Agency of the US Department of Justice that investigates violations of federal law not specifically assigned to other agencies, and is particularly concerned with internal security. It was established in 1908 and built up a position of powerful autonomy during the autocratic directorship of J Edgar Hoover 1924–72. The director from 2013 is James Comey.
The FBI reports to the US Attorney General, and investigates espionage, sabotage, kidnapping, bank robbery, civil-rights violations, and fraud against the government, and conducts security clearances. Field offices are maintained in nearly 60 US cities. The FBI's special agents are qualified in law, accounting, or auditing.
In 1964 the agency was criticized by the Warren Commission concerning the assassination of US president John F Kennedy. In 1973 L Patrick Gray, the acting director, resigned when it was revealed that he had destroyed relevant material in the Watergate investigation. Through the Freedom of Information Act it became known that the FBI had kept files on many eminent citizens and that Hoover had abused his power, for example, in investigating the civil-rights leader Martin Luther King.
In 1993 William Sessions became the first FBI director to be dismissed from the post. He had been criticized for his weak leadership and abuse of related privileges.
In July 2001, the FBI started the project of putting 1.3 million pages of files open to the public on the Internet. In 1998 the FBI activated a database of about a million DNA samples from known criminals. The 1994 DNA Identification Act limited the database to convicted criminals, and a court order is required to use DNA information in legal cases.
The FBI, together with the National White Collar Crime Center and the National Fraud Center, announced in May 1999 the formation of an Internet Fraud Council to fight crimes on the Internet.
Robert Mueller, was nominated for the directorship by US president George W Bush, and was approved by the Senate in August 2001. Mueller, a federal prosecutor in San Francisco, California, and a former Marine, was briefly the acting deputy attorney general under Attorney General John Ashcroft. In 1990, he was in charge of the FBI's criminal division, and supervised the high-profile prosecutions of Manuel Noriega, the former ruler of Panama, and John Gotti, the organized crime boss. He pledged to restore confidence in the FBI.
According to a 1999 study of US Justice Department statistics, the FBI had the worst conviction rate among US law enforcement agencies, obtaining convictions in only about one out of every four cases. At that time, of 222,504 FBI cases referred for prosecution, only 27% produced a conviction.
US Attorney General Janet Reno announced in February 2000 that FBI agents and the US Justice Department would assist police and prosecutors in their investigations regarding a police corruption scandal in Los Angeles. It was alleged in 1998 by a former police officer that fellow officers had knowingly convicted innocent people, lied in court, and shot suspects. The investigations had, by the end of February 2000, caused 40 criminal convictions to be overturned, and 20 officers to be suspended.
Under director Louis Freeh 1993–2001, the FBI underwent the largest reorganization in its history, and more than 5,000 new agents were hired.
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