Federal Bureau of Investigation: History
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: HISTORY
The agency now known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) has an interesting history. While today the agency enjoys extraordinary prestige and status, and is quite encompassing in its authority and jurisdiction, the agency has a rather humble, and at times scandalous and controversial, past. The purpose of this entry is to trace the evolution of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from its beginnings to its current modern-day form.
Before the beginning of the F.B.I.
At the time of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, there was not a need or a desire for an elaborate system of policing in the United States. At this time, with few federal laws, the policing function was almost exclusively a responsibility of local government. Policing communities was quite informal, consisting most often of volunteers assigned to the "watch" who would guard the village or town at night, and, later on, during the day. Local control of the police function was a desirable feature of American policing because, ideally, it allowed residents to have input into how policing was conducted in their community. The desire for local control also helped explain why the framers of the Constitution were resistant to the idea of an all-powerful national police force.
The enforcement of the few federal laws that were in existence at this time was the responsibility of a small corps of federal agents and marshals. Again, there was no need or desire for a specialized mechanism to conduct criminal investigations at the federal level.
It was not until the mid 1800s that formal municipal police departments were created and these institutions were primarily located in the large and rapidly growing cities of the eastern United States (e.g., Boston, Philadelphia, New York). Municipal police detectives, those with primary responsibility for criminal identification and apprehension, did not appear until the late 1800s, and this development occurred largely in response to public concern about increasing crime.
In the mid-to late 1800s, the Justice Department, having no investigators of its own, borrowed agents from other federal offices to assist in investigative matters and also used agents from the Pinkerton Detective Agency, a private investigative agency. Pinkerton had investigative and operational advantages over governmental agents; namely, the agency operated without concern for cumbersome political jurisdictional lines, it had a well-developed system of internal communication and record-keeping, and it had a system in place to share information with the investigative services of foreign nations.
In the early 1900s, an increase in urbanization and crime along with technological changes (namely, the automobile) placed extraordinary demands on the police. With a more mobile population and jurisdictional lines more easily crossed, the need for state and federal law enforcement agencies became apparent.
The beginning of the F.B.I.
President Theodore Roosevelt initially asked the U.S. Congress to create a federal detective force in 1907. Congress opposed President Roosevelt's idea on the official grounds of the long-cited public disdain for an all powerful federal law enforcement agency. However, unofficially, it was significant that in 1906 two members of Congress had been prosecuted for fraud, the investigation of which was conducted by the Justice Department using agents from another federal agency. As a result, many members of Congress were concerned about giving the executive branch of government more investigative power (power perhaps to conduct more investigations of those individuals in the legislative branch). Along with denying President Roosevelt's request, Congress passed legislation that prohibited the Justice Department from using investigators from other federal agencies. Not to be stopped by Congress, in 1908 President Roosevelt created the Bureau of Investigation by executive order and directed Attorney General Charles Bonaparte to develop the agency within the Department of Justice. Twenty permanent and eighteen temporary investigators were hired. The action on the part of President Roosevelt led to considerable political conflict and to many political battles between Congress and the president. The fear of Congress was that the Bureau of Investigation was going to act as a sort of secret police—and, in fact, these fears were quickly substantiated in 1909 when it was learned that agents from the bureau had regularly opened the mail of Senator Benjamin Till-man, one of the bureau's most vocal opponents.
The early days
With the turmoil surrounding its creation, it is not surprising that during the first years of its operation (1910s) the Bureau of Investigation was entrenched in scandal. (Actually, the entire history of the F.B.I. can be viewed as being rather scandalous, as discussed below.) However, at the same time, it was slowly becoming accepted as a law enforcement agency and assigned law enforcement responsibilities. For example, in 1910 Congress pasted the Mann Act, which prohibited the transportation of females across state lines for immoral purposes. Responsibility for the enforcement of the law was given to the Bureau of Investigation. Other statutes followed, prohibiting the transportation of stolen goods, vehicles, and obscene materials.
In 1916, with three hundred agents, and in the face of war in Europe, the bureau was given power to conduct counterintelligence and antiradical investigations. In 1919, the country experienced a series of bombings with targets ranging from police departments to banks (and included the residence of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer). These actions were believed to be the responsibility of communists and others who were "un-American." The bombings and their aftermath became known as the "Red Scare." In response to the bombings, Attorney General Palmer established the General Intelligence Division (GID) within the Justice Department to increase significantly the ability to store information on radicals and those suspected of being sympathetic to radicals. An individual by the name of John Edgar Hoover was named the head of the GID.
