Crazy Facts About the FBI
In movies, they’re stoic people in suits with an almost supernatural ability to find and apprehend criminals. FBI agents are pretty impressive in real life, too, but they’re not quite as infallible as Hollywood would have you think. Their secretive operations haven’t remained entirely confidential, and over the years some crazy details have managed to reach the public. Take a look at these lesser-known facts about the FBI — the good, the bad and everything in between.
Art Theft Is No Joke
You might think that major art heists only happen in movies like Ocean’s 8, but they’re a thing in the real world, too. After all, well-known pieces of art can be some of the most expensive things in the world. What better way to get rich than by swiping a couple of Van Goghs?
As a result, the FBI created a unit in 2004 to deal with art theft — and they’ve been pretty successful at it, too. To date, they’ve recovered almost $150 million worth of artwork. So yes, the FBI cares a lot about art.
Part of the FBI’s job is to exhaust every possible opportunity for criminal investigations and apprehensions. They look for, test and implement new interrogation tactics, weapons and investigation techniques. They even went so far as to investigate whether ESP was a plausible tool for the government to use.
If you’re not up to speed, ESP stands for “extrasensory perception,” a.k.a. reading people’s minds or using psychic powers to find answers. They ran many tests in the 1950s but, sadly, eventually found there to be no scientific justification for the use of ESP.
FBI Most Wanted
You may have heard of the FBI’s infamous Most Wanted List. You certainly don’t want to find yourself on it, and the only way people can be removed is if charges are dropped or the individual is deemed harmless to society.
Once you get on that list, however, there’s a good chance you’re going to get caught — the FBI has found 484 of the 518 total names on the list since 1950. Sure, a couple dozen people may have gotten away, but would you want to bet on those odds? Probably not.
They Don’t Like Borat
You know the movie Borat? The mustache-clad Kazakh reporter who offends just about everyone he meets? Well, it turns out the FBI compiled a file on actor Sacha Baron Cohen for the many hijinks he performed while filming Borat. Driving around in an ice cream truck and pranking people was Cohen’s typical activity at the time.
The FBI received so many complaints about a “terrorist” that they even paid a visit to Cohen’s hotel room. He ended up jumping out the window, however, so the actor never did get to meet a real-life agent.
They Take Songs Seriously
Not only does the FBI value high-caliber art, but they put a lot of stock into music, too. Instead of protecting this song, however, they studied it to search for potentially pornographic language. The song in question was “Louie Louie” by The Kingsmen.
Their investigation lasted a surprising two years before they came to their senses and dropped the case. Sound like a strange project for the FBI? Well, it did take place back in the 1960s, so at least they can blame it on the times.
A One-man Show
Nowadays, we imagine the FBI to be an immense organization with many agents in many different sectors — and by all accounts, that’s exactly what it is. It wasn’t always such a thriving institution, however. Take the FBI laboratory; it’s currently one of the biggest crime labs on Earth with 500 employees.
When it first got started in 1932, however, it was manned and operated by one lonely soul. That’s right. One individual was responsible for the entire FBI laboratory and made do with a humble assortment of lab tools.
Busting Crime Isn’t Cheap
Sometimes to catch the criminals, you have to spend the big bucks. After all, busting crime isn’t cheap. Not only do you need to pay your agents, but you’ve also got to have the right equipment on hand to do the job. There was one man, however, who cost the FBI a legendary amount of money.
In the early 1900s, famous gangster John Dillinger robbed many banks, totaling $500,000 in stolen money. As for how much the FBI spent trying to catch him? A whopping $2 million in Great Depression-era dollars.
J. Edgar Hoover’s Controversial Career
It’s pretty safe to say that running the FBI is no easy job. For some, it’s proven especially tumultuous. J. Edgar Hoover was the second director of the FBI and spent the better part of his life at the helm. He made great advancements in the organization and was a leader to many.
But his tenure was not without its controversies. For example, he had quite a hostile view towards Martin Luther King Jr., and certain evidence of abuse of power came out after his death. His determination allegedly had no limits.
They Busted McDonald’s?
You may remember a promotional game designed by McDonald’s called the McDonald’s Monopoly. The promotion consisted of certain Monopoly pieces that yielded prizes for customers as small as a free burger and as big as $1 million in cash. This fun marketing ploy was run by one Jerome Jacobson.
Jacobson couldn’t resist temptation and ended up rigging the system in order to secretly reap all the rewards for himself. This went on for six years before, at last, the FBI caught him and sent him to jail. This was one case that they won hands down.
