Kel McClanahan, a national security lawyer in Washington, noticed something last month after he filed a Freedom of Information request with the FBI. A fact sheet sent along with a response to his FOIA request contained a revision. It stated that the FBI’s primary mission is no longer law enforcement, but national security.
I think they’re trying to rebrand,” he told Foreign Policy. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”
In the past, the FBI portrayed itself as a crime-fighting organization. In fact, since its inception as the Bureau of Investigation in 1908, the FBI has served as a political police force. Movies and cultural lore portray the FBI as dedicated to a fight against the Mafia, bank robbers and kidnappers, but in fact the agency was established as a political section within the Department of Justice. In 1917, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer created the “Radical Division” and appointed a young J. Edgar Hoover to head it up.
Following the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917, Palmer’s radical division worked closely with the Military Intelligence Bureau to suppress opposition to war. In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee uncovered details on the agency’s long and sordid history of subverting the constitutional rights of American citizens. Beginning in the 1950s, the FBI’s COINTELPRO, short for counterintelligence program was established to “disrupt” political groups and “neutralize” individuals deemed to be threats to national security.