In 1920, using information from the GID, Attorney General Palmer authorized a series of raids (to be known as the "Palmer Raids") in thirty-three cities across the country that resulted in more than five thousand arrests of people believed to be un-American or communists. The plan was to then deport the individuals who were arrested. The problem was that most of the people arrested were not radicals at all. The courts ordered many of those arrested to be released. In 1921, during congressional hearings on the conduct of the GID and the Bureau during the Palmer raids, Attorney General Palmer and Hoover fiercely defended their Bureau of Investigation, and the actions of their agents.
Enter J. Edgar Hoover
Calvin Coolidge was elected president in 1923 and, in the aftermath of the Palmer raids, one of his first tasks was to reform the Justice Department, the Bureau of Investigation in particular. Harlan Fiske Stone, former Dean of Columbia University Law School and critic of the Palmer raids was appointed to head the Justice Department as attorney general. On 10 May 1924 Attorney General Stone offered J. Edgar Hoover the directorship of the Bureau of Investigation on an acting basis. It was after Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, sent a favorable recommendation to the attorney general that Hoover was named the permanent director of the bureau.
J. Edgar Hoover was born 1 January 1895 in Washington, D.C. After graduation from high school he worked at the Library of Congress and attended George Washington University Law School. Upon graduation from law school in 1917 he went to work as a clerk in the Department of Justice.
When Hoover was appointed Director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, the bureau had 441 agents. At the direction of Attorney General Stone, Hoover cut the staff to 339 agents by 1929. During his first few days as director, Hoover went through the personnel files and identified agents that should be fired. Agents that were not fired were retrained. Hiring standards were raised and training in law or accounting was required. A training school was established for various skills and for learning the procedures of the bureau. According to Hoover, promotion would be based on performance, not seniority. Control and standardization were the themes that reflected his management style. Even early on, Hoover was well aware of the importance of public support in fighting crime. In remarks prepared for the Attorney General in 1925, he wrote: "The Agents of the Bureau of Investigation have been impressed with the fact that the real problem of law enforcement is in trying to obtain the cooperation and sympathy of the public and they cannot hope to get such cooperation until they themselves merit the respect of the public" (F.B.I., 1997). Hoover served as director of the Bureau of Investigation (later the F.B.I.) for forty-eight years—until his death in 1972. Without question, J. Edgar Hoover was the most influential man in the history of the F.B.I.
The gangster era and the rise of crime
In the late 1920s through the 1930s, numerous high-profile crimes and criminals took center stage with J. Edgar Hoover and his agents, who became known as "G-Men." Gangsters, in particular, became larger than life, capturing the imagination of millions of Americans. Gangsters like "Machine Gun" Kelly, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, John Dillinger, Al Capone, "Ma" Barker, and others became notorious heroes. Director Hoover rose to the challenge, and with the assistance of Hollywood and detective fiction writers, he was able to portray his agents (and himself) as mythical foes of the gangsters. While gangsters were portrayed as public enemies, the Bureau of Investigation's G-Men were cop-heros, and J. Edgar Hoover was top-cop.
Even beyond this skillful portrayal, Hoover was able to make the good battle against gangsters a personal struggle and to use the public's interest to his and the bureau's advantage. For example, in 1933 four of the bureau's agents and several police officers were escorting bank robber Frank "Jelly" Nash to Levenworth Prison when they were ambushed by three men with machine guns. Three officers and one agent were killed. At least in partial response to this tragic event, Congress passed nine major crime bills giving Hoover much more authority and power. Congress also authorized agents to carry firearms for the first time.
In 1932 the nation was transfixed by the news of the kidnapping and murder of the infant son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh. Kidnapping laws were passed by Congress and the Bureau of Investigation was made responsible for this and other kidnapping investigations. When the kidnapper was apprehended, it was due more to the work of the Treasury agents on the case and an attentive gas station worker (who wrote down the license plate number of the kidnapper's vehicle) than skillful investigatory work on the part of the bureau. Nevertheless, J. Edgar Hoover was able to take credit and reap the political rewards.
