In the late 19th century, 1886 precisely, it was discovered by the Supreme Court that the United States intestate commerce was un-regulated. Consequently, it became a Federal responsibility to fill up this vacuum. This gave birth to the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act. This act needed personnel to enforce it, but the Justice department had a shortage of investigators.
Hence, the Attorney General then, Charles Joseph, took the initiative of plunging into other agencies like secret service for investigators. However, the congress frowned on this development of using Treasury staff as investigators and they promptly passed a law against this in 1870 (Kessler, 2006).
The Attorney had no other option than to embark on an inception of ad-hoc investigators, so he hurriedly put together a formal group of investigators, which was named Bureau Of Investigators (BOI), with agents supplied by the secret service. These agents that became the first set of BOI agents were 12 in number. BOI later metamorphosized into FBI, invariably meaning that the first set of FBI agents were actually agents from Secret Service agents. (Timeline of FBI History)
As expected, the BOI was christened several names until it was eventually named FBI. It was given the name the United States Bureau of Investigation in 1932. In the preceding year, it was adapted to the Bureau of Prohibition and renamed the Division of Investigation (DOI), until finally in 1935 it became the FBI. (Timeline of FBI History).
The bureau started with precisely 34 agents, out of which 10 were agents from the secret service. In 1932, the first FBI laboratory was opened officially in order to facilitate scientific crime detection, under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover, the first FBI director, who was formerly the director of BOI, the mother of FBI. Edgar served as a director for over 47 years and immediately after his death, a law was passed to limit the tenure of directors of FBI to a maximum of 10 years. (Timeline of FBI History)
Edgar was quite articulate, he did not only champion the FBI laboratory, that developed DNA testing and pioneered identification using fingerprinting system in 1924, he was personally involved in many of the assignments and project executed by the FBI. The first official tasks these agents were assigned was to enforce The White Slave Traffic Act of June 25, 1910. (Timeline of FBI History). The agents were visiting and surveying prostitution houses.
During these early years, the FBI’s jurisdiction was constrained simply because most of the investigations were already assigned to the local police and other law enforcement agencies. It was only given the responsibility of investigating bankruptcy and postal fraud, antitrust violations, destruction of government properties, and other crimes on “Native America reservation”. The Mann Act, which prohibited the transportation of ladies for prostitution and decadent acts and the Dyer Act, the Vehicle theft law both further empowered the FBI.
Many of the criminals that once evaded the local police across the United States were doomed by these laws. The bureau was empowered to bridge the gap across the state where criminals choose and use to disappear from other agencies.
In the1930s, FBI declared war on crime and they achieved a great success for they either apprehended or killed several notorious criminals that were involved in crimes ranging from serial killing, kidnapping, robbing. Criminals like George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, “Baby Face” Nelson, to mention only a few, were all caught in the net of FBI.( Timeline of FBI History) All these names will ring a bell to historians of criminal and crimes. Irrespective of the fact that FBI was still in its early years, it succeeded in apprehending the whole revolutionary Mexican army based along the California border in the 1920s.
Yet another achievement of the early FBI was the leveling of the strength and influence of the famous “Ku Klux Klan”, who influenced and sponsored many organized crimes. In later years, between 1940s to1970s, FBI delved into major espionage cases against United States and her allies Nations.
These were the years FBI was gaining maturity. Eight Nazi agent plotting sabotage to American goals were arrested, six of them were executed. It was also during this period that the FBI embarked on a Joint US/UK code braking project and the bureau was able to break the “Soviet Union intelligence and diplomatic communication code”. The bureau had planted spies into the soviet intelligence working underground which must have led to the arrest of the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel in the year 1957, yet another major early achievement of FBI. (Douglas,2007)
Together with all these achievements and progress recorded by the FBI in its early years, there were occasionally allegation of digression from major espionages and crimes. FBI allegedly indulged itself in controversial issues such as probing the affairs of the civil right activists. Leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr T.R.M Howard became the focal point of FBI’s surveillance. During this period, FBI was unable to crack some major murder cases such as the killing of George W. Lee and some other black Americans. Rather than concentrating on major crimes, FBI investigated and upset the activities of political organizations in the United States including non-violent political and civil right groups.
Amongst this is the popular Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Unfortunately, many of these individuals and groups could not be connected with any crime, the FBI was even alleged to indulge in blackmail in netting some of its victims. A journalist once claimed that an anonymous letter was sent to Luther King by FBI, advising him to commit suicide.
Several individuals have been said to be on the record of FBI, for it investigates and files the record of virtually all the top celebrities and rich man in the United State irrespective of the sphere of life the individual operates in. From the celebrities in the entertainment industry to politicians, academicians and lots more, the FBI has a thoroughly researched document on them all. Among these individuals are: Elvis Presley, the Famous Musician, Walt Disney’s founder, Frank Sinatra, John Denver, John Lennon, Jane Fonda, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, MC5, Lou Costello, Sonny Bono, Bob Dylan, Mickey Mantle, to mention only but a few. (Douglas,2007 )
Such were the activities of the FBI until the murder of John F. Kennedy. The task and responsibility of investigating the killing of the president of the United State was too enormous for the local police, hence, the new president instructed the FBI to take over the case. This development led to the congress passing a law to back this development up. Therefore, thereafter, the FBI handled all homicides at such level. Till date, FBI has been in charge of investigation of murder of all federal officials.
This killing of Kennedy could be said to revive the FBI, for soon after the killing the “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act” (RICO ACT) was enacted, which enabled the FBI to dig into organized crimes networks. (Timeline of FBI History)The bureau investigated the popular crime syndicates and families that were fast becoming the brain behind all major crimes in large cities and small towns too. Today, the RICO Act is still used for all organized crime.
From1910 to 1996 the congress kept coming up with different types of laws that increasingly focused on and regulated the activities of both individual and organizations, laws regulating political, personal and economic activities of all and sundry. This increasingly regulation kept on bestowing more power to the FBI.
Its responsibilities were redefined to include areas that were exclusively left for local law enforcement agents. Not only was the bureau allowed to handle cases of bank robbery, theft, fraud, gambling etc. The federal laws further empowered the FBI when some laws were enacted that narrowed the scope of privacy right by defining distribution of obscene literatures, migration across state line to indulge in non-marital sexual acts and even speeches and association that threatens the existence of the United State or promotes or protects any foreign interest as criminal.
Overly, the FBI was empowered to investigate any individual’s or organization’s activity that is political in nature. These reports serve as intelligence report to the presidency, State, justice, war department and other federal agencies.
The bureau does not only help alert and curb crimes, it also helps in implementing loyalty in among federal workers. The bureau is also saddled with the responsibility of disseminating information for the purpose of influencing the public opinion and reducing the powers and influence of political activists. This information dissemination authority was given to the bureau in 1940s and in 1950s, it was further refined into cognate programs. (Douglas,2007)
The 1984 Olympic brought another major development in the FBI. (End of cold war,www.fib.com). The bureau formed a unit of selected agents to assist with curbing the major crimes and terrorism that could arise at the 1984 Olympics. This development was necessary when Athletes from Israel were murdered by terrorists. This team was given the name Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) which later became the SWAT.
Again, 1984 the computer Analysis and Response Team (CART) was formed. After the cold war, terrorism was reduced tremendously, this consequently reduced the task of the FBI, hence agents of the bureau were assigned the responsibility of tailing fugitives who have escaped and crossed state lines. In the 1990s, over 300 agents resigned due to fewer activities in the FBI. (End of cold war,www.fib.com)