Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a Federal criminal investigative and intelligence agency which is the principal investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). Title 28, United States Code (U.S. Code), Section 533, which authorizes the Attorney General to "appoint officials to detect... crimes against the United States", and other federal statutes give the FBI the authority and responsibility to investigate specific crimes. At present, the FBI has investigative jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes and thus has the broadest investigative authority of any federal law enforcement agency. The FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list has been used since 1949 to notify the public of wanted fugitives.



The mission of the FBI is to uphold the law through the investigation of violations of federal criminal law; to protect the United States from foreign intelligence and terrorist activities; to provide leadership and law enforcement assistance to federal, state, local, and international agencies; and to perform these responsibilities in a manner that is responsive to the needs of the public and is faithful to the United States Constitution. The Bureau's motto is "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity."

Information obtained through an FBI investigation is presented to the appropriate U.S. Attorney or DOJ official, who decides if prosecution or other action is warranted. Top priority has been assigned to three areas: counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence, and cyber crime.

Present mission of the FBI

J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI Headquarters
J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI Headquarters

As of June 2002, the FBI's official top priority is counterterrorism. The second priority is counterintelligence. The USA PATRIOT Act granted the FBI increased powers, especially in wiretapping and monitoring of internet activity. One of the most controversial provisions of the act is the so-called "sneak and peek" provision, granting the FBI powers to search a house while the residents are away, and not requiring them to notify the residents for several weeks afterwards. Under the PATRIOT Act's provisions the FBI also resumed inquiring into the library records of those it suspected of terrorism, something it had supposedly not done since the 1970s. The bureau is also charged with the responsibility of enforcing compliance of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 and investigating violations of The Act in addition to prosecuting such violations with the United States Department of Justice (DOJ). The FBI also shares concurrent jurisdiction with the DEA in the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

History of the FBI

The FBI originated from a force of Special Agents created on July 26, 1908, by Attorney General Charles Joseph Bonaparte during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. At first it was named the Bureau of Investigation (BOI) and it did not become the FBI until 1935.

Under J. Edgar Hoover, who became director of the Bureau on May 10, 1924, the agency spent much of its energy investigating political activists who were not accused of any crime (e.g., Albert Einstein as a socialist).

The FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory (better known as the FBI Crime Lab) officially opened on November 24, 1932.

During the 1930s, the agency played a prominent role in apprehending a number of well-known criminals who had conducted kidnappings, robberies and murders throughout the nation. These included John Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson, Kate "Ma" Barker, Alvin Karpis and George "Machine Gun" Kelly. It also played a decisive role in reducing the scope and influence of the Ku Klux Klan. Through the work of Edwin Atherton, the FBI claimed success in apprehending an entire army of Mexican neo-revolutionaries along the California border in the 1920's.

Beginning with the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s, the agency investigated cases of espionage against the United States and its allies. Eight Nazi agents who had planned sabotage operations against American targets were arrested.

Although Hoover initially doubted the existence of a close-knit organized crime network in the United States, the bureau later conducted operations against known organized crime syndicates and families, including those headed by Sam Giancana and John Gotti.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the FBI carried out controversial domestic surveillance in an operation called Cointelpro. It aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States, including militant organizations and non-violent movements, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading civil rights organization (LA Times, March 8, 2006, archived at: www.commondreams.org/views06/0308-27.htm). Martin Luther King, Jr. was a frequent target of investigation. The FBI found no evidence of any crime, but attempted to use tapes of King involved in sexual activity for blackmail. In his 1991 memoirs, Washington Post journalist Carl Rowan asserted that the FBI had sent at least one anonymous letter to King encouraging him to commit suicide.[1]

Portrayal of the FBI in the media

Any author, television script writer, or producer may consult with the FBI about closed cases or our operations, services, or history. However, there is no requirement that they do so, and the FBI does not edit or approve their work. Some authors, television programs, or motion picture producers offer reasonably accurate presentations of our responsibilities, investigations, and procedures in their story lines, while others present their own interpretations or introduce fictional events, persons, or places for dramatic effect. Here are some examples when the FBI was used in television and movies:

In 1959, Warner Bros. and director Mervyn LeRoy produced a film about the FBI entitled The FBI Story. It told the history of the FBI from the point of view of a fictitious character, Chip Hardesty (played by James Stewart). FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover served as consultant on the film, and made sure the FBI would be portrayed in an accurate light--this forced director LeRoy to reshoot several scenes that did not meet with the FBI's approval.

