Memoir Author Barbara Van Driel Writes of Her FBI Experiences

by Matilda Butler on October 15, 2018

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #249– Memoir Writing Tip – Matilda Butler

Interview with Barbara Van Driel, Memoirist

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Hi Barbara. Welcome to WomensMemoirs and special thanks for joining us today. Your new memoir is garnering glowing reviews and I appreciate you sharing your ideas and thoughts on memoir writing. Before we delve into that, would you briefly describe your memoir so our community of writers will know something about your book?

BARBARA VAN DRIEL: Thank you Matilda for inviting me. My memoir, It Never Happened: FBI Negligence and Duplicity Revealed from the Inside Out is the story of a young and idealistic woman who embarks on a tremendous journey of discovery, good and bad. Told through short vignettes, my memoir attempts to capture the feel, the temper, of what it was like to be a female Special Agent in the 1980s.

My book focuses on two significant themes from my personal experiences: sexual harassment/sexual predatory behavior; and the negligence of other agents who were tasked to work sensitive cases, such as counterintelligence and federal background investigations. As my eight-year “career” unfolds, the reader is privy to the discouragement and disillusionment I encounter repeatedly.

With candor, and even humor, I reveal the dysfunction of an unchecked bureaucracy run amok. But be not discouraged — ultimately, this is a story of triumph, a story of a person who perseveres, refuses to compromise herself, and is, in the truest sense, successful.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Barbara, your description sounds intriguing and certainly seems timely. I wonder what caused you to decide to write your memoir now?

BARBARA VAN DRIEL: Actually, I decided to write my memoir a number of years ago after watching the film Breach (2007), which depicts the last several months of the FBI career of notorious spy Robert Hanssen. Because I worked on Hanssen’s squad following my Russian language education in the mid-80s, I was particularly motivated to bring to light certain aspects of his personality and behavior that were not captured in the film.

However, as I began to delve into my experiences on his squad, I soon realized that a more comprehensive survey of FBI culture would be helpful to explicate how Hanssen was able to hide his double life in plain view. This year, I finally decided to move forward with publishing my memoir because of the interesting convergence of #MeToo and questionable FBI counterintelligence activities — the two most prominent “themes” of my book.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Writing a memoir is never easy and takes a great deal of perseverance. In reflecting on your experience, what do you think was the most difficult part of writing this story?

BARBARA VAN DRIEL: The hardest aspect of writing my memoir was trying to explain things I know very well to an audience whose impression of the Bureau would make these things seem almost counterintuitive. For example, my description of “banging the book,” the ridiculous practice of misrepresenting one’s actual time worked: who would expect highly trained and “ethical” federal agents to deliberately and daily cheat their fellow citizens? And more to the point, who would expect those same agents to ridicule and pressure a person who is not willing to cheat on her time? Fleshing out what that culture was like was very difficult.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Barbara, I know many people will appreciate your inside look at the FBI during your years of working there. You have just come out of the experience of writing a memoir. I wonder if you would you share with women who are now working on their memoirs what you found to be the benefit of writing? We all need a glimmer of positive rewards for the difficult work writing requires.

BARBARA VAN DRIEL: There are several benefits of writing a memoir. To begin with, there is a tremendous satisfaction in seeing your “house” built, line by line, chapter by chapter. Secondly, you come to terms with events and experiences that were perhaps painful or uncomfortable or difficult, allowing you to put those memories into a broader context; life viewed from a perspective of now really makes you appreciate all the struggles and sacrifices. Lastly, you get to be the composer and the conductor for an indescribably beautiful symphony … your life.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: And finally, Barbara, one last question. Based on your experiences, what advice do you have for women just now beginning to work on their memoir? 

BARBARA VAN DRIEL: That’s an interesting question. Let me respond and then give a tip based on what I did with the hope that it may be helpful to others. My advice for women embarking on writing a personal memoir is, first of all, to do a lot of thinking: it’s important to decide before writing what the perspective of your memoir is going to be. What’s your journey and how do you want to tell it?

I wrote every sentence first on paper and then transferred the text, chapter by chapter, onto a computer. This way of composing made the words much more personal for me. That’s my tip and I would strongly encourage that you take the time to write your thoughts out.

Overall, you must do the hard work, persevere through doubts, ignore the naysayers, and not take no for an answer. It is a lot of work, it will cause you to stretch yourself, but, in the end, it will all be worth it.

Matilda Butler of Women's MemoirsMatilda Butler: Thank you Barbara. Your words of wisdom will help others. In addition, I urge readers to get a copy of your book and read it both to learn about your story and to understand how you handled the many aspects of memoir writing.


Barbara Van Driel was a Special Agent in the FBI from February 1983 to May 1991. She worked primarily in the area of Counterintelligence, electing to study the Russian language in order to focus on investigative matters pertaining to the former Soviet Union. Subsequent to her time with the Bureau, she traveled extensively to Russia and Ukraine where she enjoyed the various peoples and cultures of that vast region.

After a somewhat protracted, self-directed sabbatical of sorts, Barbara embarked on a ten-year career in medicine: managing a medical practice; working in critical care in a hospital setting; and caring for the chronically and critically ill in their homes. This work was immensely fulfilling, allowing her to express her ethic of care and compassion for others.

Over the past ten years, Barbara has become an entrepreneur and has returned to studying classical piano. She travels widely, both domestically and overseas, but always appreciates coming home to her quiet life in rural Wyoming.

Barbara’s website:
Barbara’s Twitter:
Barbara’s FB page:
Amazon Page for the Memoir: It Never Happened

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