FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice charged with investigating all violations of federal laws except those assigned to some other federal agency. The FBI has jurisdiction over some 185 investigative matters, among them espionage, sabotage, and other subversive activities; kidnapping; extortion; bank robbery; interstate transportation of stolen property; civil-rights matters; interstate gambling violations; and fraud against the government. Created (1908) as the Bureau of Investigation, it originally conducted investigations only for the Justice Dept. After J. Edgar Hoover became (1924) director of the Bureau of Investigation, Congress gradually added one duty after another to the jurisdiction of the bureau and reorganized (1933) it with wider powers as the Division of Investigation in the Dept. of Justice. In 1935 it was designated the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI played an important role in raising the standards of local police units through its FBI Academy. Under Hoover's direction, it battled against such roving outlaws as John Dillinger and "Pretty Boy" Floyd as well as against the organized crime of the prohibition era. From World War I on, the agency also was active in intelligence work, investigating anarchists such as Emma Goldman and other political radicals, socialists, and Communists, Nazi saboteurs, and terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

During Hoover's final years as director (he served until his death in 1972), the bureau became highly controversial and was the frequent target of attack from a wide variety of liberal groups. During the Watergate affair it was revealed that the FBI had yielded to pressure from top White House officials, acting on behalf of President Richard M. Nixon, to halt their investigation of the Watergate break-in. The FBI subsequently cooperated with the White House "inquiry" into the break-in, which was actually attempting a cover-up, and FBI Acting Director L. Patrick Gray destroyed files belonging to one of the convicted Watergate conspirators, E. Howard Hunt. Gray resigned (Apr., 1973) after his role became public. In June, 1973, Clarence M. Kelley was named director. He was followed by William H. Webster (1978–87), William S. Sessions (1987–93), Louis J. Freeh (1993–2001), and Robert S. Mueller 3d (2001–).

See H. A. Overstreet, The FBI in Our Open Society (1969); W. W. Turner, Hoover's FBI (1970); R. O. Wright, ed., Whose FBI? (1974); J. T. Elliff, The Reform of the FBI Intelligence Activities (1979); F. M. Sorrentino, Ideological Warfare: The F.B.I.'s Path toward Power (1985); B. Burrough, Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI: 1933–34 (2004); T. Weiner, Enemies: A History of the F.B.I. (2012).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation): Selected full-text books and articles

The FBI: A Centennial History, 1908-2008 By The U.S. Department of Justice United States. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2008
J. Edgar Hoover and His G-Men By William B. Breuer Praeger Publishers, 1995
Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 By Amy B. Zegart Princeton University Press, 2009
The Boss: J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition By Athan G. Theoharis; John Stuart Cox Temple University Press, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of the FBI in multiple chapters
G-Men, Hoover's FBI in American Popular Culture By Richard Gid Powers; Daniel M. Finnegan Southern Illinois University Press, 1983
The U.S. Intelligence Community By Jeffrey T. Richelson Westview Press, 1999 (4th edition)
Librarian’s tip: "Federal Bureau of Investigation" begins on p. 141
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