The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the
Fbi most crucial elements of law enforcement and combating of criminal activity in the United States. It works both in domestic crime, and lawlessness abroad, as well. Without it, our country wouldnt be nearly as safe as we consider it to be. The FBI did not just start out as the juggernaut of crime fighting that is today, however. It began very humbly not that long ago, at the turn of the 20th century, when the need arose for a higher power in law enforcement.
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 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.1907, the Department of Justice most frequently called upon Secret Service “operatives” to conduct investigations. These men were well-trained, dedicated — and expensive. Moreover, they reported not to the Attorney General, but to the Chief of the Secret Service. This situation frustrated Bonaparte, who wanted complete control of investigations under his jurisdiction. Congress provided the impetus for Bonaparte to acquire his own force. On May 27, 1908, it enacted a law preventing the Department of Justice from engaging Secret Service operatives. The following month, Attorney General Bonaparte appointed a force of Special Agents within the Department of Justice. Accordingly, ten former Secret Service employees and a number of Department of Justice peonage (i.e.,compulsory servitude) investigators became Special Agents of the Department of Justice. On July 26, 1908, Bonaparte ordered them to report to Chief Examiner Stanley W. Finch. This action is celebrated as the beginning of the FBI. Attorney General Bonaparte and President Theodore Roosevelt, who completed their terms in March 1909, recommended that the force
of 34 Agents become a permanent part of the Department of Justice. Attorney General George Wickersham, Bonaparte’s successor, named the force the Bureau of Investigation on March 16, 1909. At that time, the title of Chief Examiner was changed to Chief of the Bureau of Investigation.
When the Bureau was established, there were few federal crimes. The Bureau of Investigation primarily investigated violations of laws involving national banking, bankruptcy, naturalization, antitrust, peonage, and land fraud. Because the early Bureau provided no formal training, previous law enforcement experience or a background in the law was considered desirable. Over the next few years, the number of Special Agents grew to more than 300, and these individuals were complemented by another 300 support employees. Field offices existed from the Bureau’s inception. Each field operation was controlled by a Special Agent in Charge who was responsible to Washington. Most field offices were located in major cities. However, several were located near the Mexican border where they concentrated on smuggling, neutrality violations, and intelligence collection, often in connection with the Mexican revolution.
Attacking crimes that were federal in scope but local in jurisdiction called for creative solutions. The Bureau of Investigation had limited success using its narrow jurisdiction to investigate some of the criminals of “the gangster era.” For example, it investigated Al Capone as a “fugitive federal witness.” Federal investigation of a resurgent white supremacy movement also required creativity. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), dormant since the late 1800s, was revived in part to counteract the economic gains made by African Americans during World War I. The Bureau of Investigation used the Mann Act to bring
Louisiana’s philandering KKK “Imperial Kleagle” to justice. Through these investigations and through more traditional investigations of neutrality violations and antitrust violations, the Bureau of Investigation gained stature.
During the early and mid-1930s several crucial decisions solidified the Bureau’s position as the nation’s premier law enforcement agency. In 1932, Congress passed a federal kidnapping statute. Then in May and June 1934, with gangsters like John Dillinger evading capture by crossing over state lines, it passed a number of federal crime laws that significantly enhanced the Bureau’s jurisdiction. Congress also gave Bureau Agents statutory authority to carry guns and make arrests. The Bureau of Investigation was renamed the United States Bureau of Investigation on July 1, 1932. Then, beginning July 1,
1933, the Department of Justice experimented for almost two years with a Division of Investigation that included the Bureau of Prohibition. Public confusion between Bureau of Investigation Special Agents and Prohibition Agents led to a permanent name change in 1935 for the agency composed of Department of Justice’s investigators: the Federal Bureau of Investigation was thus born.With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the responsibilities of the FBI escalated. Subversion, sabotage, and espionage became major concerns. In addition to Agents trained in general intelligence work, at least one Agent trained in defense plant protection was placed in each of the FBI’s 42 field offices. The FBI also developed a network of informational sources, often using members of fraternal or veterans’ organizations. With leads developed by these intelligence networks and through their own work, Special Agents investigated potential threats to national security. The FBI also participated in ntelligence collection. Here the Technical Laboratory played a pioneering role. Its highly skilled and inventive staff cooperated with engineers, scientists, and cryptographers in other agencies to enable the United States to penetrate and sometimes control the flow of information from the belligerents in the Western Hemisphere.
