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Where is the FBI’s authority written down?
The FBI has a range of legal authorities that enable it to investigate federal crimes and threats to national security, as well as to gather intelligence and assist other law enforcement agencies.
Federal law gives the FBI authority to investigate all federal crime not assigned exclusively to another federal agency (28, Section 533 of the U.S. Code.) Title 28, U.S. Code, Section 533, authorizes the attorney general to appoint officials to detect and prosecute crimes against the United States. Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 3052, specifically authorizes special agents and officials of the FBI to make arrests, carry firearms, and serve warrants. Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 3107, empowers special agents and officials to make seizures under warrant for violation of federal statutes. The FBI’s authority to investigate specific criminal violations is conferred by numerous other congressional statutes—such as the Congressional Assassination, Kidnapping, and Assault Act (Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 351). The FBI has special investigative jurisdiction to investigate violations of state law in limited circumstances, specifically felony killings of state law enforcement officers (28 U.S.C. § 540), violent crimes against interstate travelers (28 U.S.C. § 540A0, and serial killers (28 U.S.C. §540B). A request by an appropriate state official is required before the FBI has authority to investigate these matters. In addition, Title 28, Code of Federal Regulations, Section 0.85, outlines the investigative and other responsibilities of the FBI, including the collection of fingerprint cards and identification records; the training of state and local law enforcement officials at the FBI National Academy; and the operation of the National Crime Information Center and the FBI Laboratory.
The FBI has authority to investigate threats to the national security pursuant to presidential executive orders, attorney general authorities, and various statutory sources. Title II of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Pubic Law 108-458, 118 Stat. 3638, outlines FBI intelligence authorities, as does Executive Order 12333; 50 U.S.C. 401 et seq.; 50 U.S.C. 1801 et seq.
This combination of authorities gives the FBI the unique ability to address national security and criminal threats that are increasingly intertwined and to shift between the use of intelligence tools such as surveillance or recruiting sources and law enforcement tools of arrest and prosecution. Unlike many domestic intelligence agencies around the world, the FBI can shift seamlessly between intelligence collection and action. This allows the FBI to continue gathering intelligence on a subject to learn more about his social and financial network, but shift gears quickly to arrest him if harm to an innocent person appears imminent. The threat of prosecution, in turn, can be used to encourage cooperation to support further intelligence gathering.
What authority do FBI special agents have to make arrests in the United States, its territories, or on foreign soil?
In the U.S. and its territories, FBI special agents may make arrests for any federal offense committed in their presence or when they have reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed, or is committing, a felony violation of U.S. laws. On foreign soil, FBI special agents generally do not have authority to make arrests except in certain cases where, with the consent of the host country, Congress has granted the FBI extraterritorial jurisdiction.
What is the FBI’s policy on the use of deadly force by its special agents?
FBI special agents may use deadly force only when necessary—when the agent has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the agent or another person. If feasible, a verbal warning to submit to the authority of the special agent is given prior to the use of deadly force.
What is the FBI’s policy on the use of informants?
The courts have recognized that the government’s use of informants is lawful and often essential to the effectiveness of properly authorized law enforcement investigations. However, use of informants to assist in the investigation of criminal activity may involve an element of deception, intrusion into the privacy of individuals, or cooperation with persons whose reliability and motivation may be open to question. Although it is legally permissible for the FBI to use informants in its investigations, special care is taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use so the rights of individuals under investigation are not infringed. The FBI can only use informants consistent with specific guidelines issued by the attorney general that control the use of informants.
Are informants regular employees of the FBI?
No. Informants are individuals who supply information to the FBI on a confidential basis. They are not hired or trained employees of the FBI, although they may receive compensation in some instances for their information and expenses.
What kinds of guns do FBI agents use?
Agents carry Bureau-issued or approved handguns and may be issued additional equipment as needed. Those in specialized areas like the Hostage Rescue Teams may also be issued weapons that fit their duties. Agents are allowed to carry personal weapons, provided they do not violate the policies regarding firearms. Unless otherwise instructed, agents are required to be armed at all times.
How old do you have to be to become an agent?
You must be at least 23 years old at the time of your appointment. You must also be younger than 37, unless you qualify for an age waiver available to veterans. See our qualification requirements webpage for more information on what it takes to become a special agent.
What kind of training does an agent go through?
