing digital information, since computer forensic specialists can recover information to be used later in criminal trials.

Cybersecurity: Cybersecurity concentrates on protecting information. Cybersecurity specialists track data thieves, thwart e-terrorists, and guard sensitive electronic information. They generally need at least a bachelor’s degree for entry level jobs, but lots of experience counts.

DNA Analysis: Several colleges and universities have programs to train wannabe DNA analysts, who most often need a bachelor’s degree to start. In order to advance in a career or to work in  a more demanding work environment (think the FBI), a master’s or doctoral program might be necessary. What’s interesting to note is that a career in DNA analysis might be reached through a degree in organic chemistry, quantitative analysis, and/or biochemistry, each part of the DNA investigative process.

Forensic Accounting: This career deals with a great deal more than looking into sloppy bookkeeping. Forensic accountants examine flaws in the records of suspected criminals to find financial crimes such as money laundering, insurance fraud, and embezzlement. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE, a certifying agency) reveals that a job at the FBI requires the minimum of a four-year degree, but another year (Master’s level training), is sought after by employers. This field pays very well.

Forensic Anthropologists: People in this career path diagnose posthumous death by analyzing  skin tissue, bones, as well as the area where the body was found. The skills needed have helped families find closure in cold cases, and are essential in identifying large numbers of persons who have perished in natural disasters, multiple vehicle crashes, and/or in war zones. Training takes years, however, with the minimum requirement of a Master’s Degree (about 6 years of higher education). Anyone with a wish to get ahead in this field would need a Doctorate as well as Certification in the specialty of choice.

Forensic photographers document a crime scene visually, and the job includes taking images of tire tracks, fingerprints, intentional wounds, and blood spatter patterns. Training as a professional crime scene photographer focuses on understanding crime scene investigation and learning about the types of photos needed to document clues and details. The details in the photos can be essential for solving the crimes and helping to prosecute at trial. Since some photos must be taken at night, without bright lights available to backlight the scene, the photographer must be able to take low light (or no light) shots.

In many jurisdictions, the crime scene isn’t cleared until the photographer and videographer have finished recording all of the evidence. This means that if murder is suspected, a dead body is part of the photography assignment. Training would cover what to do (or not) so that evidence isn’t damaged or destroyed, as well as how to collect, store, and authenticate the crime scene photos. (No photos can be deleted from the memory card, even if blurry.) Training doesn’t always cover the fact that dead bodies smell, a crime scene involving said body is horrific, and that everyone must have a strong stomach to deal with all of the blood and sometimes gore.

Smaller jurisdictions don’t often have enough crimes that need photographic evidence (i.e. a fulltime photographer on staff), so this job may be handed to someone a cop or firefighter knows who can take detailed shots. Not the local wedding photographer, but someone who has the stomach for the gritty stuff. A strong academic background in criminal justice and crime scene investigation techniques might be the best way to move to a career in forensic photography.

Forensic toxicologists use scientific knowledge to decide if accidental or intentional poisoning was a cause of death and to determine fault. A degree in biology or chemistry is generally required at entry level. But some universities offer one-year certificate programs and associate’s and master’s degree programs in forensic toxicology to add to the undergraduate degree. Forensic toxicologists might never see an actual crime scene.


*Some degree requirement information is from forensics colleges.



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KN, p. 318 “The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)”

If there are no paragraph separations in the article, please double-click on the title to create a more readable version.

The CIA is depicted in books and movies as either the enemy or our last great hope against the tyranny of despots who would do us harm. The CIA is a USA based, foreign intelligence gathering agency, and has no powers to arrest.

Its Mission is to:

  • Gather intelligence about foreign governments that will reveal any need to defend against terrorism.
  • Analyze the gathered information and deliver accurate intel to the President, the National Security Council, and other government agencies that make foreign policy decisions.
  • Conduct covert operations if needed and ordered by the President.
  • Help keep our own secrets from becoming public knowledge.

The USA was drawn into WW2 after we were attacked at the Pearl Harbor naval base. At the time, several different agencies operated independently of each other, reportedly at times with overlapping duties. We needed to find a more effective way to be informed about the intent of our foreign enemies and it was proposed that all the agencies be gathered under one umbrella, with one coordinating person. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) was formed and  functioned under the Joint Chiefs of Staff as our espionage agency behind enemy lines in Europe during WW2, collecting information and conduct paramilitary operations when needed.

At the end of WW2, the OSS was dissolved and eventually, with the signing of the National Security Act, the CIA was created in 1947. It was to be an independent, civilian intelligence gathering agency answering to the President, not the military, an important distinction post-war.

The CIA has grown ever since, expanding and changing to meet the intelligence needs of the country. There is now a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) who oversees the CIA as well as 16 other intelligence agencies and who advises the President in these areas.

Did you ever wonder what it would really be like to be a member of the CIA?
One of the branches of the CIA most often represented by the entertainment industry is the Directorate of Operations. The type of work done under that umbrella is likely covert and likely dangerous. (Think the TV series Homeland) The Officers must all go through lengthy specialized  training, some of which may include:

  • Participate in a car chase while under fire, with the expectation that there will be no outside help.
  • Climb, run, chase, flee both inside and outside buildings, and over rugged terrain.
  • Train to be alert and ready to make decisions 24/7 with limited sleep and under intense conditions.

Case Officers recruit foreign nationals who have access to insider government or terrorist information that would be helpful to the USA.

Cyber Operations Officers access networks integral in gathering intelligence.

Language Officers support the covert operations where language and culture create challenges for the case officers.

Paramilitary Officers work the covert operations to help in the collection of the foreign intelligence.


If that kind of action doesn’t appeal to you, take a look at a few careers available at the Central Intelligence Agency, not involving car chases and/or rugged terrain. There are many different areas of expertise required to support the decisions and tactics used when carrying out particular missions.