The bureau was not immune from bungled investigations. John Dillinger proved a case in point. When bank robber John Dillinger escaped from jail on 3 March 1934, the bureau mounted a full-scale operation to catch him. For two months Dillinger eluded the bureau's traps. Then Agent Purvis received a tip that Dillinger and members of his gang were hiding in Little Bohemia, a resort in Wisconsin. As agents converged on the lodge, several men ran from the area. As they drove away, agents fired on them, killing one and seriously injuring the others. As it turned out, these men were not part of Dillinger's gang. Dillinger and his associates had escaped through a back window. This latest failed attempt to capture Dillinger was a major embarrassment to Hoover and the bureau. Dillinger became public enemy number one. Acting on another tip several weeks later, Purvis shot and killed Dillinger as he left a theater. Purvis got the glory as the man who got Dillinger (and later "Baby Face" Nelson) and Hoover resented it.
Even with its relatively short history, by the mid-1930's Hoover had marshalled the imagery to argue convincingly that the Bureau of Investigation protected American citizens from communists, gangsters, and even kidnappers. By most accounts, it was masterful public relations. But there was more. Starting in 1935 a series of G-men movies were produced. Hollywood's film codes and censorship laws only allowed gangsters in movies if they were being captured or killed by agents of the bureau. Hoover became public hero number one.
Through the 1920s and 1930s, the bureau embarked on several initiatives, each of which helped solidify its reputation as the top law enforcement agency in the country. For example, Hoover received authorization and funding for a national fingerprint identification service, and in 1924 the Bureau's Identification Division was created. The Bureau would serve as the national repository and clearinghouse for fingerprint records, and it began a campaign to collect fingerprints from every American. Representatives of the bureau even went door-to-door in an effort to collect prints.
In 1930 the bureau began administering the Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and began to serve as the central clearinghouse for information on crimes as reported by local, state, and federal police and law enforcement agencies. While there were (and continue to be) serious problems with the UCR as a measure of crime, this mechanism placed crime control, and information about crime, as a central responsibility of the bureau and portrayed the bureau as a supervisory entity to other law enforcement agencies.
In 1932, with a borrowed microscope and a few other pieces of equipment, the bureau's laboratory opened. During its first year of operation, the laboratory conducted 963 examinations—nearly all of which involved examinations of handwriting in extortion cases (F.B.I., 1990).
In 1935 the Bureau began operation of the National Police Academy (later known as the F.B.I. National Academy) to train select local police officers in investigative methods. Also in 1935, the bureau changed its name to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.).
The new challenges of World War II
With the rise of totalitarianism abroad, a new concern with internal enemies developed. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936, the F.B.I. expanded information collection on the domestic activities of Communists and radicals. By 1939 Hoover had re-established the General Intelligence Division. The war years provided the F.B.I. with a powerful rationale for monitoring political radicals. In addition, the passage of the Smith Act in 1940 provided a legal basis for F.B.I. domestic security investigations. The Smith Act made it a crime to advocate or conspire to advocate the forceful overthrow of the government. During the early 1940s, the F.B.I. underwent dramatic growth, with the number of employees nearly doubling, from 7,420 to 13,317, and the number of agents doubling to 5,702 during the same period.
In the early 1940s the bureau began resorting to more intrusive investigative techniques, wiretaps in particular, but also physical surveillance, elaborate record keeping, mail openings, and warrantless searches. Sometimes the bureau's monitoring activities went beyond the expected targets (like Communists) to less likely ones, like First Ladies. While President Roosevelt was quite supportive of Hoover and the F.B.I., Mrs. Roosevelt was not. In fact, Hoover considered her an enemy of the F.B.I., and she likely considered the F.B.I. an enemy of hers. In response to Eleanor Roosevelt's criticism of the F.B.I., the First Lady and her assistants became the targets of investigations that were designed to intimidate her and, eventually, did silence her criticism. Despite her protests, the investigations continued and the F.B.I. obtained damaging information on Mrs. Roosevelt that included evidence of extramarital relationships (Powers, 1987).
The fruits of this and other unofficial investigations by the Bureau become the basis of what was been referred as Hoover's secret files (Gentry, 1991). The creation of these secret files got a boost with some official action in 1947. In 1947, the executive branch established the Federal Employee-Loyalty Security Program, which in its final form required that each federal agency conduct investigations of its personnel. This information was to be forwarded to the F.B.I. for further investigative work or for filing. In addition, as part of this program, the F.B.I. was given responsibility for conducting investigations of presidential appointees, Supreme Court nominees, and individuals in other high-level positions. With this responsibility, the bureau exercised extraordinary influence in determining who filled high-level governmental positions, given the bureau's latitude to investigate some people more thoroughly than others.
