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Federal Bureau of Investigation: History

The Early Days

With the turmoil surrounding its creation, it is not surprising that during the first years of its operation (1910s) the Bureau of Investigation was entrenched in scandal. (Actually, the entire history of the F.B.I. can be viewed as being rather scandalous, as discussed below.) However, at the same time, it was slowly becoming accepted as a law enforcement agency and assigned law enforcement responsibilities. For example, in 1910 Congress pasted the Mann Act, which prohibited the transportation of females across state lines for immoral purposes. Responsibility for the enforcement of the law was given to the Bureau of Investigation. Other statutes followed, prohibiting the transportation of stolen goods, vehicles, and obscene materials.

In 1916, with three hundred agents, and in the face of war in Europe, the bureau was given power to conduct counterintelligence and antiradical investigations. In 1919, the country experienced a series of bombings with targets ranging from police departments to banks (and included the residence of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer). These actions were believed to be the responsibility of communists and others who were "un-American." The bombings and their aftermath became known as the "Red Scare." In response to the bombings, Attorney General Palmer established the General Intelligence Division (GID) within the Justice Department to increase significantly the ability to store information on radicals and those suspected of being sympathetic to radicals. An individual by the name of John Edgar Hoover was named the head of the GID.

In 1920, using information from the GID, Attorney General Palmer authorized a series of raids (to be known as the "Palmer Raids") in thirty-three cities across the country that resulted in more than five thousand arrests of people believed to be un-American or communists. The plan was to then deport the individuals who were arrested. The problem was that most of the people arrested were not radicals at all. The courts ordered many of those arrested to be released. In 1921, during congressional hearings on the conduct of the GID and the Bureau during the Palmer raids, Attorney General Palmer and Hoover fiercely defended their Bureau of Investigation, and the actions of their agents.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawFederal Bureau of Investigation: History - Before The Beginning Of The F.b.i., The Beginning Of The F.b.i.