Federal Bureau of Investigation

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the principal investigative unit of the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE (DOJ). The FBI gathers and reports facts, compiles evidence, and locates witnesses in legal matters in which the United States is or may be a party in interest. In addition, the bureau assists both U.S. and INTERNATIONAL LAW enforcement agencies in crime investigation and personnel training.

The FBI investigates all violations of federal law except those specifically assigned to other federal agencies. The bureau's jurisdiction covers a wide range of crimes, from KIDNAPPING and drug trafficking to the unauthorized use of the Woodsy Owl emblem, the U.S. Forest Service's antipollution mascot (18 U.S.C.A. § 711a). The FBI's authority derives from 28 U.S.C.A. § 533, which enables the attorney general to "appoint officials to detect ? crimes against the United States." The bureau also conducts noncriminal investigations, such as background security checks. The FBI does not prosecute crimes, but it assists other law enforcement agencies in investigations that lead to prosecution.

The FBI traces its origins to 1908 when President THEODORE ROOSEVELT instructed Attorney General Charles J. Bonaparte to create a force of special agents to work as investigators within the DOJ. In 1909, Attorney General GEORGE W. WICKERSHAM named the elite group the Bureau of Investigation. In 1935, following a series of name changes, the bureau was officially termed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In its early days, the FBI investigated the relatively small number of federal crimes that existed. These included BANKRUPTCY frauds and antitrust violations. During WORLD WAR I, it was responsible for investigating ESPIONAGE, sabotage, SEDITION, and violations of the SELECTIVE SERVICE Act of 1917 (Act May 18, 1917, c. 15, 40 Stat. 76 [Comp. Stat. 1918, § 2044a-2044k]). In 1919, the bureau broadened its scope to include the investigation of motor vehicle thefts.

The FBI established its reputation as a tenacious investigative force during PROHIBITION, in

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J. Edgar Hoover points to a crime map of the United States. He served as FBI director for 48 years, during which the bureau grew in size and expertise, though he was criticized for abuse of power and harrassment of suspects.


the 1930s. Its many undercover probes throughout that era led to the arrests of notorious crime figures such as John Dillinger and AL CAPONE. With the onset of WORLD WAR II and the advent of the atomic age, the FBI increased its size and scope to include domestic and foreign intelligence and counterintelligence probes, background security...

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