What is the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation)?

The FBI or Federal Bureau of Investigation is a federal level, i.e., national level, organization in the United States. It mainly focuses on federal law enforcement and the investigation of criminal activity. It is America’s domestic intelligence and security service.

Federal’ means related to central government rather than a regional or local authority. In other words, its jurisdiction covers the whole country. Monarchies such as the United Kingdom or Sweden have ‘royal’ rather than ‘federal’ agencies or organizations.

According to the official FBI website, it is:

“An intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities.”

FBI – priorities

The FBI combats crime that powerful groups carry out, i.e., organized crime.

The Bureau’s top priority is to protect the country from:

  • terrorist attacks,
  • espionage, i.e., spies,
  • foreign intelligence operations,
  • hackers and cyber-attacks, and also
  • crimes involving high-technology.

The agency also works on cracking down on significant violent crimes, major white-collar crimes, and public corruption. Additionally, it works on the protection of civil rights.

Although the FBI protects U.S citizen and interests for crimes outside the country, it can only arrest an individual in a foreign country when the U.S Congress grants jurisdiction. It must also have the consent of the country involved.

FBI jurisdiction

The Bureau has jurisdiction at a federal level. However, if an investigation lies within a specialized field, it will fall under the specialized agency’s jurisdiction.

Some specialized agencies are:

  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) – focuses on crimes involving alcohol, tobacco, and explosives. ATF is also in charge of dealing with firearms violations.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – focuses on immigration violations and financial crimes targeting the U.S. financial and banking infrastructure.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – deals with tax violations.
  • U.S. Postal Service – deals with postal violations.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – focuses on securities fraud and illegal financial practices.

The only agency that the FBI has a coexisting jurisdiction with is the DEA. DEA stands for Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA is in charge of narcotics violations.

FBI – brief history

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was established over a hundred years ago. In 1908, people called it the Bureau of Investigation (BOI).

In 1932, it briefly changed to the United States Bureau of Investigation. Its name subsequently changed to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935.

The FBI’s motto, ‘Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,’ traces back to a brief comment by Inspector W. H. Drane Lester, the editor of the employee magazine, The Investigator, in September 1935.

The logo seal

The blue field and scales on the shield represent justice. The 13 stars represent unity of purpose as exemplified by the original 13 states of the US.

Regarding using the seal without authority, the Bureau says:

”Unauthorized use of the FBI seal (or colorable imitations) may be punishable under Title 18 United States Code, Sections 701, 709, or other applicable law.”


The FBI and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) have different responsibilities.

The Bureau’s functions are similar to Britain’s MI5 and Russia’s FSB, i.e., it focuses on domestic issues.

The CIA, on the other hand, which has no law enforcement authority, focuses on intelligence gathering abroad. The British and Russian equivalents of the CIA are MI6 and SVR respectively. James Bond is a fictional MI6 agent that writer Ian Fleming created in 1953.

Video – Becoming an FBI agent

This Federal Bureau of Investigation video talks about the first weeks of training at Quantico, its training academy. Those weeks can be both exciting and nerve-wracking.