Typical war-related investigations did not occupy all the FBI’s time. For example,the Bureau continued to carry out civil rights investigations. Segregation, which was legal at the time, was the rule in the Armed Services and in virtually the entire defense industry in the 1940s. Under pressure from African-American organizations, the President appointed a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). The FEPC had no enforcement authority. However, the FBI could arrest individuals who impeded the war effort. The Bureau assisted
the FEPC when a Philadelphia transit workers’ union went out on strike against an FEPC desegregation order. The strike ended when it appeared that the FBI was about to arrest its leaders. While most FBI personnel during the war worked traditional war-related or criminal cases, one contingent of Agents was unique. Separated from Bureau rolls, these Agents, with the help of FBI Legal Attaches, composed the Special Intelligence Service (SIS) in Latin America. Established by President Roosevelt in 1940, the SIS was to provide information on Axis activities in South America and to destroy its intelligence and propaganda networks. Several hundred thousand Germans or German descendants and numerous Japanese lived in South America. They provided pro-Axis pressure and cover for Axis communications facilities. Nevertheless, in every South American country, the SIS was nstrumental in bringing about a situation in which, by 1944, continued support for the Nazis became intolerable or impractical.The FBI’s authority to conduct background investigations on present and prospective government employees expanded dramatically in the postwar years. The 1946 Atomic Energy Act gave the FBI “responsibility for determining the loyalty of individuals …having access to restricted Atomic Energy data.” Later, executive orders from both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower gave the FBI responsibility for investigating allegations of disloyalty among federal employees. In these cases, the agency requesting the investigation made the final determination; the FBI only conducted the investigation and reported the
results. Many suspected and convicted spies, such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, had been federal employees. Therefore, background investigations were considered to be just as vital as cracking major espionage cases.The FBI’s role in fighting crime also expanded in the postwar period through its assistance to state and local law enforcement and through increased jurisdictional responsibility. Advances in forensic science and technical development enabled the FBI to devote a significant proportion of its resources to assisting state and local law enforcement agencies. One method of continuing assistance was through the National Academy. Another was to use its greater resources to help states and localities solve their cases. At the same time, Congress gave the FBI new federal laws with which to fight civil rights violations,racketeering, and gambling. A national tragedy produced another expansion of FBI jurisdiction. When President Kennedy was assassinated, the crime was a local homicide; no federal law addressed the murder of a President. Nevertheless, President Lyndon B. Johnson tasked the Bureau with conducting the investigation. Congress then passed a new law to ensure that any such act in the future would be a federal crime.
Long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died on May 2, 1972, just shy of 48 years as the FBI Director. He was 77. The next day his body lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol, an honor accorded only 21 other Americans. Shortly after his replacement, L. Patrick Gray, became Acting Director, five men were arrested photographing documents at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Office Building in Washington, D.C. The break-in had been authorized by Republican Party officials. Within hours, the White House began its effort to cover up its role, and the new Acting FBI Director was inadvertently drawn into it. FBI Agents undertook a thorough investigation of the break-in and related events. However, when Gray’s questionable personal role was revealed, he
withdrew his name from the Senate’s consideration to be Director. He was replaced hours after he resigned on April 27, 1973, by William Ruckleshaus, a former Congressman and the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who remained until Clarence Kelley’s appointment as Director on July 9, 1973. Kelley, who was Kansas City Police Chief when he received the appointment, had been an FBI Agent from 1940 to 1961.
In 1982, following an explosion of terrorist incidents worldwide, Webster made counterterrorism a fourth national priority. He also expanded FBI efforts in the three others: foreign counterintelligence, organized crime, and white-collar crime. The FBI solved so many espionage cases during the mid-1980s that the press dubbed 1985 “the year of the spy.” The most serious espionage damage uncovered by the FBI was perpetrated by the John Walker spy ring and by former National Security Agency employee William Pelton. Also
prevalent throughout the 1980s, was the illegal drug trade, which severely challenged the resources of American law enforcement. To ease this challenge, in 1982 the Attorney General gave the FBI concurrent jurisdiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over narcotics violations in the United States. The expanded Department of Justice attention to drug crimes resulted in the confiscation of millions of dollars in controlled substances, the arrests of major narcotics figures, and the dismantling of important drug rings. One of the most publicized, dubbed “the Pizza Connection” case, involved the heroin
trade in the United States and Italy. It resulted in 18 convictions, including a former leader of the Sicilian Mafia.The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 electrified the world and dramatically rang up the Iron Curtain on the final act in the Cold War: the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, which occurred on December 25, 1991. While world leaders scrambled to reposition their foreign policies and redefine national security parameters, the FBI responded as an agency in January 1992 by reassigning 300 Special Agents from foreign counterintelligence duties to violent crime investigations across the country. It was an unprecedented opportunity to intensify efforts in burgeoning domestic crime problems–and at the same time to rethink and retool FBI national security programs in counterintelligence and counterterrorism. By November 1991 the FBI had created “Operation Safe Streets” in Washington, D.C.–a concept of federal, state, and local police task forces targeting fugitives and gangs. It was now ready to expand this operational assistance to police nationwide.As it approaches its 90th anniversary, the FBI continues to anticipate and respond to emerging criminal threats. Its work, on behalf of the American people, is being carried out by some of the most dedicated and talented employees found anywhere in the world today. All are committed to combating criminal activity through the Bureau’s investigations,programs, and law enforcement services. They continue the mission of that first small group of Special Agents in 1908 who established a tradition of service that has become the Bureau’s motto: Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.
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