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FBI Agents


The Federal Bureau of Investigation was founded in 1908 as the investigative branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. In its earliest years, the FBI's responsibilities were limited. However, the creation of new federal laws gave the FBI jurisdiction over criminal matters that had previously been regulated by the individual states, such as those involving the interstate transportation of stolen vehicles. By the 1920s, the FBI was also used for political purposes, such as tracking down alleged subversive elements and spying on political enemies.

Early in its history, the FBI developed a reputation for corruption. In 1924, J. Edgar Hoover was appointed as director of the bureau and charged with the twin goals of cleaning up the agency and making the agency's work independent from politics. Hoover established stricter professional standards, eliminating corruption, and, partly because of Hoover's own ambitions, the FBI's responsibilities increased. Soon the FBI was the most powerful law enforcement agency in the country.

The FBI established its Identification Division in 1924 and the bureau's scientific laboratory in 1932. Then, in 1934, the FBI was given the general authority to handle federal crime investigation. Within three years, more than 11,000 federal criminals were convicted through the FBI's efforts. As its prestige grew, the FBI was further designated, in 1939, as the central clearinghouse for all matters pertaining to the internal security of the United States. During World War II, FBI agents rendered many security services for plants involved in war production and worked to gather evidence on espionage activities within the plants.

Since its inception in 1932, the FBI Laboratory has become one of the largest and most comprehensive crime laboratories in the world, providing leadership and service in the scientific solution and prosecution of crimes. It is the only full-service federal forensic laboratory in the United States. As a result, today the FBI is involved in a wide variety of law enforcement activities using the latest scientific methods and forms of analysis available.

The FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (which is part of its Criminal Justice Information Services Division) serves as the nation's repository and clearinghouse for fingerprint records. The fingerprint section of the FBI Laboratory is the largest in the world, containing millions of sets of fingerprints. In this capacity, the division provides the following services: identifying and maintaining fingerprint records for arrested criminal suspects and for applicants to sensitive jobs; posting notices for people wanted for crimes and for parole or probation violations; examining physical evidence for fingerprints and providing occasional court testimony on the results of examinations; training in fingerprint science; maintaining fingerprint records of people currently reported missing; and identifying amnesia victims and unknown deceased people.

After World War II, the FBI began conducting background security investigations for government agencies, as well as probes into internal security matters for the executive branch of the federal government. The 1960s brought civil rights and organized crime to the forefront for the FBI, and the 1970s and 1980s focused on counterterrorism, financial crime, drugs, and violent crimes. During the 1990s the FBI continued to focus on these crimes, as well as address the growing threat of cybercrime. The bureau created the Computer Investigations and Infrastructure Threat Assessment Center (which evolved into the National Infrastructure Protection Center) and other initiatives to respond to physical and cyber attacks against infrastructure in the United States. The FBI's mission changed as a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. While still investigating all types of federal crime, the bureau's most important mandate today is to protect the American people from future terrorist attacks.

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