On Wednesday, April 12, the Newseum and Dick Wolf Productions hosted the premiere screening of “Inside the FBI: New York,” a documentary TV series on the FBI’s New York field office. After the screening, Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst spoke with the film’s executive producer Marc Levin and FBI Director James Comey about the film’s significance and the FBI’s long battle to preserve individual privacy while keeping the country safe.
Despite the bureau’s traditional reticence to allow media access, due to the high-security nature of its work, Comey said that he felt it was important to make a documentary showing what the people on the “front lines” of the FBI are like. He frequently mentioned the need for transparency from the bureau.
“In as many ways as possible, we need to show ourselves to the American people,” he said. He emphasized the need to build trust particularly among younger generations, to inspire people to pursue careers at the FBI. Levin added that he had begun the filmmaking with preconceived notions of FBI agents as “men in black,” “G-men types,” but the agents’ diversity of background, experience, ethnicity and worldviews surprised him.
Levin’s focus in the film was not only to offer an insider’s glimpse of how the FBI responds to threats on U.S. soil, but to show a softer, more personal side of the bureau. Scenes of agents at home with their families, or teasing each other over lunch in the office, reflected the struggle – known to many Americans – to find balance in an extremely demanding job.
“It’s easy to get consumed by the FBI’s mission,” said Comey, adding that most people are motivated to join the bureau by an honest desire to protect. The pain and stress of the job, he said, have to be countered by laughter and love – and rest. “I often tell my people that they can multitask by sleeping with the person they love,” he said, to laughter from the crowd.
The Newseum’s “Inside Today’s FBI” exhibit also provides a closer look at the storied agency, showing how it has evolved after the attacks of 9/11, which proved a turning point for the FBI. The first temporary exhibit to open after the Newseum moved to Pennsylvania Avenue in 2008, “Inside Today’s FBI” remains one of the museum’s most popular with visitors.