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Evolution, Not Revolution, at the FBI

Author: Charles E. Berger
February 4, 2014
National Interest Online

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Earlier this month, Foreign Policy reportedthe FBI quietly dropped law enforcement as its primary mission and ominously replaced it with "national security." This monumental change of mission for such a well-known and powerful agency was not announced by the Director of the FBI, the Attorney General nor the President. It was not even posed on the FBI's public webpage. According to the article, this significant event was announced this summer in the form of coversheets on documents requested by individuals under the Freedom of Information Act.

While the mission of the FBI has evolved since its inception in 1908, the Bureau has always been an agency with both law enforcement and intelligence authorities. Since 2011, the official mission statement of the FBI has read: "As an intelligence-driven and a threat-focused national security organization with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities, the mission of the FBI is to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners."

With some minor wording changes, this was the same mission statement in effect on September 11, 2001. Those attacks clearly demonstrated that international terrorists had evolved into the most significant threat in the FBI's mandate. Later that same year, the Bureau listed terrorism and foreign-intelligence threats first, followed by the enforcement of criminal laws. This reordering of priorities accurately reflected the massive shift in resources and organization that was then occurring within the FBI.

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