All special agents begin their career at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia for 20 weeks of intensive training at one of the world’s finest law enforcement training facilities. During their time there, trainees live on campus and participate in a variety of training activities. Classroom hours are spent studying a wide variety of academic and investigative subjects, including the fundamentals of law, behavioral science, report writing, forensic science, and basic and advanced investigative, interviewing, and intelligence techniques. Students also learn the intricacies of counterterrorism, counterintelligence, weapons of mass destruction, cyber, and criminal investigations to prepare them for their chosen career paths. The curriculum also includes intensive training in physical fitness, defensive tactics, practical application exercises, and the use of firearms. For more information, see our New Agent Training webpage. Over the course of their career, agents are also updated on the latest developments in the intelligence and law enforcement communities through additional training opportunities.
How many agents have been killed in the line of duty?
A total of 36 agents have been designated as service martyrs—agents killed in the line of duty as the result of a direct adversarial force or at the hand of an adversary. In addition, 16 agents have lost their lives in the performance of their duty, but not necessarily during an adversarial confrontation (such as in the “hot pursuit” of a criminal). See our Hall of Honor for more information and a list of agents in both categories.
Do agents have to look or dress in a certain way?
As representatives of the FBI around the world, agents are expected to dress and act professionally. This does not mean that all agents have to wear the stereotypical dark suit with a white, starched shirt. Agents perform many different roles that require different kinds of attire. For example, agents on evidence response teams often wear cargo pants or jeans when digging through debris for clues, and agents making arrests wear FBI raid jackets and other gear that clearly identify them.
How does the FBI differ from the Central Intelligence Agency?
The CIA and FBI are both members of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The CIA, however, has no law enforcement function. Rather, it collects and analyzes information that is vital to the formation of U.S. policy, particularly in areas that impact the security of the nation. The CIA collects information only regarding foreign countries and their citizens. Unlike the FBI, it is prohibited from collecting information regarding “U.S. Persons,” a term that includes U.S. citizens, resident aliens, legal immigrants, and U.S. corporations, regardless of where they are located.
How does the FBI differ from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)?
The FBI is a primary law enforcement agency for the U.S. government, charged with enforcement of more than 200 categories of federal laws. The DEA is a single-mission agency charged with enforcing drug laws. The ATF primarily enforces federal firearms statutes and investigates arsons and bombings. The FBI works closely with both agencies on cases where our jurisdictions overlap.
What is the FBI doing to improve its interaction with other federal law enforcement agencies?
The FBI has long believed that cooperation is the backbone of effective law enforcement. The Bureau routinely cooperates and works closely with all federal law enforcement agencies on joint investigations and through formal task forces—both national and local—that address broad crime problems and national security threats. In April 2002, the FBI’s Office of Law Enforcement Coordination was established to build bridges, create new partnerships, and strengthen and support existing relationships between the FBI and other federal agencies, as well as with state, local, tribal, and campus law enforcement; national and international law enforcement associations; and others within the law enforcement community.
Does the FBI exchange fingerprint or arrest information with domestic and foreign police agencies?
Yes. Identification and criminal history information may be disclosed to federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies or any agency directly engaged in criminal justice activity. Such information also may be disclosed to any foreign or international agency consistent with international treaties, conventions, and executive agreements, where such disclosure may assist the recipient in the performance of a law enforcement function.
What is the FBI’s policy on sharing information in its files with domestic or foreign investigative agencies or with other governmental entities?
Through what is known as the National Name Check Program, limited information from the FBI’s central records system is provided in response to requests by other entities lawfully authorized to receive it. These entities include other federal agencies in the Executive Branch, congressional committees, the federal judiciary, and some foreign police and intelligence agencies. The FBI’s central records system contains information regarding applicant, personnel, administrative actions, and criminal and security/intelligence matters. Dissemination of FBI information is made strictly in accordance with provisions of the Privacy Act; Title 5, United States Code, Section 552a; FBI policy and procedures regarding discretionary release of information in accordance with the Privacy Act; and other applicable federal orders and directives.
Do FBI agents work with state, local, or other law enforcement officers on “task forces”?
Absolutely, and we consider it central to our success today. Task forces have proven to be a highly effective way for the FBI and federal, state, and local law enforcement to join together to address specific crime problems and national security threats. In law enforcement, “concurrent jurisdiction” may exist, where a crime may be a local, state, and federal violation all at the same time. Task forces typically focus on terrorism, organized crime, narcotics, gangs, bank robberies, kidnapping, and motor vehicle theft. See our Partnerships and Outreach webpage for more information. The FBI also works closely with the Director of National Intelligence and other U.S. intelligence agencies to gather and analyze intelligence on terrorism and other security threats.