The rise of organized crime
The 1950s saw a decreasing concern with domestic Communism and an increasing concern with organized crime. As early as 1951, Senator Estes Kefauver had presided over a highly publicized U.S. Senate investigation of organized crime. The event that focused public attention on the problem most directly, however, was the discovery in 1957 of a gathering of major criminal figures at the home of gangster Joseph Barbara in upstate New York. Senate crime hearings were organized and the counsel for the investigating committee was Robert F. Kennedy. With his brother John F. Kennedy's election to the presidency in 1960 and his own confirmation as attorney general in 1961, Robert Kennedy was determined to increase law enforcement pressure on organized crime. Both Kennedys supported new crime laws that strengthened the bureau's jurisdiction in organized crime cases. Aggressive use of wiretaps continued unabated.
After President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 and Attorney General Kennedy resigned in 1964, the F.B.I.'s organized crime effort slackened briefly, and in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered a halt to all electronic eavesdropping not related to national security. But interest in the area was renewed in 1967 with the report of President Johnson's Task Force on Organized Crime. By this time, Hoover had gathered so much information on friends and foes alike, and was so well liked (or feared), that he was virtually untouchable. In fact, President Johnson signed an executive order allowing J. Edgar Hoover to serve as director of the F.B.I. indefinitely.
The administration of President Richard M. Nixon continued to maintain law enforcement pressure on organized crime. In 1970, Congress enacted the most far-reaching law ever directed against organized crime—the Organized Crime Control Act. This statute authorized special grand juries to investigate organized crime and provided for granting witnesses immunity for the use of their testimony.
Civil rights and Vietnam
The F.B.I. had a prominent role in combating race-related violence in the 1960s. Particularly significant was the F.B.I. investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. Bureau agents identified and interviewed Ku Klux Klan members in Mississippi and offered payment for information concerning the missing persons. The case finally broke in August 1964, and six people were convicted of violating the victims' civil rights. From this point on, F.B.I. agents throughout the South became increasingly involved in combating racist violence, but often did using techniques previously reserved for dealing with organized crime and Communists.
The F.B.I. became involved in matters relating to the Vietnam War protests. In June 1970, President Nixon created a working group of representatives from the F.B.I., the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency to consider the need for more extensive domestic intelligence activities in light of the disorders taking place across the United States. Although the Bureau was reluctant to get involved in this initiative, Hoover did agree to install seventeen telephone taps on newsmen and White House employees suspected of receiving and leaking secret information. When the details of the F.B.I.'s wiretaps were revealed, the damage to the bureau was far-reaching.
On 9 March 1971 a small F.B.I. office in Media, Pennsylvania, was burglarized by a group that called itself the Citizen Commission to Investigate the F.B.I. Hundreds of documents that cast light into the secret operations of the F.B.I. were taken. The documents told the story of widespread surveillance and wiretapping of various groups including the Black Panthers, the Jewish Defense League, and the Ku Klux Klan. Some of the documents made reference to COINTELPROs (Counter-Intelligence Programs), the code name given by the F.B.I. to operations aimed at disrupting or even destroying political and social protest groups identified as subversive; these programs were in operation from 1956 to 1971. The public learned that the F.B.I. was guilty of extensive invasion of privacy. The F.B.I. was under siege. Senator Edward Kennedy called for Hoover's resignation. Even President Nixon was growing cold to Hoover, as Hoover was viewed as unresponsive to many of Nixon's investigative requests (Powers, 1987). The legacy of J. Edgar Hoover came to an end with his death on 2 May 1972.
In the aftermath of Hoover
With additional details of the COINTELPRO files made public in 1973, Congress established committees to investigate the intelligence community. During the course of the hearings, the process of internal F.B.I. reform was continued. In the spring of 1976 the new director, Clarence Kelley, terminated most domestic security investigations. Later, in 1976, the Justice Department issued guidelines aimed at regulating future F.B.I. domestic intelligence activities. These guidelines restricted the circumstances under which domestic security investigations could be initiated, limited the techniques that could be used, and restrained the bureau in its use of informants.