In 1965, Warner Bros. Television produced a long-running television series called The F.B.I., based in part on concepts from the FBI Story film. The series, which ran until 1974, was taken from actual FBI cases, told through the eyes of fictitious agent Louis Erskine (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). Epilogues to most episodes included Zimbalist stepping out of character to warn viewers of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" (this was years before Fox's America's Most Wanted). After the show was cancelled, WB TV continued to produce TV movies based on the FBI.

In 1981, the show was completely revived with entirely new cast and production crew as Today's F.B.I., with Mike Connors (Mannix), but it only lasted one season.

In 1986, Margaret Truman (daughter of former President Truman) wrote a novel entitled Murder at the FBI, dealing with the murder of two FBI agents.

A movie produced in 1988 named FEDS, gave an insight into how women train at the FBI Academy. This movie did not do so well with it's premire and the comdey is very dry.

The 1991 Orion Pictures film Silence of the Lambs starred Jodie Foster as a rookie FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer. The film received five Acadamy Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.

From 1993 to 2002, Fox TV produced the television series The X-files, which concerned investigations of paranormal phenomena by fictional Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. There was also one feature film produced, also called The X-Files, in 1998.

In 2002, Pax TV aired Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, based on the real life of and about the world's first deaf FBI agent of the show's title.

In 2002, CBS began airing the show Without a Trace, about the FBI missing persons unit in New York City

In 2005, CBS began airing the show Numb3rs, about FBI agents in Los Angeles.


There are 11,000 special agents and over 17,000 officers.

Recent controversies

The Bureau has endured public criticism and internal conflict in the past decade as it attempts both to modernize technologically and to take on a greater counter-terrorism role.

  • In the 1990s, it turned out that the fingerprint unit of the FBI's crime lab had repeatedly done shoddy work. In some cases, the technicians, given evidence that actually cleared a suspect, reported instead that it proved the suspect guilty. Many cases had to be reopened when this pattern of errors was discovered. The FBI Lab is considered to be a leading forensic laboratory, in global terms.
  • In 2000, the Bureau began the Trilogy project to upgrade its outdated IT infrastructure. This project, originally scheduled to take three years and cost around $380 million, ended up going far over budget and behind schedule. Efforts to deploy modern computers and networking equipment were generally successful, but attempts to develop new investigation software, outsourced to SAIC, were a disaster. Virtual Case File, or VCF, as the software was known, was plagued by poorly defined goals and repeated changes in management. In January 2005, more than two years after the software was originally planned to be completed, the Bureau officially abandoned the project. At least $100 million (and much more by some estimates) was spent on the project, which was never operational. The Bureau has been forced to continue using its decaded old Automated Case Support system, which is considered to be woefully inadequate by IT experts. In March 2005 the Bureau announced it is beginning a new, more ambitious software project code-named Sentinel, expected to be completed by 2009.
  • In February 2001, Robert Hanssen was caught selling information to the Russians. It was later learned that Hanssen, who had reached a high position within the Bureau, had been selling intelligence since as early as 1979. He pleaded guilty to treason and received a life sentence in 2002, but the incident led many to question the security practices employed by the Bureau.
  • The 9/11 Commission, in its final report in July 22, 2004, stated that the FBI and CIA were both partially to blame for not pursuing intelligence reports which could have prevented the September 11, 2001 attacks. In its most damning assessment, the report concluded that the country had "not been well served" by either agency and listed numerous recommendations for changes within the Bureau. While the Bureau has acceded to most of the recommendations, including oversight by the new Director of National Intelligence, some former members of the 9/11 Commission publicly criticized the Bureau in October 2005, claiming it was resisting any meaningful changes.