Some Things Are Never Solved
As much as the FBI solves the hardest-to-crack cases, sometimes they simply can’t get to the bottom of an incident. One of these incidents is the 2003 case of the missing Angola plane. This mystery starts with two mechanics working on a 727 and ends with them inexplicably taking off.
The two flew away, never to be found again, despite the FBI and the CIA’s strongest efforts. The question remains to this day: Why did two men leave on an empty plane, and where in the world could they hide such a monstrous machine?
You can’t have a successful FBI program without making some connections — and some unlikely ones, at that. The FBI has always relied on a certain number of informants to let them know when shady behavior is taking place, or to keep an eye on specific individuals.
Surprisingly enough, Mr. Walt Disney was one of those informants. Yes, that would be the Mickey Mouse Walt Disney. In exchange for filming perks, Disney snitched on potential communists in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. He was one of the FBI’s right-hand men.
An Embarrassing Moment
When you’re meant to investigate the strangest, most hidden operations in the U.S., you’re bound to stumble upon some false leads. As it turns out, the FBI is not immune to embarrassing slip-ups now and again, and that’s what happened in 2005.
FBI agents latched on to a cult called “The Church of the Hammer” and invested two years into investigating it. One day, someone realized the cult’s website had an interesting disclaimer: It wasn’t a real cult at all, but a parody. Hopefully the agents saw the humor in this gaffe.
You Can Find More Than You Think
Do you ever find yourself curious about what information lurks behind the FBI’s walls? Of course, we’ll never truly gain access to all their juicy files (unless you set your sights on becoming an agent yourself) but there’s a surprising amount of information available to the public.
The Freedom of Information Act means the FBI must make files available upon request to anyone interested in seeing them. All their intel on Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston and others could be handed over to you in the blink of an eye.
They Don’t Like Webcams, Either
You might tease your dad for keeping a piece of tape over his computer’s webcam, but he might not be far off track when it comes to virtual monitoring. Organizations like the FBI do, in fact, use webcams to investigate groups or people.
Even the former director of the FBI James Comey reportedly keeps his webcam covered at all times — and if he’s doing it, it’s got to be true. You might not be a high-profile criminal, but even so, taping up your webcam gives you an added layer of privacy.
They Might Have Your Fingerprint
Even if you’ve never committed a crime, the FBI might have your fingerprints in their database. Many jobs require applicants to provide their fingerprints as part of a background check, and these go directly to the FBI’s Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System along with 100 million others.
But don’t worry. This shouldn’t pose a problem unless you find yourself at the scene of a crime. Logging your fingerprints is simply one of the ways the FBI ensures the public’s protection. Without this expansive database, many crimes might have gone unsolved.
1234? Try Again
Not all criminals are masterminds, and some of the biggest names on the most wanted list have been caught for the simplest reasons. One infamous cyberhacker, Jeremy Hammond, was captured thanks to his flimsy computer password: His cat’s name, plus the numbers 123.
If you’re not a hacker, it might not be such a big deal to have a simple password — but it’s never a bad idea to make things just a tad more complex. After all, the criminal hackers out there could one day try and hack your computer.
Ever dreamed of becoming part of the FBI? Well, before you get your hopes up, take a quick look at their qualifications before sending in an application. For starters, if you aren’t between the ages of 23 and 37, you’re out of luck.
You also have to undergo rigorous physical exams — so make sure you’re in tip-top shape — and you can’t have partaken in any marijuana use for the previous three years. That’s only the beginning, too; FBI agents truly must be the best and brightest the country has to offer.
Behind the Curve
While the FBI likes to market themselves as a cutting-edge, advanced organization, they were shockingly behind the curve when it comes to digitizing records. Before the year 2012, they were still using paper trails for every case. Talk about ancient!
Originally, the transition from paper to computer was supposed to happen in 2010, but someone on the team fudged the coding. This mistake delayed the process and made the FBI seem even more out of date. Someone probably received a healthy chewing out for that mix-up — if not a boot out the door.
Plenty of Samples
When you think about the sheer number of crimes happening on a day-to-day basis, it makes sense that the FBI must keep the growing quantities of evidence stored up somewhere. When a case has been processed, they can’t simply throw the hair, blood and fingerprint samples away — they’ve got to box them up.
The most common piece of evidence in the FBI’s possession? Hair. They have over 5,000 human and animal hairs on file simply for use as references and comparisons. After all, they need to measure current samples against something.
An Unlikely Target
It’s common knowledge that the FBI keeps tabs on certain persons of interest. You might be surprised, however, at just who those persons turn out to be. Not everyone knows that 1950s superstar Frank Sinatra was someone the FBI kept a close watch on over the years.