In 1978 Kelly was replaced with William Webster. In 1982, following an increase in terrorist activities abroad, Webster made counterterrorism a top F.B.I. priority. The F.B.I. was involved in numerous espionage cases during the mid-1980s—so many that the press dubbed 1985 "the year of the spy." Throughout the 1980s, the F.B.I. and other federal law enforcement agencies also devoted substantial attention and resources to the illegal drug trade. In 1982 the attorney general gave the F.B.I. concurrent jurisdiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over narcotics violations in the U.S. This increase in attention lead to numerous well-publicized drug seizures and arrests, and led to the dismantling of significant drug rings. Webster also gave increased investigative priority to white collar crimes and public corruption. High-profile investigations on this front included ABSCAM (an investigation of corruption among congressmen) and GREYLORD (an investigation of corruption in the Cook County Illinois court system).
The contemporary F.B.I.
In May 1987, William Webster left the F.B.I. to become director of the CIA and Williams Sessions became the new director of the F.B.I. With the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, national security matters were less of a concern. In 1992, the F.B.I. reassigned three hundred special agents from foreign counterintelligence duties to violent crime investigations across the country. At the same time, the F.B.I. laboratory began using DNA technology in solving crimes (and prosecuting suspects).
Following controversial and allegedly politically-motivated allegations of ethics misconduct, Director Sessions was removed from office in July 1993. Shortly after, Louis Freeh was appointed director of the F.B.I. Director Freeh was viewed as an ambitious reformer with high ethical character. With Freeh, the F.B.I. continued its commitment to hire and promote more women and minorities. It is also during this time that the work of the Behavioral Science Unit of the Bureau became an infamous—psychological profiling of suspects based on their crimes (particularly serial homicide) became very well known—but little understood—activity of the bureau. The authority of the F.B.I. into other matters continued to expand as well. For example, in 1996 the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and the Economic Espionage Act were passed by Congress. These new statutes enabled the F.B.I. to significantly strengthen its ability to investigate health care fraud and the theft of trade secrets and intellectual property, respectively. Other emerging areas of responsibility today include the investigation of crimes involving the Internet, including so-called cyber attacks against businesses and governmental agencies.
The structure of the modern F.B.I.
As of 2000, the F.B.I. had approximately 11,400 Special Agents and over 16,400 other employees. About 10,000 employees were assigned to the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, D.C., while the remainder were assigned to field installations. The total annual budget for the F.B.I. approximates three billion dollars. The F.B.I. is headed by a director and supported by a deputy director. There are eleven assistant directors. F.B.I. field offices are located in fifty-six major cities (fifty-five in the United States, one in Puerto Rico). Each field office is supervised by a Special Agent in Charge (SAC), except in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C., where the office is supervised by an Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC). F.B.I. field offices conduct business through the field office headquarters and through satellite offices. To facilitate investigations abroad, the F.B.I. maintains a network of Legal Attache Offices. These offices are located in U.S. embassies in thirty-eight countries around the world (F.B.I., 1999).
The F.B.I. provides numerous types of assistance and support to local police agencies. For example, the F.B.I. crime laboratory is a full-service forensic science laboratory that provides scientific examinations free of charge to any law enforcement agency (given the existence of state operated and funded crime laboratories, local agencies rely primarily on them for their forensic analysis needs). Analysis capabilities include documents, fingerprints, DNA, explosives, firearms, tool marks, toxicology, and tire treads, among others. The laboratory also maintains databases on everything from types of shoe prints and lipstick to types of feathers and rope (F.B.I., 1999).
The F.B.I. also maintains and operates the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Established in 1967, its purpose is to maintain a computerized filing system of criminal justice information (stolen vehicles, guns, missing persons, etc.) available through a computer network. On average, approximately 1.3 million inquiries are made every day from the over 100,000 terminals located in police agencies across the country (F.B.I., 1999).
The F.B.I. offers training assistance to law enforcement agencies through the F.B.I. National Academy and other training programs. The curriculum of the National Academy includes college courses in law, management, forensic science, and health and fitness, among other disciplines. Since 1935, over thirty thousand students have graduated from the academy.
The F.B.I. also provides other types of operational assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies (see F.B.I., 1999, for a complete list of services provided). For instance, through the Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit (CASKU), agents provide psychological profiles of offenders and offer other investigative assistance. The Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) provides training and operational support in crisis management and hostage negotiations situations. The F.B.I. Hostage Rescue Team and SWAT Programs are part of the CIRG. Evidence Response Teams (ERTs) are located in each field office and specialize in organizing and conducting evidence recovery operations from crime scenes.