BOI and FBI directors

Bureau of Investigation (BOI) Directors (1908–35)

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Directors (1936–present)

On July 1, 1932, the Bureau was renamed the United States Bureau of Investigation. One year later on July 1, 1933, it was linked with the Bureau of Prohibition and became known as the Division of Investigation. Finally, in 1935, the bureau was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). After J. Edgar Hoover's death, the FBI imposed a policy limiting the tenure of future FBI directors to a maximum of ten years.

The FBI Directors from this period on are:

Publications of the FBI


  • In 2009 Lost Memories, the JBI (Japanese Bureau of Investigation) was heavily modeled on the American FBI, retaining its structure.

Further reading


  • William B. Breuer; J. Edgar Hoover and His G-Men Praeger Publishers, 1995
  • David Burnham, Above the Law: Secret Deals, Political Fixes, and Other Misadventures of the U.S. Department of Justice, Scribner, ISBN 0-684-80699-1, LoC KF5107.B87 1996
  • Calder, James D. The Origins and Development of Federal Crime Control Policy: Herbert Hoover's Initiatives. Praeger, 1993.
  • Coben, Stanley. "J. Edgar Hoover" Journal of Social History 2001 34(3): 703-706. ISSN: 0022-4529
  • Frank J. Donner, The Age of Surveillance: The Aims and Methods of America's Political Intelligence System, Vintage, ISBN 0-194-74771-2, LoC JK468.I6D65 1981
  • Louis J. Freeh, My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror (2005)
  • Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (1991).
  • Hamilton, Stanley. Machine Gun Kelly's Last Stand U. Press of Kansas, 2003. 236 pp.
  • William W. Keller. The Liberals and J. Edgar Hoover: Rise and Fall of a Domestic Intelligence State (1989).
  • Ronald Kessler, The FBI, Pocket Books, 1993, ISBN 0-671-78658-X.
  • Ronald Kessler, The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI, St. Martin's Press 2002 ISBN 0-312-30402-1
  • Lewis, Eugene. Public Entrepreneurship: Toward a Theory of Bureaucratic Political Power. The Organizational Lives of Hyman Rickover, J. Edgar Hoover, and Robert Moses. Indiana U. Press, 1980
  • O'Reilly, Kenneth. "The FBI and the Politics of the Riots, 1964-1968" Journal of American History 1988 75(1): 91-114.
  • O'Reilly, Kenneth. "The FBI and the Civil Rights Movement During the Kennedy Years - from the Freedom Rides to Albany." Journal of Southern History 1988 54(2): 201-232.
  • Claire Bond Potter; War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men, and the Politics of Mass Culture Rutgers University Press, 1998
  • Powers, Richard Gid. Broken: The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI (2004)
  • Powers, Richard Gid. Secrecy and Power: The Life of J. Edgar Hoover (1987). the best biography
  • Powers, Richard Gid. G-Men, Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture Southern Illinois University Press, 1983
  • William Sullivan, The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover's FBI (1979). #3 in FBI to 1971
  • Athan Theoharis and John Stuart Cox, The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition Temple Univ. Press, 1988
  • Athan G. Theoharis, Tony G. Poveda, Susan Rosenfeld, and Richard Gid Powers. The FBI: A Comprehensive Reference Guide (2000)
  • Athan G. Theoharis, The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History, University Press of Kansas 2004
  • Michael Tonry; The Handbook of Crime & Punishment Oxford University Press, 2000
  • Richard C. S. Trahair; Encyclopedia of Cold War Espionage, Spies, and Secret Operations Greenwood Press, 2004
  • Watters and Gillers (eds), Investigating the FBI, Ballentine, 1973, ISBN 345-23831-1-195
  • Williams, David. "The Bureau of Investigation and its Critics, 1919-1921: the Origins of Federal Political Surveillance" Journal of American History 1981 68(3): 560-579.

World Wide Web sites

Related resources

See also

External links

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