Federal Bureau of Investigation
The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a law enforcement agency that functions as a federal police, counterintelligence and domestic intelligence agency within the United States. FBI is a division of the Justice Department. FBI agents are armed federal officers with police powers.
FBI has the following mission:
"To protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners."
Their priorities are:
- 1. Protect the United States from terrorist attacks
- 2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage
- 3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes
- 4. Combat public corruption at all levels
- 5. Protect civil rights
- 6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises
- 7. Combat major white-collar crime
- 8. Combat significant violent crime
- 9. Support federal, state, local and international partners
- 10. Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI's mission
Moreover, the FBI has immediate jurisdiction over all bank robberies, which they take seriously, except in LA. There are too many in LA for the FBI to keep up, so they keep out.
The FBI has its roots in the US Secret Service, which was founded in 1865 as a subsidiary of the Department of Treasury to prevent mass counterfeiting. After the American Civil War, the federal government found itself with greatly expanded powers to make and enforce laws, what with the whole occupation of the confederacy going on and the need to enforce the 13th-15th amendments. This lead to the founding of the Department of Justice in 1870, and the expansion of the Attorney General's role from a mere advisor to a full-time cabinet member and the federal government's chief prosecutor. Perhaps the DoJ's biggest accomplishment in the following years was cracking down on the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1870s, and the enforcement of anti-monopoly and civil rights legislation.
Eventually, in the 1900s, a scandal erupted when a congressional probe discovered that most of the investigation of federal crimes by all departments in the US government were performed by Secret Service detectives, violating appropriations set by the House of Representatives. What's remarkable is that, rather than being about the implications of creating a police state that spied on its own people, most of the congressional opposition to this practice was that it violated the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Congress banned this practice in 1908, basically requiring departments to either perform their own investigations or hire private investigators. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte acquiesced, and created a bureau in the DoJ staffed with professional investigators. While the same people in the House of Representatives tried to limit this practice, Theodore Roosevelt (who was about to leave office) objected and convinced the Senate that the only reason the House opposed these actions was to prevent investigation into themselves, and that it unjustly limited the autonomy of the executive branch. Thus the "Bureau of Investigations" was born.
Then, in the 1920s the US government experimented with alcohol prohibition. Naturally this caused the crime rate to soar and the government needed a more effective policing organization. During the prohibition era, a young bureaucrat named J. Edgar Hoover found that he could build a career in law enforcement, and began running the FBI as his own private fiefdom. He took the reins in the 1920s and only left the agency when he died, in the 1970s. In the 1930s, heavily armed bank-robbing outlaws, such as Bonnie and Clyde or John Dillinger, became a serious problem in the country, and the FBI became famous for its attempts at suppressing the crime wave. The outlaws also became famous for outwitting the feds, until their bodies started turning up with incredible levels of lead poisoning. During World War II the Bureau had a few successes stopping potential German spies and saboteurs. Hoover gained a lot of power during the war years, something which was very addictive, and in the 1950s the Bureau turned to the next major threat:
civil rights marchers communists. They had a few successes in the 1960s arresting white supremacists who were killing black people with impunity in the South, and many more successes killing Black people, Native Americans and Chicanos with impunity themselves, but they also kept an eye on anti-war activists and the greatest threat of all: hippies.
FBI and counter-intelligence
“”It will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across there is an F.B.I. agent behind every mailbox.
|—Leaked FBI memo from 1971|
The FBI is supposed to be the major counter-intelligence branch of the US government. However, it has previously performed the job fairly badly. The COINTELPRO program, aimed at disrupting "subversive" organizations through covert and often unconstitutional means, completely failed to prevent the rise of the 1960s radical/countercultural movement, however it was quite effective at stopping groups such as the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, the AIM and others.Major Soviet spies within the US were able to go about their business for a long time despite obvious red flags. For example, one CIA officer in Soviet employment was able to buy a house with cash, despite being very far down the pay scale. In another major case, that of Robert Hanssen, the FBI spent years searching for him, never realizing he was one of their own agents, even putting him in charge of finding double agents.
