In her memoir, It Never Happened: FBI Negligence and Duplicity Revealed from the Inside Out, Barbara Van Driel chronicles her eight-year-plus career as a female Special Agent in the FBI, from 1983 to 1991, during the early years of the assimilation of women and minorities into the Bureau. Van Driel not only paints a searing picture of what it was like to work sensitive cases surrounded by senior agents who had lost their enthusiasm to serve their country and its citizens, but also describes a maddening culture of apathy that rendered the workplace a hostile environment. Diligence and integrity were rewarded with discouragement, resentment, and sexual aggression. The author recounts multiple incidents of shocking sexual predatory behavior that were met with indifference by the established order, exposing an entrenched ethos of the need for conformity and silence in the face of injustice and abuse. It Never Happened traces the heart-wrenching disillusionment of a young woman driven by ideals of integrity and loyalty; it also illustrates the internal corruption of a bloated bureaucracy created to serve the people but ultimately serving itself.
It Never Happened is a thrilling takedown of an elite institution.
Barbara Van Driel’s memoir It Never Happened is full of tragedy, and is nothing less than a shocking indictment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Van Driel characterizes her eight years with the agency as one long nightmare.
In 1983, Van Driel, a hardworking and idealistic college graduate in Kansas, was brought into the FBI fold as one of their top candidates. By 1991, she had resigned from her dream career in disgust. In the interim, Van Driel worked in Houston, New York City, and Salt Lake City, and saw endemic corruption in all three offices. The most common form of delinquency was that special agents would “bang the book” in order to work less and make more money. In New York, Van Driel worked under Robert Hanssen, the counterintelligence agent who was ultimately unmasked as a Soviet spy.
In between passages about bureaucratic incompetency, Van Driel details instances of sexual harassment and assault at the hands of other agents. Some practiced juvenile obscenity; others, like one senior agent in Salt Lake City, drunkenly groped and propositioned her. In sum, the book paints the FBI under presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush as a misogynistic cabal of lazy functionaries concerned only with protecting their pensions.
Van Driel’s story is not told in a linear fashion, but through short vignettes, most of which are undated. Time flies throughout the narrative, which becomes a veritable tidal wave of rage and rejection. Stories do not repeat, but they do fit together. It can be hard to believe all of the accounts, though the dispassionate tone helps to build credibility.
Although the book does not cover the present, it is the perfect encapsulation of the current popular distrust of the FBI and all federal institutions; it is so readable and relatable that it will speak to the average US citizen. Accounts of the agency’s flaws are conveyed without malice, and the text goes out of its way to talk about all of the good special agents that were working there, too. Still, the impression lingers that corruption is innate within any bureaucracy—as no bureaucracy acts against its own interests.
It Never Happened is a thrilling takedown of an elite institution that should be read by anyone puzzled about why distrust in the American government and its agencies is on the rise.
A former FBI agent tells of her traumatic experiences while working for the bureau.
Debut author Van Driel joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1983 with a mixture of excitement and awe, driven by a sense of adventure and patriotic ardor. However, she says that she encountered rampant unprofessionalism, unabashed misogyny, and an unsettling lack of moral gravity at the training academy in Quantico, Virginia. She writes that her peers warned her that she should never be alone with the academy director; according to them, he was a well-known predator of female trainees. On her graduation day, Van Driel says, she was sexually assaulted by one of her firearms instructors. She describes her first training agent as a “swaggering misogynist” who recommended that she quit and find a husband; her male colleagues, she says, repeatedly propositioned her and sexually assaulted her, confident that they would never face departmental discipline. At one point, the author remembers that her Russian language instructor offered to heal a blemish on her face with his semen. Van Driel offers a scathing critique of the bureau that effectively portrays an atmosphere of lethargic shiftlessness, with agents routinely coming and going as they pleased, shirking their duties, falsifying work records, and inflating expense reports. While serving in the New York office, Van Driel’s supervisor was Robert Hanssen, who later became infamous for traitorous behavior. She chillingly relates why she finally resigned: “I had a growing feeling that any danger that would befall me, particularly at the hands of my fellow agents, would never be addressed appropriately. For the first time, I didn’t feel safe.” The author’s moral condemnation of amateurish incompetence is powerful, as is her account of what she describes as the FBI’s entrenched sexism. Van Driel’s prose is full of emotion at times, but it mostly maintains a tone of cool, analytical objectivity, making her indictments all the more persuasive. Indeed, this is a rare exposé in that there’s no shortage of bombshell revelations but not a hint of sensationalism.
A fearless takedown of a major American institution.
KPFA Women's Magazine Host Jovelyn Richards interviews ex FBI agent Barbara Van Drielon how our ethics and values of women must be preserved. Special Agent Barbara Van Driel author of It Never Happened discusses her struggles within a unethical organization while holding on to her own beliefs.
Former FBI agent speaks: There couldn’t be a more interesting time to meet author Barbara Van Driel than the day after the FBI is expected to report on the veracity of allegations against Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Van Driel, a part-time Palm Springs resident, says she was an FBI agent from 1983 to 1991 – the same time Kavanaugh, by his accounts, was playing drinking games and working his butt off to get through Yale University and its law school. Now she's written a memoir saying she experienced rampant sexual misconduct at the FBI and her fellow agents were “lazy” and "duplicitous."
Join Barbara Van Driel for a reading & signing of her memoir, It Never Happened: FBI Duplicity and Negligence Revealed From the Inside Out.Oct 6th, 1-3 pmBarnes & Noble Palm Desert72-840 Highway 111, Suite 425 Palm Desert, CA 92260760.346.0725
Suzanne Lang, host of a Novel Idea, interviews Barbara Van Driel.