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Home About Us Intelligence Branch FBI Intelligence Timeline

FBI Intelligence Timeline

FBI Intelligence Timeline

August 1914


World War I began in Europe, placing additional responsibilities on the Bureau of Investigation (BOI), the precursor to the FBI. On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war on Germany and President Woodrow Wilson authorized the BOI to detain foreign enemy agents found on American soil.

June 15, 1917

Congress passed the Espionage Act of 1917. The act forbade espionage, interference with the draft, or attempts to discourage loyalty. It greatly increased the BOI’s ability to deal with espionage and subversion during the war; however, a lack of personnel hampered Bureau efforts in enforcing the law.

March 1, 1932

The Bureau initiated the international exchange of fingerprint data with friendly foreign governments. Because of the rise of tension in Europe, this program was halted in the late 1930s. It was not reinstituted until well after World War II.

May 24, 1936

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to a morning meeting to discuss his concerns about subversive activity in the United States. He asked Hoover to report on the activities of Nazi and communist groups. The FBI made these investigations at the request of the Secretary of State for the President.


President Roosevelt assigned responsibility for investigating espionage, sabotage, and other subversive activities jointly to the FBI, the Military Intelligence Division of the War Department (MID), and the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI).

June 24, 1940

The FBI established a Special Intelligence Service (SIS) at President Roosevelt’s request. Under the SIS, the Bureau dispatched agents to countries throughout the Western Hemisphere (except Panama). FBI agents in South and Central America gathered intelligence information and worked to prevent Axis espionage, sabotage, and propaganda efforts aimed against the United States and its allies. Some special agents assigned to posts in Europe, Canada, and Latin America began acting in an official liaison capacity. After President Harry S Truman closed the SIS in 1946, these agent liaisons formed the basis of the FBI’s Legal Attaché (Legat) Program.

December 7, 1941

The Japanese bombed the U.S. naval facility at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In response, the United States entered World War II. Director Hoover ordered existing FBI war plans put into effect, and Attorney General Francis Biddle authorized the Bureau to act against dangerous foreign enemy agents. The FBI immediately went on a 24-hour schedule, and within 72 hours had taken 3,846 enemy aliens into custody. Seized contraband included short-wave radios, dynamite, weapons, and ammunition.

June 12, 1942

Four German saboteurs led by George John Dasch landed from a U-boat on the beach near Amagansett, Long Island, New York. Five days later, a second team of four German saboteurs, led by Edward Kerling, landed at Ponte Vedra Beach in Florida. Dasch turned himself in at the New York Field Office two days after landing. Within two weeks, the FBI captured all 8 saboteurs.

May 30, 1945

Between January 1940 and May 1945, the Bureau investigated 19,299 alleged cases of sabotage. Sabotage in some form was found in 2,282 incidences, primarily acts of spite, carelessness, malicious mischief, and the like. During World War II, not a single act of enemy-directed sabotage was successful in the United States.

September 1945

Soviet military intelligence code clerk Igor Guzenko defected to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). One month later, Elizabeth Bentley, a courier for two Soviet spy rings in Washington, DC, turned herself in to the FBI in New Haven, Connecticut. Both Soviet agents brought a wealth of information about Soviet intelligence networks in the United States and Canada.

August 1946

Congress passed the Atomic Energy Act, making the FBI responsible for investigating the backgrounds of persons who were to access restricted nuclear data. The FBI was also responsible for investigation of criminal violations of this act.


The FBI began a close liaison with the U.S. Army Security Agency (ASA), a predecessor of the National Security Agency (NSA), on the exploitation of Soviet messages that were being decrypted and decoded by military intelligence personnel. The FBI and the NSA were able to identify several hundred persons connected with Soviet intelligence work against the U.S. and its allies. The project continued until 1980, when it was shut down. Among the prominent cases to come from these messages were the Judith Coplon case, the Klaus Fuchs case, and the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case.

June 21, 1957

The FBI arrested Colonel Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, a Soviet espionage agent who was operating in the United States without diplomatic cover.


A series of high profile espionage arrests characterized 1985 as the “Year of the Spy.” In May, the John Walker Spy Ring was arrested; former Navy personnel John Walker, Jerry Whitworth, Arthur Walker, and Michael Walker were convicted of or pled guilty to passing classified material to the Soviet Union. On November 21, Jonathan Jay Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst, was arrested for spying for Israel. On November 23, Larry Wu Tai Chin, a former CIA analyst, was arrested on charges of spying for the People’s Republic of China since 1952. On November 25, a third major spy, former NSA employee William Pelton, was arrested and charged with selling military secrets to the Soviets.

September 13, 1987

Fawaz Younis became the first suspected foreign terrorist arrested by the FBI for a crime perpetrated against Americans on foreign soil. The Bureau made the arrest under provisions of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which assigned certain extraterritorial authorities to the FBI. In March 1989, a U.S. District Court sentenced Younis to 30 years for the hijacking of a Jordanian plane carrying two Americans.

February 21, 1994

FBI agents arrested Aldrich Hazen Ames, a 30-year CIA veteran, and his wife, Maria del Rosario Casas Ames, on espionage charges. Ames’s crimes began in April 1985 and resulted in the deaths of at least 10 Soviet sources of the CIA and FBI. Other sources were imprisoned and more than 100 intelligence operations were compromised. Ames provided thousands of classified documents to the Soviet Union and, later, the Russian Republic.

