A Yankee Notebook

NUMBER 1808
March 14, 2016

A VISIT FROM THE FBI

MONTPELIER – A pretty typical late winter morning at our house: I was in my office, and Mother in hers; cleaning lady had all the scatter rugs rolled up; cool and gray outside. A couple of late-model dark cars pulled up into the lot outside the back entry. A man got out of each: like the cars, dressed darkish and non-distinct.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Jehovah’s Witnesses. But in separate cars? Oh, well” – and I sallied forth onto the porch to defend my faith.

They came up the ramp (installed originally for our late dog’s sake, but now important to our situations, as well). The first in line, just as in the television shows, reached into his breast pocket, pulled out a billfold, and displayed a badge. “I’m agent So-and-so, FBI.” The second did the same, showing a badge from the Vermont Attorney General’s office. Could they talk with me a few minutes?

Someone, during the past eighty years, impressed upon me the importance of never doing or saying anything I wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper. So my first thought was, “Have I?” and like most people, I had to answer, “Well...yes, maybe.” The corollary to that thought is, “Was it – or were any of them – actionable?” No, probably, not. Flooded with relief, I then briefly considered holding our talk on the porch – an old tactic of mine from contracting days – where the temperature (or in the summer, the bugs) would keep it short. “Sure,” I answered. “Come on in.”

The living room was out: disruption everywhere, rugs rolled up. So we crossed to the dining room table. “Who’s here?” called Mother from her office.

“FBI,” I yelled back.

“Oh, good! They’ve finally caught up with you!” Some people definitely should avoid attempts at comedy. But I suspected the agent heard that a lot, so I carried on straight-faced.

They had notebooks they opened on the dining room table. The Fed took the lead: Did I remember a person who’d rented our downstairs room a year or so ago? (Just after we moved in, Mother converted a large, unused chunk of the cellar into a sort of bed-sitting room that provides her with what Vermont housewives used to call egg money, and causes an occasional headache. This looked like an incipient headache). I don’t keep track, really, of who’s been down there at various times, but Idid kind of remember the woman he mentioned.

“Is this her?” Gee,he had a full-face photo! “To tell you the truth,” I said, “I probably couldn’t pick her out of a lineup, but it could be. If you’ll tell me what this is about, maybe either Mother or I could help you better.”

“That’s your mother in there?” He looked incredulous.

I straightened that one out, and he mentioned that someone using my IP address had accessed a kiddy porn site. By this time, Mother had joined us, and looking at each other, we silently considered it a tribute to our long relationship that neither on of us, not even for a moment, suspected the other. But the agent’s comment had rung a bell. I had received, several months previously, a few notifications from my cable provider of illegal downloads of pornography – can you believe “Debbie Does Dallas”? – and had warned the fellow downstairs that it had to stop; he was abusing his Wi-Fi privilege and endangering my connection. It had stopped...sort of. And now this stunner.

The sought-for character had moved on a couple of months ago, along with his girlfriend. We still have their names, of course, but return their mail as “Moved, address unknown,:” and know only where they were both working when they left. We pointed the agents in that direction. They closed their folders, thanked us for the information, and left politely. I remember thinking how delighted I was not to be the rabbit in their hare-and-hounds chase; they seemed very deliberate and determined.

We have no idea how their search has gone since then, and that’s fine. One visit was enough excitement for a gray day, and satisfied my goal of one new thing each week. I’ve done a little research since then. The Attorney General’s office has been notably mumchance in response to my request for information, but did at least suggest I check out the law online. Here it is, in part:

“It is both a federal and state crime to knowingly possess, manufacture, distribute, or ‘access with intent to view’ child pornography....the Child Online Protection Act and the Children’s Internet Protection Act also outlaw child pornography and cover media such as websites and other online forms of child pornography....Child pornography convictions can result in up to 15 years in federal prison as well as registration by the convicted sex offender.”

Big Brother, apparently, is watching with his electronic eyes – much like game cameras attached to trees. And in this case, I daresay we’re thankful he is.

Photo by Willem lange