The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States 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.
Although many of the FBI's functions are unique, its activities in support of national security are comparable to those of the British MI5 and the Russian FSB. Unlike the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has no law enforcement authority and is focused on intelligence collection abroad, the FBI is primarily a domestic agency, maintaining 56 field offices in major cities throughout the United States, and more than 400 resident agencies in smaller cities and areas across the nation. At an FBI field office, a senior-level FBI officer concurrently serves as the representative of the Director of National Intelligence.
Despite its domestic focus, the FBI also maintains a significant international footprint, operating 60 Legal Attache (LEGAT) offices and 15 sub-offices in U.S. 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. 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.
The FBI was established in 1908 as the Bureau of Investigation, the BOI or BI for short. Its name was changed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935. The FBI headquarters is the J. Edgar Hoover Building, located in Washington, D.C.
In 1896, the National Bureau of Criminal Identification was founded, which provided agencies across the country with information to identify known criminals. The 1901 assassination of President William McKinley created a perception that the United States was under threat from anarchists. The Departments of Justice and Labor had been keeping records on anarchists for years, but President Theodore Roosevelt wanted more power to monitor them.
The Justice Department had been tasked with the regulation of interstate commerce since 1887, though it lacked the staff to do so. It had made little effort to relieve its staff shortage until the Oregon land fraud scandal at the turn of the 20th Century. President Roosevelt instructed Attorney General Charles Bonaparte to organize an autonomous investigative service that would report only to the Attorney General.
Bonaparte reached out to other agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, for personnel, investigators in particular. On May 27, 1908, the Congress forbade this use of Treasury employees by the Justice Department, citing fears that the new agency would serve as a secret police department. Again at Roosevelt's urging, Bonaparte moved to organize a formal Bureau of Investigation, which would then have its own staff of special agents.
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.
The FBI has been frequently depicted in popular media since the 1930s. The bureau has participated to varying degrees, which has ranged from direct involvement in the creative process of film or TV series development, to providing consultation on operations and closed cases. A few of the notable portrayals of the FBI on television are the series The X-Files, which started in 1993 and concluded its eleventh season in early 2018, and concerned investigations into paranormal phenomena by five fictional Special Agents, and the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agency in the TV drama 24, which is patterned after the FBI Counterterrorism Division. The 1991 movie Point Break depicts an undercover FBI agent who infiltrated a gang of bank robbers. The 1997 movie Donnie Brasco is based on the true story of undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone infiltrating the Mafia. The 2015 TV series Quantico, titled after the location of the Bureau's training facility, deals with Probationary and Special Agents, not all of whom, within the show's format, may be fully reliable or even trustworthy.
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