Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)- History
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Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)- History, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), formerly the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States
and its principal federal law enforcement agency.
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Operating under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to/ both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.
A leading U.S. counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative organization, the FBI has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes.
The FBI originated from a force of Special Agents created in 1908 by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. The two men first met when they both spoke at a meeting of the Baltimore Civil Service Reform Association. Roosevelt, then Civil Service Commissioner, boasted of his reforms in federal law enforcement.
It was 1892, a time when law enforcement was often political rather than professional. Roosevelt spoke with pride of his insistence that Border Patrol applicants pass marksmanship tests, with the most accurate getting the jobs. Following Roosevelt on the program, Bonaparte countered, tongue in cheek, that target shooting was not the way to get the best men.
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“Roosevelt should have had the men shoot at each other, and given the jobs to the survivors.”
Roosevelt and Bonaparte both were “Progressives.” They shared the conviction that efficiency and expertise, not political connections, should determine who could best serve in government.
Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States in 1901; four years later, he appointed Bonaparte to be Attorney General.
In 1908, Bonaparte applied that Progressive philosophy to the Department of Justice by creating a corps of Special Agents. It had neither a name nor an officially designated leader other than the Attorney General. Yet, these former detectives and Secret Service men were the forerunners of the FBI.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a federally funded intelligence agency, and is the prime source of investigative resources for the U.S. Department of Justice. Currently, the FBI is responsible for more than 200 federal crime categories, and boasts the widest authority and jurisdiction of any federal law enforcement firm.
Its motto is “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity.” Its headquarters are in Washington, D.C. The country’s cities had grown enormously by 1908—there were more than 100 with populations over 50,000—and understandably, crime had grown right along with them.
In these big cities, with their many overcrowded
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tenements filled with the poor and disillusioned and with all the ethnic tensions of an increasingly immigrant nation stirred in for good measure, tempers often flared. Clashes between striking workers and their factory bosses were turning increasingly violent.
Despite its domestic focus, the FBI also maintains a significant international footprint, operating 60 Legal Attache (LEGAT) offices and 15 sub-offices in US embassies and consulates across the globe. These foreign offices exist primarily for the purpose of coordination with foreign security services and do not usually conduct unilateral operations in the host countries.
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The FBI can and does at times carry out secret activities overseas, just as the CIA has a limited domestic function; these activities generally require coordination across government agencies.
One of these issues was anarchism—an often violent offshoot of Marxism, with its revolutionary call to overthrow capitalism and bring power to the common man.
Anarchists took it a step further—they wanted to do away with government entirely. The prevailing anarchistic creed that government was oppressive and repressive, that it should be overthrown by random attacks on the ruling class (including everyone from police to priests to politicians), was preached by often articulate spokesmen and women around the world.
There were plenty who latched onto the message, and by the end of the nineteenth century, several world leaders were among those who had been assassinated.
The federal government used the bureau as a tool to investigate criminals who evaded prosecution by passing over state lines, and within a few years the number of agents had grown to more than 300. The agency was opposed by some in Congress, who feared that its growing authority could lead to abuse of power.
With the entry of the United States into World War I in 1917, the bureau was given responsibility in investigating draft resisters, violators of the Espionage Act of 1917, and immigrants suspected of radicalism.
From 1921 to 1933, the bureau was often at odds with a frustrated public. During what were called the “lawless years,” many Americans resisted the establishment of Prohibition, while others were involved in extremist politics.
The Treasury Department, not the Justice Department, had jurisdiction over the unlawful use of intoxicating beverages. With the transportation of alcohol across state lines, however, bureau agents also were brought in to investigate.
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Raids of speakeasies (nightclubs serving alcohol) and the use of decoy speakeasies brought about the arrests of many bootleggers (alcohol smugglers) during Prohibition.
The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) was created on July 26, 1908, after the Congress had adjourned for the summer. Attorney General Bonaparte, using Department of Justice expense funds, hired thirty-four people, including some veterans of the Secret Service, to work for a new investigative agency. Its first “Chief” (the title is now known as “Director”) was Stanley Finch. Bonaparte notified the Congress of these actions in December 1908.
The bureau’s first official task was visiting and making surveys of the houses of prostitution in preparation for enforcing the “White Slave Traffic Act,” or Mann Act, passed on June 25, 1910. In 1932, the bureau was renamed the United States Bureau of Investigation.
The following year it was linked to the Bureau of Prohibition and rechristened the Division of Investigation (DOI) before finally becoming an independent service within the Department of Justice in 1935.
In the same year, its name was officially changed from the Division of Investigation to the present-day Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI.
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During the 1920s, with Congress’ approval, Director Hoover drastically restructured and expanded the Bureau of Investigation. He built the agency into an efficient crime-fighting machine, establishing a centralized fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training school for agents.
In the 1930s, the Bureau of Investigation launched a dramatic battle against the epidemic of organized crime brought on by Prohibition.
Notorious gangsters such as George “Machine Gun” Kelly and John Dillinger met their ends looking down the barrels of bureau-issued guns, while others, like Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the elusive head of Murder, Inc., were successfully investigated and prosecuted by Hoover’s “G-men.”
Hoover, who had a keen eye for public relations, participated in a number of these widely publicized arrests, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as it was known after 1935, became highly regarded by Congress and the American public.
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Beginning in the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s, the bureau investigated cases of espionage against the United States and its allies.
Eight Nazi agents who had planned sabotage operations against American targets were arrested, and six were executed (Ex parte Quirin) under their sentences. Also during this time, a joint US/UK code-breaking effort called “The Venona Project”—with which the FBI was heavily involved—broke Soviet diplomatic and intelligence communications codes, allowing the US and British governments to read Soviet communications.
This effort confirmed the existence of Americans working in the United States for Soviet intelligence.
Hoover was administering this project, but he failed to notify the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of it until 1952. Another notable case was the arrest of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in 1957.
The discovery of Soviet spies operating in the US allowed Hoover to pursue his longstanding obsession with the threat he perceived from the American Left, ranging from Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) union organizers to American liberals.