The Federal Bureau of Investigation turns 106 this July. In honor of the anniversary of this American institution, whose mission statement is to "help protect you, your children, your communities, and your businesses from the most dangerous threats facing our nation," we have compiled a list of ten little-known facts about the FBI.
Unless otherwise specified, all information comes from the FBI website.
The FBI began in 1908, thanks in large part to Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt appointed Charles Bonaparte (grandnephew of a certain famous Frenchman) to the position of Attorney General after Bonaparte commented that instead of requiring Border Patrol to pass marksmanship tests, "Roosevelt should have had the men shoot at each other, and given the jobs to the survivors."
As Attorney General, Bonaparte was faced with the frustration of not having any investigators or agents who answered specifically to his position. Instead, he was forced to hire Secret Servicemen, who were expensive and technically worked for the head of Secret Service, not Bonaparte. Bonaparte felt his hands were tied when it came to combatting crime, especially after Congress banned the loan of Secret Service agents.
At this point, Bonaparte discreetly hired a handful of the agents he had borrowed previously along with an additional group of his own choosing. This, according to the FBI website, was all done with Roosevelt's blessing, and the FBI was born.
Initially, the FBI had no term limits. Directors could serve as long as they wanted, and that's exactly what J. Edgar Hoover did, according to the Washington Post.
Hoover, one of the FBI's most prominent directors, served for 48 years. While he was considered an American hero for most of that time, according to the post, after his death the extent to which he abused his power was revealed. The Post describes his transgressions as including "covert black-bag jobs, warrantless surveillance of civil rights leaders and Vietnam-era peace activists, use of secret files to bully government officials, snooping on movie stars and senators, and the rest."
Upon his death, president Nixon mandated that FBI directors can serve a maximum of ten years. For many, Hoover's legacy became a cautionary tale about the abuse of power.
The FBI once spent four months investigating lyrics from a pop song.
"Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen was a popular song in the early 1960s, but its difficult to understand lyrics led some listeners to believe the song contained hidden pornographic messages. The FBI was called to investigate, and they took the job seriously.
From February to May of 1964, the FBI searched the song for any sign of lewd material or evidence that the song broke the law against interstate transportation of obscene material. They found no evidence of obscenity.
The Kingsmen weren't the only pop figures who the FBI investigated; the bureau also has files on Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway, among others.
The FBI once investigated ESP as a potential investigative tool.
The bureau has 40 documented pages on this supernatural form of mind reading, apparently put on the topic when a man called Mr. Foos put on an ESP, or extrasensory perception, demonstration for FBI agents sent to investigate its legitimacy.
One of the agents described witnessing a "rather amazing performance of reading while blindfolded," but ultimately the agency concluded that while mind reading would be a useful skill, there was not enough scientific evidence to support it. The investigation into ESP was abandoned.
There is a long-standing story that Hoover was never fired because he had too much information on U.S. presidents and other major political figures. According to the Washington Post, this might not be totally true, but there are elements of truth to the rumor.
The Post writes that Hoover had positive relationships with presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Kennedy all considered firing him but the primary reason that Hoover kept his job was because it was politically beneficial for the presidents, not because of any dirt he had on them, the Post reports.
However, it was Hoover who discovered one of President Kennedy's extramarital affairs through a wiretap, and presidents aside, Hoover did use his power to destroy political opponents and ruin lives. His tactics included spreading "unconfirmed gossip about private sex lives and radical ties" among other things, according to the Post.
Hogan's Alley, Virginia, has elements of a typical town such as a movie theater, a car dealership, and a school. However its bank is robbed no less than twice a week and it has a disproportionate amount of citizens who moonlight as mobsters and international terrorists.
The town was created as a training academy for FBI agents in 1987, providing trainees the opportunity to use their skills in a real-world setting. The town is populated by agents training for both the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as plenty of actors who portray criminals threatening the American people.
The town was called Hogan's Alley after a nineteenth-century comic strip with the same name.
Walter Walsh was recognized as the FBI's oldest former agent in 2008, according to the New York Times. He was 100 years old at the time — one year older than the FBI itself.
Walsh died in April of 2014 at the age of 106. He was known as an expert marksman, and was a force to be reckoned with in the FBI — Walsh killed at least 11 gangsters during his FBI stint.
Additionally, he competed in the 1948 summer Olympics and took 12th in the 50-meter free pistol event. Walsh was still "winning handgun awards and coaching Olympic marksmen at (age) 90," according to the Times.
In its National DNA Index, the FBI has over 9,875,100 offender profiles, 1,216,400 arrestee profiles, and 447,300 forensic profiles.
The FBI upkeeps a collection of over 5,000 samples of hair (both human and animal) to provide training references.
In 2012, the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response Team examined more than 17,000 terabytes of data. At the same time, they were assisting in over 9,700 investigations.
The FBI conducts nearly 18 million background checks annually.
FBI computers are advanced enough to decrypt digital media in a day "that would otherwise take 162 years to complete," according to the FBI website.
When the FBI started in the 1920s, there were three female agents — Alaska Davidson, Jessie Duckstein and Lenore Houston. While J. Edgar Hoover was FBI director, he didn't hire a single woman, according to the History channel. He also reportedly mandated that his three female employees wear only skirts or dresses, and unlike the male agents, they were not allowed to smoke at their desk.
Today, there are 2,636 female FBI agents, making up about 19 percent of the total force.
In 2003, FBI agent George Piro spent every day for seven months trying to coax information out of Saddam Hussein.
The CIA deferred the prisoner to the FBI for questioning, and in order to gain as much information as possible Piro took care to always show Hussein respect, and came into the situation with a knowledge of Iraqi history that impressed its former dictator.
Piro's tactics worked, and Hussein divulged several important pieces of information, including the following:
-Hussein never had the weapons of mass destruction that he vaguely threatened the world with, but he invented the story because he feared an Iranian invasion. However, he did fully intend to rebuild his stock of WMDs.
-Saddam never trusted Osama bin Laden, and called him a "fanatic."
-Despite popular belief, Hussein never used lookalikes or body doubles for any reason, believing that no one could really play his part successfully.
-Hussein officially decided to invade the neighboring nation Kuwait in 1990 after an insulting remark made by a high-ranking Kuwait official.
Piro played his role so well that Hussein was sad to see him go. The former dictator of Iraq teared up when Piro left, according to Piro.