Many believe that the FBI, also charged with being the country's preeminent law enforcement agency, does not have the proper culture to engage in effective counter-intelligence. Recently, there have been calls to take counter-intelligence out of the FBI's portfolio, and instead build an agency similar to Britain's MI5. However, as past United States history has shown, if this was done, soon the FBI would probably start doing counter-intelligence again, and there would be yet more duplication within the intelligence community.
FBI vs celebrities
The FBI, particularly in the Hoover years, was famous for its occasionally eccentric pursuit of celebrities and literary and artistic figures. A considerable amount of historical study has been conducted on this. However, because the FBI received and kept large amounts of correspondence, often from very strange people, the existence of a long FBI file on somebody does not indicate that they were considered a criminal or that Hoover had anything against them.
- James Baldwin, the black, gay American author, was the subject of a 1,884-page FBI file. Like Baldwin's writing the file has itself become the object of significant literary analysis, notably in William J. Maxwell's F.B. Eyes: How J Edgar Hoover's Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature. Baldwin's record - or at least part of it - is now available on the FBI website. Other writers were subject of files including 260 pages on black writer Richard Wright and 110 pages on Truman Capote, but Baldwin's was particularly extensive.
- Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of President Franklin Roosevelt) was not an obvious threat to the USA, but according to her biographer Blanche Cook, her record was "one of the largest individual files that Hoover compiled". It is claimed that this was largely because of her interest in human rights, and consequent suspicion that she was a communist or communist stooge.
- Elvis Presley was the subject of a 683-page file. However most of this concerned potential and actual crimes against Presley, such as death threats, major thefts, and fraud, as well as comments from members of the public who believed Elvis was a threat to public morals. It does not appear that the FBI considered Presley to be a significant threat to the nation.
- John Lennon was considered a threat to the US government, and the INS attempted to have him deported in the early 1970s; Lennon's legal team managed to resist. Lennon's FBI file is the subject of a book by Jon Wiener. Wiener reported that the FBI also attempted to have Lennon arrested for drugs possession, which would have been grounds for deportation, although drug possession was not normally something the FBI would investigate. The FBI also mentioned in the files their desire to "neutralise" Lennon; this is taken by some people as indicating plans to assassinate Lennon but Wiener reckons it merely indicates a desire to get Lennon to shut up and cease his activism. Lennon sued the FBI to find out if they were wiretapping him, but they denied that any wire taps had been authorised (of course, some people take this to mean that there were unauthorised wiretaps against Lennon).
- Martin Luther King was subject of a lengthy FBI file, including rumors of affairs, "drunken sex orgies", an illegitimate child, and secret communist sympathies; most was based on hearsay and rumour.
The FBI in popular culture
- The coolest and most unlikely FBI agents ever are named Cooper and Mulder.
- The FBI hired a mad scientist who almost destroyed the universe (and another) on several occasions.
- Feds are the mortal enemies of TV cops-which isn't saying much, as police dramas are apt to portray anyone who isn't a homicide detective as corrupt and/or incompetent. Federal agents lie somewhere between Internal Affairs and DEA on the evildoer scale.
- The FBI's only use for the local police in Reno is to send them for coffee. And they did that badly.
- 'The Birth of the Federal Bureau of Investigation', John F. Fox, 2003.
- 50 years after FBI office burglary, San Rafael man admits role by Matthias Gafni (March 7, 2021) The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Why James Baldwin's FBI File Was 1,884 Pages, Publishers Weekly, 2015
- , FBI.gov
- Why did the FBI spy on James Baldwin, The Intercept
- Blanche Cook, quoted on PaperlessArchives.com
- Question: Why is Eleanor Roosevelt's FBI file so large?, Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, George Washington University
- FBI files on Elvis Presley
- Uncovering the 'truth' behind Lennon's FBI files, NPR
- , BBC, 2017