Home About Us History A Centennial History Foreword



n July 26, 2008, the FBI celebrated its 100th anniversary as a crime fighting and national security agency dedicated to protecting America and the international community from a world of dangers.

As you will see, since its earliest days there really hasn’t been the investigative equivalent of a dull moment for the FBI. Each point in Bureau history has had its own cast of colorful characters, its own investigative challenges and controversies, its own milestones and major cases.

Here on these pages, for example, you will read about that warm summer night when, with FBI agents closing in outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, the hard-bitten bank robber John Dillinger drew his gun for the last time. You will come across secret-stealing spies, with their hidden messages in hollowed-out nickels and childrens’ dolls. You will encounter historic figures like Charles Bonaparte, the progressive attorney general who got it all started, and J. Edgar Hoover, the long-lasting director who turned the FBI into a household name. You will find Watergate and Waco, Murder Inc. and Mississippi Burning, Al Capone and al Qaeda.

Sleuths of Science: Since the 1930s, the FBI has helped pioneer the application of scientific principles and techniques to solving cases and catching spies, terrorists, and criminals of all kinds.
Sleuths of Science: Since the 1930s, the FBI has helped pioneer the application of scientific principles and techniques to solving cases and catching spies, terrorists, and criminals of all kinds.

But if you look over the full sweep of FBI history, you will see an organization that has come a long way—starting as a tentative experiment, maturing and evolving at every step, learning from successes and stumbles alike, gaining experience from the latest threat du jour—from gangsters to mobsters, from spies to serial killers, from Internet predators to international terrorists.

Over the century, the FBI has constantly added to its investigative and intelligence tools and talents—launching a Disaster Squad one decade, a “Most Wanted” list the next; a computer forensics team one decade, a terrorist fly team the next—each innovation building on the last like so many foundation stones.

Over time it has become expert at mapping crime scenes and surveiling targets; at poring over financial ledgers and diving into the depths in search of clues; at staging complex undercover operations and breaking cryptic codes; at peering into human cells to help determine guilt or innocence and using intelligence to get its arms around a threat and then disable it. As a result, the FBI has developed a suite of capabilities that is unmatched in any other single national security agency in the world.

At the same time, one common thread for the FBI through the years has been its penchant for lifting all boats in the global law enforcement and intelligence communities. Its rising tide has been a slew of institutionalized training programs and specialized courses. It has been the FBI Laboratory and its quest to apply the discipline and tools of science to the work of solving crimes—and to share its knowledge and services worldwide. It has been its growing collection of national criminal justice services, everything from criminal records to crime reports, from fingerprints to firearms checks.

Since the late 1920s, FBI agents have undergone rigorous training in firearms, investigative techniques, ethics, and other areas. Today, new agent training lasts 20 weeks.

And more recently, it has been the Bureau’s melding into countless joint operations and task forces with an alphabet soup of agencies—nationally and internationally—where it adds its skills and resources to the collective mix, working together to stop terrorism, cyber crime, and other global dangers, to the point that it is nearly impossible to separate the contributions of one agency—and even one nation—from the next.

Looking back over this first chapter in the FBI’s history, we can see that the experiment of a national investigative force has worked—and worked well enough that the FBI, though far from perfect, is considered a leader and a premier agency of its kind.

For the men and women of the FBI, whose personal sacrifices have been immeasurable, it has been a century to remember…and one to learn from as it walks forward into the future, where new challenges surely await.