FBI Changes Its Primary Mission to National Security

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has changed its chief mission from law enforcement to national security. The changes reflect reforms to the FBI implemented after September 11, 2001. As John Hudson reports, commentators and experts have criticized the change and, more than a decade since the 9/11 attacks, been prompted to question, “Why now?”

Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer, told Foreign Policy News that he believes the FBI “is trying to rebrand” itself. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.” A spokesman for the FBI states that the changes reflect new FBI priorities since 9/11: “”When our mission changed after 9/11, our fact sheet changed to reflect that,” according to FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. “We rank our top 10 priorities and CT [counterterrorism] is first, counterintel is second, cyber is third,” he said. “So it is certainly accurate to say our primary function is national security.”

Athan Theoharis, an emeritus professor of history at Marquette University and an expert on the history of the FBI, agreed that the changes reflect the agency’s actual focus, but said that their timing is not clear. “I can’t explain why FBI officials decided to change the fact sheet,” Theoharis told Foreign Policy News, “unless in the current political climate that change benefits the FBI politically and undercuts criticisms.”

Between 2001 and 2009, the FBI doubled the amount of agents dedicated to counterterrorism, according to a 2010 Inspector’s General report.  Hudson report that this period coincided with “a steep decline in the number of white-collar crime investigations,” which had previously been a primary responsibility for the agency.


John Hudson, “FBI Drops Law Enforcement as Primary Mission,” Foreign Policy News, January 5, 2014, http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2014/01/05/fbi_drops_law_enforcement_as_primary_mission

Student Researcher: Reyna Vigil (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)