His close friendship with John F. Kennedy and alleged connections with the mob meant Sinatra was no stranger to the federal government. During his lifetime, the FBI amassed more than 2,000 pages on the singer. Nowadays, you can see these pages yourself if you go looking for them.
As with any top-level organization, the FBI has its own secret language agents use to communicate. Many of their codewords are unknown to the public, but a few have become common knowledge. The word “bucar,” for example, refers to a special FBI car.
An FBI “brick agent” is one who works out on the streets in the middle of the action. There are plenty of other secret phrases, but the funniest might be the codename other groups give to the FBI: “Famous but Incompetent.” Clearly, not everyone thinks highly of them.
The Overworked Agent?
You might have an idea in your head of the overworked FBI agent who has no life outside of their job. This may not always be the case, however. It turns out that the FBI has part-time roles for those individuals who don’t want to spend every waking minute going over gruesome criminal cases.
These people work only 16 hours a week. They get more than enough time to recuperate from the stressful, oftentimes explicit material of their cases before coming back to the office. Sounds like a pretty good deal!
Tough on Alcohol
During the time of Prohibition — 1920 to 1933 — the government had an unfavorable view on alcohol. In our current day and age, when you can see 10 different liquor stores in the same area, a ban on booze seems preposterous. In the 1920s, however, it was no simple matter.
The FBI took Prohibition so seriously that they tapped people’s phones in an attempt to catch them smuggling or making alcohol. In fact, this was when phone tapping first became a thing, and it’s an FBI practice that’s survived to this day.
Our country’s law enforcement system was not always as robust as it is today. The Federal Bureau of Investigation saw its humble beginnings in the year 1908, under President Theodore Roosevelt’s supervision. During this time, the entire Justice Department was made up of only 38 individuals.
This wouldn’t last for long, however. The FBI made fast advancements in size and ability, and quickly earned themselves a reputation with the American people. For many, their existence was a positive thing. The public generally saw crime as out of control at the time.
Before the FBI officially became the FBI, it was headed by a man named Stanley Finch. Finch had a tough view on crime, which was all well and good, except his main focus was on busting prostitution. He saw the practice as inherently evil and detrimental to society.
To combat it, he played a major role in creating the 1910 White Slave Traffic Act targeting the transportation of women. Unfortunately, by singling out white women, it simply made minority women all the more vulnerable to sex trafficking. This one was a bust for the FBI.
Even systems meant to combat corruption are vulnerable to being corrupted. One would hope that the FBI of all organizations would be resistant to corruption, but FBI director William J. Burns proved otherwise. He found himself in a 1920s oil scandal called the “Teapot Dome Scandal.”
Essentially, a secret deal was made between private oil companies and the U.S. Navy involving the sharing of resources. When one senator began questioning the deal, Burns was given the job of keeping things quiet. Looks like the government isn’t as sparkly clean as we like to think.
A Boys’ Club
It’s not surprising that the FBI was male-dominated in its early years, but it’s still a disappointing truth. Not only was it generally harder for women to get in, but director J. Edgar Hoover actively took actions against women FBI agents.
Hoover prohibited the few women agents from smoking cigarettes at their desks — even though men were allowed to do so. He also required women to wear skirts or dresses to work. Hoover also didn’t hire women; the only women on the team had been hired before he was director.
Intelligence Is Intimidating
The FBI likes having smart people within its ranks, but they’re suspicious when highly intelligent people appear on the outside. This is why one Albert Einstein caught their eye in the mid-1900s. He was so incredibly smart that they feared the things he was capable of.
Einstein was such an important figure that they collected 1,800 pages of information on him — still not as many pages as Frank Sinatra, but nothing to bat an eye at! One can only imagine what Einstein would have thought about this exhaustive surveillance.
Another one of J. Edgar Hoover’s less-than-charming traits in his day was his hate of so-called communists. He saw the threat of communism everywhere and was constantly on the lookout for a person, place or thing to accuse of communist sympathizing.
One of his targets? The hit Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. If you remember, the movie’s banker Mr. Potter was not depicted in such a favorable light, and this led Hoover to believe the movie was dispersing communist ideals. Was it really undercover propaganda, or just Hoover’s paranoia?
Undercover Agent Gone Awry
Everyone loves a good story about an undercover agent. It seems like such a thrilling job, as if it’s rife with drama and adventure. The truth, however, is not always so glamorous. One undercover agent named Craig Monteilh was sent to Muslim mosques to catch terrorists.
What he found was so mundane and uneventful that he began trying to trap people by bringing up terrorism and weapons himself. Muslim people around him were so frightened by this that they called the FBI themselves — little did they know he was working for the organization.