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Definition: Federal Bureau of Investigation from The Macquarie Dictionary

a US federal agency charged with investigation for the attorney-general of the US and safeguarding national security.


Summary Article: Federal Bureau of Investigation
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

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, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism. 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 2017, is Christopher A Wray (1966– ).

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 56 major US cities. It had over 35,000 staff and an annual budget of over US$8 billion in 2014. The FBI's special agents are qualified in law, accounting, or auditing, and have information technology expertise to fight cybercrime.

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. In July 2001 the FBI started the project of putting 1.3 million pages of files open to the public on the Internet.

Directorships In 1964 the agency under Hoover 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. Under the 1993–2001 directorship of Louis Freeh, the FBI underwent the largest reorganization in its history, and more than 5,000 new agents were hired.

This went some way to address a 1999 study of US Justice Department statistics, which revealed that 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.

Robert Mueller was nominated for the directorship by Republican US president George W Bush, and served 2001–13. In the early 1990s Mueller, a federal prosecutor in San Francisco, California, and a former Marine, had supervised the high-profile prosecutions of Manuel Noriega, the former ruler of Panama, and John Gotti, the organized crime boss. Respected for his non-partisan approach, he transformed the FBI into an agency which focused not just on law enforcement, but also on counter-espionage and counter-terrorism.

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.

In September 2013 James Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director. He oversaw the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server for official communications during her time as secretary of state, in violation of official protocols. In July 2016, in the middle of a US presidential campaign Clinton was contesting, an FBI report criticized her for having been ‘extremely careless’, but recommended that no charges be made against her. However, on 28 October 2016 – just 11 days before the presidential election – the FBI informed Congress that it was investigating newly-discovered e-mails. On 6 November 2016 Comey reported that, after investigating these new e-mails, its July 2016 conclusions remained unchanged. The FBI's actions so late in the campaign were seen as a factor in Clinton narrowly losing the election to the Republican Donald Trump.

In May 2017 President Trump controversially fired Comey at a time when justice department and senate intelligence committee investigations were underway into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. This followed public disagreements between Trump and Comey over whether or not former Democratic president Barack Obama had ordered wiretapping of Trump's New York headquarters during 2016 and over Trump's concerns that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russian probe.

Comey's successor in August 2017 was Christopher A Wray, who had been an assistant attorney general 2003–05 during the presidency of George W Bush.


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