You may not know the ins and outs of these two American agencies, but there is little doubt you haven’t spent a significant amount of time enthralled by their actions, whether that is through the news media, documentary film, or regular old Hollywood films. Both are, to some extent, shrouded in mystery; both can be blamed for duplicity at times, bearing the scars of numerous scandals, and they are still currently the target of conspiracy theorists. Whatever your view, this duo are both catalysts of excitement, intrigue and apprehension. While we can’t promise you the often secret workings of the agencies, we can provide you with a few minutes of fascinating facts, in this episode of the Infographics Show, FBI vs CIA.
We will start with an abridged history of both agencies. The FBI, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was the brainchild of Attorney General Charles Bonaparte. In 1908, he and President Theodore Roosevelt agreed that the justice department needed a corps of special agents. At the time, it had no name, and it’s said that the two men were not sure how to recruit agents. According to the FBI website, Bonaparte jokingly told the president they should have men shoot at each other and whoever survives gets the job.
The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) was created soon after, and 34 people were hired at first to work as special agents across all of America’s state borders. In 1935, it officially became known as the FBI, and prohibition became its raison d’etre. As you well know, this meant investigating mobsters we still see on the big screen today, and from 1924-1972, the controversial crime-busting icon known as J. Edgar Hoover was the director. Mobsters weren’t Hoover’s only concern, and much of the FBI’s resources were spent on investigating political radicals during the Great Depression, which later included diminishing the impact of Americans with communist sympathies. The FBI’s historical cases are of course too many in number to list, but some famous investigations include the stick-up robbing sweethearts Bonnie and Clyde, the white collar crimes of the company Enron, the JFK Assassination, the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, Watergate, and of course 9/11.
The FBI currently has its headquarters in Washington, D.C, and there are 56 field offices in major US cities, as well as more than 350 smaller offices around the country. It also has about 60 offices in other countries. It employs about 35,000 people in all, which as well as special agents, include scientists, intelligence analysts, language specialists, and those with a considerable IT acumen. Contrary to popular belief, the FBI does not just shoo the police aside during big investigations, because it has no right to. State and local officers work with the FBI.
The Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA, was an intelligence agency focused on national security and not domestic crimes, though the twain can sometimes overlap. The CIA’s main concerns are terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, knowing what dangers or political upheavals are happening around the world – this could be called spying – and more recently cyber-intelligence. It was created on July 26, 1947 when Harry S. Truman signed off on the National Security Act. One of the main impetuses to create such an agency was the attack on Pearl Harbor. It has been involved in numerous conflicts, again too many to recount, but those include the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, attempting to enact a military coup in Indonesia, trying to quash all kinds of pro-Communist movements around the world, the Vietnam War, and controversially arming rebel forces when the USA believed it suited them. The CIA is an intelligence agency, but one that uses its brains and brawn to manipulate countries, governments, factions outside of governments, in the interest of American national security.
The number of people working for the CIA is not something the agency discloses, but its employees cover many areas of expertise. It’s a very secret organization, but it does release millions of pages of its findings, much of that being historical, what we might call after the fact. Unlike the FBI, the CIA website states that it never monitors US citizens, although it also states it will if “there is a reason to believe that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities.” Many of its workers are in Washington DC, at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, but agents are also stationed, often working undercover, all around the world.
Do these two agencies work together? Well, this is also a matter of controversy and people have written books that delineate a war between the agencies. The CIA’s website states that the relationship is strong, as threats to national security come in all sorts of guises and so information can be shared. That information might relate to drug trafficking, money laundering, organized crime, and terrorism. Nonetheless, after 9/11, a congressional report stated that because intelligence was not shared responsibly, a possible counter-action did not happen. The New York Times wrote, “They failed to counter the threat from Al Qaeda even though they had known for years that its leader, Osama bin Laden, was determined to attack the United States.”
So, yes and no, they work together, but it seems the relationship may be somewhat difficult at times. The CIA is focused on collecting intelligence and cannot make arrests, on the other hand, the FBI could technically investigate a CIA agent and make an arrest if that agent violated federal law.
So, what do you have to do to get on one of these teams? To join the FBI, you must be between the age of 23 and 37. You need a four year degree, 3 years’ work experience, and have a driver’s license. You might also have a qualification in one of the following categories: Language, Law, Accounting, Computer Science/Information Technology, or it just says “Diversified”. Your skills will then be prioritized, and this could come under lots of things from accounting to law enforcement to military expertise to finance. Few applicants are actually selected, and even after all that, you will have to pass a series of difficult tests. You’ll have to be fairly fit and be able to sprint 300 meters, do a load of push-ups and run for 1.5 miles. After that you’ve got medical checks, background checks and polygraphs to pass. Get through that, and you could become anything from a regular FBI officer to a sniper or a behavioral analyst. You will also need to spend 20 weeks training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. In interviews, former agents have said getting into the FBI is a long, arduous process.
Not surprisingly, the CIA is pretty strict too on who it accepts, and to reiterate, not all workers are covert spies. You could be doing anything from specializing in math or economics. Most of its clandestine service employees are aged between 26 and 35. Like the FBI, background and medical checks, and polygraphs will be part of the interview process. Again you’ll need a university degree, know your international affairs, and if you have travelled the world and know a few languages, the CIA states that is a bonus. The CIA says on its website that some of the skills needed are to be able to analyze data, have strong negotiation skills, discretion, diplomacy, have criminal investigative experience, and if your degree is in criminology, homeland security, or emergency management, that helps, too. You’ll have to undertake a 56-day Criminal Investigation Training Program and train for a further 18 months at its headquarters. If you want to get a taste of what it’s like working at the CIA, you can work as an intern at any time of the year. This, no doubt, should you prove yourself useful, will get your proverbial “foot in the door”. It generally lasts 90 days, and you won’t need to take the polygraph.
Which would be the best place to work? That depends on a lot of things. One important matter when working for the CIA is secrecy if you are an agent. As its website points out in bold as IMPORTANT: “Friends, family, individuals, or organizations may be interested to learn that you are an applicant for or an employee of the CIA.” It goes on to say that it is in your best interests not to tell anyone. It’s very probable this was in bold because it alludes to what kind of life you are getting into. On the upside, for some people the life of a covert operator might be very exciting. You may know things that go against your conscience, you may see things that you never wanted to see. It just depends how deep you go. In one interview, a former CIA agent responded when asked if all the stress was worth it: “I ask myself the same question every goddamn day. Was any of it worth it?”
The FBI won’t involve the stress of remaining a kind of mystery to one’s own friends and loved ones. You’ll probably have much more chance of being killed on the job, as the FBI’s Hall of Honor can show you. You are dealing with criminals and that means sometimes seeing the aftermath of their destruction. In one interview, a former agent said that was not the worst part, but the fact that you spend much of your life away from your family. You can at least tell them about what you do though. The former agent told Business Insider, “There’s only a very small amount of information that an FBI agent would not be able to share with someone… we can usually talk about what we are working on or have worked on in the past.”
As for wages, there are many scales when working for the FBI. A new agent according to one salary website receives about $47,000, but a senior agent might earn more than $130,000 a year. A CIA website puts wages for special investigators anywhere from $74,000-$137,000. Again, it really depends on what capacity you work for these agencies.