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Home About Us What We Investigate Counterintelligence History and Evolution

History and Evolution

History and Evolution

The FBI has been responsible for identifying and neutralizing ongoing national security threats from foreign intelligence efforts since 1917, nine years after the Bureau was created in 1908. The Counterintelligence Division has gone through a lot of changes over the years—including several name changes—and at times took on additional tasks such as terrorism and subversion.

Throughout the Cold War, for example, the division changed its name several times. But foiling and countering the efforts of the Soviet Union and other communist nations remained the primary mission. Read a detailed account of the Venona Project, a 37-year effort to decrypt, decode, and exploit messages sent by Soviet intelligence agencies through the collaboration of the FBI, the National Security Agency, the CIA, and several foreign intelligence agencies.

The following chronology shows how the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division has adjusted and changed over the years to meet evolving threats.

  • Before 1939
    FBI held responsibility for foreign counterintelligence (FCI), terrorism and related investigations. Prior to WWI, many of these responsibilities were shared with the Secret Service. Still, the FBI has held primary responsibility for counterintelligence within America since 1917.
  • 1939
    The General Intelligence Division was created to handle FCI and other intelligence investigations.
  • 1940
    A Special Intelligence Service Division was created to send undercover agents to South and Central America to gather intelligence and to effect counterintelligence operations against Nazi agents and supporters operating there. It was closed in 1946 when President Truman created the Central Intelligence Group.
  • 1941
    The General Intelligence Division was renamed National Defense Division.
  • 1943
    The National Defense Division was renamed the Security Division (not to be confused with the Security Division created in 2001).
  • 1953
    Renamed the Domestic Security Division.
  • 1973
    Renamed the Intelligence Division.
    (Then, in 1976, Domestic Intelligence/Security investigations, including those involving domestic terrorism, were transferred out, into the Criminal Investigative Division CID.)
  • 1993
    Renamed the National Security Division NSD.
    (In 1994, the domestic terrorism responsibility moved back to NSD.)
  • 1999
    Counterterrorism Division and Investigative Services Division were created in a Bureauwide reorganization and those responsibilities were transferred out of NSD and CID, into the new division.
  • 2001
    NSD was renamed the Counterintelligence Division. The Security Division, Cyber Division, and Office of Intelligence were created out of the Counterintelligence Division in December 2001.