Susan Vaughan here.

Recent revelations of government mass collection of emails and other spying have prompted me to consider how my research for books might trigger FBI or NSA attention. When I began writing romantic suspense, researching meant walking into a library building and sitting down with large tomes or calling on experts in person or on the phone. Sometimes fascinating but tedious and slow. For my first published book, I telephoned the Drug Enforcement Agency in Boston with a list of questions. The Public Information Officer required that I send in personal information including my Social Security number. I also had to ask my employer to send her a letter verifying my identity and upstanding character. A month later—yes, a month—I  was able to ask my questions—make of pistols, make of vehicles, etc. Basic stuff. That still didn’t mean the PIO would answer. She did share the weaponry but wouldn’t reveal what vehicles they drove. Now the information I wanted can be found on the Internet.



The standard issue pistol is a Glock 19, and the vehicles vary depending on the case, some labeled DEA, some anonymous, like this one. But hmm, does my search engine then alert NSA?

For another book, I wanted to know if it might be legal to carry a pistol on an airliner. And if so, what were the procedures and requirements. Easy research. I popped over to the Transportation Security Administration website and found my answer.

Guns seized TSA

The above were confiscated at an airport security check. “Oh, officer, I forgot I had my gun in my carryon/handbag/camera case.”

Except for certain trained law enforcement personnel and air marshals, the answer is no weapons in carryon luggage. Weapons in checked baggage must follow certain regulations and inspection. But does the TSA know I visited their site to look for that?

I had a story idea involving a person who supposedly died in a disaster—earthquake, hurricane, terror attack—but who took the opportunity to disappear because of, take your pick: abusive husband, mob hit contracted, had committed a crime. So I wondered how disappearing could be accomplished in this age of electronic everything and security check. Staying anonymous is easier for illegal immigrants who’ve never had legal status than it is for citizens.


You need money, credible identification, transportation, and probably a fake birth certificate and a fake Social Security number. I learned on many websites that today it’s very difficult, but possible. Not that I’m thinking of disappearing, of course. Are you listening, FBI?

For my current project, a mystery not a romantic suspense, I need to know how to hack into a cell phone or a person’s cell phone records. Does the hacker need physical access to the phone? Or is the phone number enough?


I haven’t looked this up yet, but if anyone’s paying attention, I want it known that even if I learn the answers to my questions, I haven’t the technical expertise to carry off hacking of any kind.

*** My newest release is one of 10 in KILLER ROMANCES, a boxed set by 10 romantic suspense authors, only 99 cents for a limited time. My contribution is PRIMAL OBSESSION. You can find more information and buy links at

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  1. Mary Roya says:

    I have wondered about this myself. Such as asking what does c-4 smell like? There is a television show that clones phones of the people or person they want to protect. They just have to be within a few yards from them to do it. However, how would you find the program to do that. It’s funny now, that the FBI has a site set up just for writers with all kinds of info. Good luck with your research. Enjoyed your blog.

  2. Funny, post, Susan. I’ve wondered the same thing when I research stuff. I figure if “they” know we’re researching, “they” also ought to be able to figure out we’re writers.
    When Amazon advertises my own book to me, I’m always glad. It means they don’t know everything. LOL I’ll share this.

  3. I’ve sometimes wondered if the FBI has a file on me. I’ve been associated with two major institutions that suffered from multi-million dollar thefts while I was there. The latter one was one of the first major crimes investigated by the FBI’s Art Theft Unit when it was relatively new. Heck, I’d investigate me.

    But my lifestyle doesn’t exactly reflect all those millions I’ve got stashed away. How long do I have to lay low?

  4. I have also wondered the same thing, Susan. Great post.

  5. I have no doubt they’re watching you, Susan! Especially after the fiasco in Washington, D.C.. 😉

  6. Kathy Orzech says:

    Yes, I too have wondered. And like Sheila commented, I would investigate me. Frequently travel to the Middle East, research of terrorist attacks, groups and ideologies, WMD, history, counterterrorism agencies — so thorough I could have written the President’s Daily Brief. My checked bags were ALWAYS opened by TSA, they left notes. Strange phone sounds. Unmarked vans parked for hours on the little side street across from my house. Then I felt guilty for causing their waste of time. Great post, Susan. Good to hear others share my paranoia.

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