For somewhat more than half of its history, the
United States got along without a general purpose
investigative agency . In 1908, over the objections
of some members of Congress, Attorney General Charles
Bonaparte, the grandson of the French emperor's
brother, issued an executive order creating such an
investigative force within the Justice Department.
The agency almost immediately became the subject of intense controversy.
With the entry of the United States into World War One, the Bureau of
Investigation became engaged in an embarrassing roundup of thousands
of young men, only a handful of whom turned out to be genuine draft
dodgers. Shortly after the war, the Bureau was the lead agency of an
operation that became known as the Palmer Raids — the dragnet arrests
of tens of thousands of alien radicals in 33 cities. Partly because
most of the victims were arrested without a warrant, the majority were
eventually released either before or after their prosecution. One of
the supervisors of Palmer Raids was a young Justice Department lawyer
named J. Edgar Hoover.
In 1924, following a round of additional scandals and
the forced resignation of Attorney General Harry
Daughterty, Hoover was selected to clean up the
disgraced agency. In 1935, it was renamed the Federal
Bureau of Investigation. Hoover would remain the
director of the FBI until his death in 1972. During
the 1930s, with the help of an aggressive public
relations program, the FBI won wide support from the
American people for its capture of a handful of
highly publicized gangsters. With the coming of World
War Two and the Cold War against the Soviet Union,
the FBI's reputation as the nation's premier
enforcement agency continued to grow.
But with the 1971 theft of internal documents from an FBI office in
Media, Pa., and the post-Watergate Congressional investigations in the
mid-1970s, the FBI's national reputation plummeted. The documents and
the investigations showed that under Hoover's direction the FBI had
invested a growing part of its budget and staff for political, rather
than enforcement, purposes. The FBI's Counter Intelligence Program —
COINTEL — began as an effort to undermine the Communist Party. The
Ku Klux Klan, black political activists such as Martin Luther King,
student protesters against the Vietnam War and even some early leaders
in the women's liberation movement ultimately were added as COINTEL
Following this blackest time in FBI history, well-meaning FBI directors like Clarence Kelley and Judge William Webster worked hard to re-establish the bureau as the nation's leading investigative until In 1993, President Clinton appointed a former FBI agent, federal prosecutor as bureau director. During his term, the efforts of Kelley and Webster were marred by the development of a series of new problems, among them at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Another more systematic problem was serious short comings uncovered in the FBI's National Laboratory. Then came information raising numerous questions about the performance of the FBI in investigating individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks and the espionage conviction of a senior FBI intelligence agent named Robert Hansen.
On September 4, 2001 President Bush name Robert S. Mueller III as the bureau director. Since his appointment, Mueller — a highly respected former U.S. Attorney — has been faced with leading the bureau in the post 9/11 world. Central to this effort has been Mueller's effot to gradually shift the bureau from an agency mostly focused on the criminal prosecution of traditional crimes to an one where a sophisticated kind of counter intelligence is a much larger part of its work.