An elite team of agents assembled together when America was in great need of a new investigation force and marked the origin of the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) on this day, 1908.
The new team composed of adept law enforcement investigators was hired by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte and appointed to Stanley W. Finch of the Department of Justice under the name of the Bureau of Investigation (later known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935).
There were dark, towering clouds of crime that had blossomed all around the country during the Bureau’s creation. Corrupt politicians and organizations were rampant. The list began with some of the world’s most infamous figures on the rise; Al Capone, Baby Face Nelson, and John Dillinger, just to name a few. To burden the creators even more, the first world war was lurking around the corner, just ten years on the horizon.
Despite a handful in Congress opposing the agency’s growth, speculating a likely abuse of power, the head-count of agents reached 300 by 1914.
At the tail end of WWI, the United States faced a dilemma known as the “Red Scare” of 1919, wherein large waves of immigrants were feared to have potentially detrimental radical ideologies of socialism, anarchism, and communism.
Anti-radical lawyer J. Edgar Hoover enrolled in the Department of Justice and set out to tackle the Red Scare amidst a wavering public. While also focused on a reconstruction and further expansion of the Bureau, Hoover compiled over 450,000 files and 10,000 extremists arrested during the period.
The bureau was overhauled into a structured crime-fighting entity by establishing a fingerprint hub, training school, and crime laboratory. It grew to be revered among the American citizens and Congress with the takedown of several major outlaws, and was renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.
The FBI played a critical role as WWII came to be. As a part of Truman’s National Security Act, a heavy resurgence of anti-espionage alongside new widespread surveillance technology was instituted.
In 1956, Hoover began a covert counterintelligence program under the name of COINTELPRO with the initial intent to bring down dangerous Communist-party groups. It was later used to suppress and sabotage any so-called radical organization that arose, namely Black American Civil Rights groups.
With the usage of often illegal actions, COINTELPRO was brought to public spotlight in 1971 and its operations were put out of order.
Very shortly after Hoover’s passing in 1972, the Watergate Scandal erupted and the FBI were exposed in giving illegal protection to President Richard Nixon’s investigation. Unconstitutional misuse of powers has led to Congress and the American public being increasingly weary of the FBI’s reach since then.
In total, the FBI has been a force for good though some of its well earned luster seems to have been temporarily tarnished of late. Truth, justice and the American way will always be the order of the day. An organization which wields such power must occasionally hold even itself to account.