10 things you never knew about the FBI (10 items)

Bethan Owen

July 27, 2014

The Federal Bureau of Investigation turns 106 this July. In honor of the anniversary of this American institution, whose mission statement is to "help protect you, your children, your communities, and your businesses from the most dangerous threats facing our nation," we have compiled a list of ten little-known facts about the FBI.

Unless otherwise specified, all information comes from the FBI website.

1 of 10. Beginnings

The FBI began in 1908, thanks in large part to Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt appointed Charles Bonaparte (grandnephew of a certain famous Frenchman) to the position of Attorney General after Bonaparte commented that instead of requiring Border Patrol to pass marksmanship tests, "Roosevelt should have had the men shoot at each other, and given the jobs to the survivors."

As Attorney General, Bonaparte was faced with the frustration of not having any investigators or agents who answered specifically to his position. Instead, he was forced to hire Secret Servicemen, who were expensive and technically worked for the head of Secret Service, not Bonaparte. Bonaparte felt his hands were tied when it came to combatting crime, especially after Congress banned the loan of Secret Service agents.

At this point, Bonaparte discreetly hired a handful of the agents he had borrowed previously along with an additional group of his own choosing. This, according to the FBI website, was all done with Roosevelt's blessing, and the FBI was born.

2 of 10. Limited terms

Initially, the FBI had no term limits. Directors could serve as long as they wanted, and that's exactly what J. Edgar Hoover did, according to the Washington Post.

Hoover, one of the FBI's most prominent directors, served for 48 years. While he was considered an American hero for most of that time, according to the post, after his death the extent to which he abused his power was revealed. The Post describes his transgressions as including "covert black-bag jobs, warrantless surveillance of civil rights leaders and Vietnam-era peace activists, use of secret files to bully government officials, snooping on movie stars and senators, and the rest."

Upon his death, president Nixon mandated that FBI directors can serve a maximum of ten years. For many, Hoover's legacy became a cautionary tale about the abuse of power.

3 of 10. Serious Investigations

The FBI once spent four months investigating lyrics from a pop song.

"Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen was a popular song in the early 1960s, but its difficult to understand lyrics led some listeners to believe the song contained hidden pornographic messages. The FBI was called to investigate, and they took the job seriously.

From February to May of 1964, the FBI searched the song for any sign of lewd material or evidence that the song broke the law against interstate transportation of obscene material. They found no evidence of obscenity.

The Kingsmen weren't the only pop figures who the FBI investigated; the bureau also has files on Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway, among others.

4 of 10. The art of ESP

The FBI once investigated ESP as a potential investigative tool.

The bureau has 40 documented pages on this supernatural form of mind reading, apparently put on the topic when a man called Mr. Foos put on an ESP, or extrasensory perception, demonstration for FBI agents sent to investigate its legitimacy.

One of the agents described witnessing a "rather amazing performance of reading while blindfolded," but ultimately the agency concluded that while mind reading would be a useful skill, there was not enough scientific evidence to support it. The investigation into ESP was abandoned.

5 of 10. Hoover's secret files

There is a long-standing story that Hoover was never fired because he had too much information on U.S. presidents and other major political figures. According to the Washington Post, this might not be totally true, but there are elements of truth to the rumor.

The Post writes that Hoover had positive relationships with presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Kennedy all considered firing him but the primary reason that Hoover kept his job was because it was politically beneficial for the presidents, not because of any dirt he had on them, the Post reports.

However, it was Hoover who discovered one of President Kennedy's extramarital affairs through a wiretap, and presidents aside, Hoover did use his power to destroy political opponents and ruin lives. His tactics included spreading "unconfirmed gossip about private sex lives and radical ties" among other things, according to the Post.
1. Esquire
Springville, UT,
July 28, 2014

Let's be clear, if one believes in the Constitution and the rule of law, in freedom and the American vision, Hoover was the worst thing to ever happen to this country.

2. TJ
Eagle Mountain, UT,
July 28, 2014

I believe it is necessary for the government to be able to monitor those who they suspect could be a threat to this country. I think that only the guilty need to be afraid of being monitored by the government. I have no problem with them investigating me or anyone else. Hoover lived in a much different time and set of circumstances but he did do a lot of good for our country and was successful in completing what he was hired for. He did cross the line many times and he was a bully. He would probably be prosecuted if he had tried some of his tactics in the last 30 years.

3. wee willie
Vancouver, WA,
July 28, 2014

Dear Esquire: Respectfully, you are dead wrong. You failed to mention Barry; his toady, Eric Holder; and a supporting cast of living characters too numerous to mention.

4. atlcoug
Atlanta, GA,
July 28, 2014

Esquire, Hoover was the worst thing to ever happen to the US? Wow, you are seriously in need of a remedial class in American history. Hoover did gain too much power and influence, and did things that would not be tolerated today. I worked for him for a couple of years before he died, and for a couple of directors that came after him. Hoover's power did a lot of good for the USA, despite those abuses that harmed some people. He was not a perfect man, nor a perfect Director, But history will judge him as a powerful influence in upgrading the professionalism, competency, and investigative prowess of the FBI, from which all of us, including you, have benefited in one way or another.

5. 32843
July 28, 2014

Springville, UT

One can defend the Constitution, rule of law, believe in the American Dream and freedom and still be among the worst people to have ever been inflicted upon this great nation. A recent example would be Jimmy Carter. He wasn't evil and did all he could to lead this nation into continued greatness, but, the people voted in an inexperienced idealist. Instead of leading the country into greatness, he led it into mediocrity, double digit home interest rates, high gasoline prices and hyperinflation. And less we forget, he also was responsible for botching one of the single worse examples of foreign policy in losing our Iranian Embassy.

Others can find other examples on either side of the isle (anyone remember Joseph McCarthy?). Obama may still pull his legacy out of the fire. I doubt it, but, he still has a couple of years. However, I don't think anyone can come to any other conclusion than the one that Hoover was a tyrant who let power go to his head and insult everything this country was supposed to have stood for.