Accountants keep the books and do the payroll, not as cut-and-dried as it sounds, because even spooks have to keep track of their expenses.

Analytic Methodologists uncover new ways to analyze the data coming in, from the point of view of economics, geopolitics, and pure math modeling.

Economic Analysts crunch the financial numbers for foreign trade and markets.

Mechanics maintain the specialized fleet of vehicles in the USA and around the world.

Military Analysts study what is happening with the armed forces around the world in terms of numbers, future plans, and capability.

Physicians supply medical assistance to CIA members and their families.

Security Officers provide the security for the CIA facilities, both physically and with security systems.

Targeting Analysts study the data for emerging security threats.

Interested in a career with the CIA? Can you pass rigorous security clearances?
Information available at


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KN, p. 316 “International Travel, Law Enforcement, and Wheelchairs”

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Sheila and I love great movies and books that include foreign destinations. But, after a recent trip I wondered what challenges an injured protagonist might face when he/she is alone overseas, can’t walk more than ten feet on his own, and must get back home to testify in an important case. I realized that it depends upon when the story is told.

Back in the late 70s, a wheelchair bound acquaintance of ours wanted to take a plane to visit family, but couldn’t find an airline willing to accommodate her needs. Not one, unless she chartered a private flight. Waayyyy too pricey for her budget. She had been a frequent flier for business until a debilitating disease sidelined her. She was stunned by the hurdles she now faced.

She began a concerted campaign targeting the airline industry to make it mandatory to have at least one seat accessible to the physically challenged on each and every flight if requested. Eventually, there were federal hearings and public interest, but it took years for the changes to be made.

In 1986, Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which guaranteed that people with disabilities would receive fair treatment when traveling by air. All domestic and foreign airlines doing business in the United States were covered by the provisions of the ACAA. The airlines did not advertise the changes, feeling they would be inundated with frivolous requests from able-bodied people taking advantage of the law. It took many more years before the airlines saw that it was good business to be kind to unlucky vacationers and wobbly grandmothers. Amendments to the law were passed (as recently as 2023 in its latest version), helping to fulfill its intent.

In this computerized age, special requests for assistance must be made in advance on the airline websites based on level of need, and are digitally carried along with the passenger information until he/she gets back home again. It seems to be first-come, first-served as to how many special needs passengers are on each flight, and those people must be self-sufficient (or have a traveling companion) once on board.

The flight attendants will help with stowing crutches, but are not caregivers. I watched a senior citizen with a broken ankle enter a plane bound from Europe to the USA. Escorts supported her on both sides to get her to that point, but the aisles were too narrow for them to continue to give assistance. Flight attendants were about to send her back to the airport, when the woman said she would hold onto the seatbacks and hop her way to her seat a few rows away. Someone not as strong/determined would have needed a traveling companion.

Each airport/airline has its own system of delivering wheelchair people to the planes. In its best version, once checked into the system, a transport person is assigned to stay with you in the airport until your flight leaves – including getting you to restaurants and bathrooms. One International airport has a central location for all the wheelchair travelers from all the airlines.

An App tracks everyone by name and flight, then makes sure the travelers are delivered to the right place at the right time. At the other end, an escort takes the passenger through customs and baggage claim, then delivers him/her to the ground transportation point.

After you check in at the airport, and have your boarding pass in hand, one USA domestic airport transport gets you through security (and to the gate) then leaves you at the gate on your own, no matter how long the layover.

My own experience: I traveled to Portugal during the holidays and temporarily hampered by a wonky knee that couldn’t support all the walking, I needed a wheelchair to get through the four airports (each way). I took a taxi, a wheelchair, a plane, a moving lift cart, a van, more wheelchairs, two more planes, another wheelchair, and another taxi to reach my destination. I repeated all that on the return.

My new knee has titanium in it and set off the security alarms repeatedly. Pat-downs were required at every security screening and I was told a doctor’s note would not have prevented the process. I boarded one of the planes early because of the wheelchair protocols and settled into my aisle seat. But, just when I thought it was safe to close my eyes, a late-arriving harried traveler tripped and dumped his shopping bags on my head, then elbowed my head as he tried to regain his balance, knocking my glasses askew. I was none-for-wear, and couldn’t have jumped out of the way in any case, but to his credit, reported his blunder to a flight attendant. Twice.

Help was spotty, depending on the airport. At an International airport, I was taken on a tour of the terminal, could have gone shopping if I chose, was delivered to the wheelchair bathroom, and was asked about snacks and meals. In a different airport, the transport people left me at the gate, then forgot to come at the appointed time to wheel me down the football-field-long jet bridge to the plane. The gate attendant helped out.

When it was time to head home, savvy traveler that I am, I gathered my grit and my crutch and entered the first taxi for the homeward bound trip. Four airports, three flights, wheelchairs, and taxis later, I collapsed into bed after 22 hours of travel. A few days later, the bills beckoned and I’m pretty sure I paid the correct people the correct amount of money. I made it through the jet lag and I didn’t see any bodies laying around. It’s all good.

Moral of the story? Make sure you take this essential travel companion: a sense of humor.

If the protagonist in your book has to fly to another continent, he/she shouldn’t be expected to make any good decisions for at least 24 hours, and certainly not be expected to testify in court right away. Why not? The usual culprits involve brain fog, extreme fatigue, irritability, headaches, sleeplessness, and I can go on.

Of course, when the brain goes dead after the flight, those decisions could be comical. Or wickedly deadly. I could have used my crutch to trip a few people who behaved badly while I sat  in my wheelchair, smiling innocently.


*The Kerrians are fictional characters, but all the events in this post actually happened. Promise.



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