F.B.I. investigations in the 1990s
Since the early 1990s, the F.B.I. has been involved in numerous high-profile criminal investigations. It is perhaps, at least in part, because of the F.B.I.'s involvement in these extraordinary investigations that the bureau continues to enjoy high status and prestige. For instance, the F.B.I. had the lead role in the investigation of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that occurred on 19 April 1995. This bombing remains the worst terrorist attack ever to occur on American soil, killing 168 and wounding approximately 700. Within two days of the bombing, and with some good fortune, agents had a perpetrator, Timothy McVeigh, in custody. Agents identified part of the vehicle that carried the explosives and traced it to a rental shop. This eventually led to the identification and conviction of McVeigh.
In February 1993 a massive explosion at the World Trade Center in New York City killed six people, injured 1,042, and caused over $500 million in damage. Similar to the Oklahoma City bombing, the vehicle that carried the explosives was traced to a rental shop. This information eventually led to the arrests of four of the perpetrators. Six perpetrators in all were identified and each was sentenced to 240 years in prison.
As a result of the investigation into the World Trade Center bombing, in 1993 F.B.I. agents disrupted the plans of a group of Muslim fundamentalists to blow-up simultaneously various places in New York City: the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, the United Nations building, and the Jacab Javits Federal Building. Through the use of surveillance and undercover infiltration, eight suspects were arrested and sentenced to prison.
Other recent skillful, high-profile investigations by the F.B.I. that have resulted in apprehensions include the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 on 21 December 1988, which killed more than 260 people; the case of CIA officer Harold James Nicholsen, who was arrested by the F.B.I. in 1996 and charged with committing espionage on behalf of Russia; and the U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which occurred on 7 August 1998 and resulted in the death of over 350 people. Three individuals were arrested shortly after the embassy bombings.
Equally high profile but rather unsuccessful investigations of the F.B.I. have cast a shadow on the effectiveness of the F.B.I. and serve as a reminder that what was once true is still true: that the F.B.I is not immune from error. For example, in 1992, agents from the F.B.I. and ATF surrounded the home of Randy Weaver in Idaho, a white supremacist who was wanted on gun violations. During the course of the siege, federal agents fatally shot Weaver's wife and son.
The catastrophic burning of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas in 1993 raised serious questions about the role of the F.B.I. in causing the fire. Subsequent investigations and inquiries into the incident revealed that the F.B.I. agents had in fact used incendiary devices in the attack, contrary to Attorney General Janet Reno's orders. However, it has not been definitively determined what role, if any, these devices played in starting the fire that killed the eighty-six people inside the compound.
With the UNABOMBER case—the name UNABOMB was derived from UNiversity and Airline BOMbing, the perpetrator's early targets—the F.B.I. successfully apprehended the perpetrator, but it took almost eighteen years to do it. Beginning in 1978 and continuing through 1995, sixteen bombs were mailed to, or placed with, various individuals. The bombings resulted in three deaths and twenty-three people injured. In 1996 the bomber requested that his "manifesto" be published in two widely circulated newspapers. With the request granted and the manifesto published, the perpetrator was identified by his own brother, who read the manifesto in the newspaper and alerted the F.B.I. that the writing resembled that of his brother, Ted, who lived in a one-room shack in Montana. Agents converged on the shack and arrested Ted Kaczynski in the midst of bombmaking equipment, supplies, and instructions. He was sentenced to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole.
The F.B.I. investigation of the Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996, which killed two people and injured 111, serves as another example of the bureau's mixed success. The F.B.I. targeted Richard Jewell, a security guard who was working at the park at the time of the explosion. The F.B.I. has come under considerable criticism for focusing on Jewell (some say smearing him) on the basis of scant evidence. The focus on Jewell may have prevented investigators from pursuing other leads and others suspects. The bombing remains unsolved.
A final comment
The F.B.I. (as well as all other law enforcement agencies in the United States) faces an inescapable paradox: repress criminal behavior but do not violate the civil liberties of citizens in the process. In tracing the evolution of the F.B.I., one finds that the bureau has done both: it has worked to protect freedom but at times it has violated freedom. Ultimately, a knowledgeable citizenry that can distinguish between the protection of freedom and the unjust violation of freedom may be an important prerequisite for ensuring the fair exercise of discretion among those charged with enforcing the law. This entry has provided a step toward such an understanding.
Steven G. Brandl
See also Federal Criminal Jurisdiction; Federal Criminal Law Enforcement; Organized Crime; Police: History; Police: Criminal Investigations; Scientific Evidence.
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