April 19, 1995

On the second anniversary of the Waco, Texas, tragedy, a truck bomb exploded at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 169 people and destroying the 9-story building. President Clinton designated the FBI as lead law enforcement agency in the case. The U.S. Marshals Service, the Treasury Department, and many other state and local agencies contributed to the investigation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also coordinated its efforts with the FBI, as did the armed forces, federal community mental health experts, and the General Services Administration (GSA).

August 7, 1998

Terrorist bombing attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed hundreds of U.S., Kenyan, and Tanzanian citizens. A Joint Terrorist Task Force, composed of the FBI and other federal, state, and local authorities, cooperated in the investigation.

April 1, 1999

Taiwanese-based Four Pillars Enterprises became the first foreign company convicted of economic espionage under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996. This landmark investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Cleveland Division.

April 5, 1999

“Top Ten” fugitives Abdel Basset Ali Al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah were surrendered by Libya to Dutch authorities to be tried before a Scottish court for charges in connection with the December 21, 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, and killed 270 people.

June 7, 1999

Osama bin Laden was added to the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” list. Bin Laden was charged in connection with the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa.

January 19, 2000

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced indictments of Mokhtar Haouari and Abdel Ghani Meskini in the “Borderbom” investigation, a wide-ranging terrorist conspiracy to bomb American sites during the January 1, 2000, millennium celebrations. The two were charged with collaborating with Ahmed Ressam. The FBI/New York Police Department Joint Terrorist Task Force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service, and Canada’s Department of Justice assisted in the investigation.

September 11, 2001

Following the massive terrorist attacks against New York City and Washington, D.C., the FBI dedicated 7,000 of its 11,000 special agents and thousands of FBI support personnel to the PENTTBOM investigation. “PENTTBOM” is short for Pentagon/Twin Towers Bombing.

October 2001

FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered all FBI field offices to create joint terrorism task forces/regional terrorism task forces to coordinate counterterrorism efforts across the United States. The first such task force, in New York, was formally created in 1980. A new FBI Priority list was also issued. The top three priorities were: 1) Protect the United States from terrorist attack; 2) Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage; and 3) Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes.

October 26, 2001

President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening American by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of 2001. This anti-terrorism law provided the FBI with additional resources to hire new agents and critical support personnel, employ court-approved wiretaps against potential terrorists more easily, seek additional information about potential terrorists more easily, share criminal investigative information with counterterrorism investigators in other government agencies, and work with other government agencies to secure U.S. borders and attack international money laundering.

December 3, 2001

An Office of Intelligence (OI) was created within the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division (CTD). This structure and capability significantly enhanced the Bureau’s counterterrorism operations and those of its partners.

January 30, 2003

The OI concept was extended across all FBI programs—Criminal (CID), Cyber (CyD), Counterterrorism (CT), and Counterintelligence (CD). Intelligence authorities were unified under a new FBI-wide Office of Intelligence led by an Executive Assistant Director for Intelligence (EAD-I). The OI leveraged Intelligence Community best practices to direct all FBI intelligence activities.

October 2003

The FBI established Field Intelligence Groups (FIGs) in every field office. The FIGs coordinated, managed, and executed FBI intelligence functions in the field.

July 22, 2004

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (“The 9/11 Commission”) report was released. The report reviewed the FBI’s efforts up to that point and provided recommendations to further strengthen the Bureau’s intelligence capability.

November 16, 2004

A presidential memorandum for the attorney general, titled “Further Strengthening Federal Bureau of Investigation Capabilities,” advised the FBI to create the Directorate of Intelligence (DI).

December 8, 2004

The president signed The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005. The act directed the FBI to create a Directorate of Intelligence with “broad and clear authority over intelligence-related functions.”

December 17, 2004

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 supported the direction that the FBI has taken since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The act formally acknowledged the significant progress made by the Bureau in improving its intelligence capabilities and directed the FBI to create a DI. It firmly established and expanded the DI’s authority over the management of the FBI’s intelligence functions, including oversight of field intelligence operations and coordination of human source development and management.

February 28, 2005

The FBI issued an electronic communication formally establishing the DI.

March 31, 2005

The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD Commission) issued a report recommending that the FBI create a new “National Security Service” under a single executive assistant director. This service would include the FBI’s Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence Divisions and its Directorate of Intelligence, and would be subject to the coordination and budget authorities of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).

June 28, 2005

The president issued a memorandum directing the attorney general to implement the WMD Commission’s recommendation by combining the missions, capabilities, and resources of the counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence elements of the FBI into a new national security service headed by a senior FBI official. The memo instructed the attorney general to assign the new service the “principal responsibility within the FBI for the collection, processing, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence to further enhance the security of the Nation.”

September 12, 2005

The FBI stood up the National Security Branch (NSB), consisting of the Bureau’s Counterterrorism Division (CTD), Counterintelligence Division (CD), and Directorate of Intelligence (DI), headed by an executive assistant director. The creation of the NSB combined the FBI’s national security workforce and mission under one leadership umbrella.

June 5, 2006

The FBI received notification that Congress had officially approved the NSB as part of a larger reorganization of the Bureau.

July 26, 2006

The FBI established the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD) as part of the NSB to integrate WMD components that were previously spread throughout the Bureau.