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FBI History
 
History of the FBI

Rise of International Crime: 1980's

This is a photograph of William H. WebsterIn 1978, Director Kelley resigned and was replaced by former federal Judge William H. Webster (pictured left). At the time of his appointment, Webster was serving as Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He had previously been a Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Also in 1978, the FBI began using laser technology in the Identification Division to detect latent crime scene fingerprints.

In 1982, following an explosion of terrorist incidents worldwide, Webster made counterterrorism a fourth national priority. He also expanded FBI efforts in the three others: foreign counterintelligence, organized crime, and white-collar crime. Part of this expansion was the creation of the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

The FBI solved so many espionage cases during the mid-1980s that the press dubbed This is a photograph of John Walker1985 "the year of the spy." The most serious espionage damage uncovered by the FBI was perpetrated by the John Walker spy ring and by former National Security Agency employee William Pelton.

Throughout the 1980s, the illegal drug trade severely challenged the resources of American law enforcement. To ease this challenge, in 1982 the Attorney General gave the FBI concurrent jurisdiction with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over narcotics violations in the United States. The expanded Department of Justice attention to drug crimes resulted in the confiscation of millions of dollars in controlled substances, the arrests of major narcotics figures, and the dismantling of important drug rings. One of the most publicized, dubbed "the Pizza Connection" case, involved the heroin trade in the United States and Italy. It resulted in 18 convictions, including a former leader of the Sicilian Mafia. Then Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis J. Freeh, who was to be appointed FBI Director in 1993, was key to prosecutive successes in the case.

On another front, Webster strengthened the FBI's response to white-collar crimes. Public corruption was attacked nationwide. Convictions resulting from FBI investigations included members of Congress (ABSCAM), the judiciary (GREYLORD), and state legislatures in California and South Carolina. A major investigation culminating in 1988 unveiled corruption in defense procurement (ILLWIND).

As the United States faced a financial crisis in the failures of savings and loan associations during the 1980s, the FBI uncovered instances of fraud that lay behind many of those failures. It was perhaps the single largest investigative effort undertaken by the FBI to that date: from investigating 10 bank failures in 1981, it had 282 bank failures under investigation by February 1987. Resources to investigate fraud during the savings and loan crisis were provided by the Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enhancement Act.

In 1984, the FBI acted as lead agency for security of the Los Angeles Olympics. In the course of its efforts to anticipate and prepare for acts of terrorism and street crime, it This is a photograph of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Teambuilt important bridges of interaction and cooperation with local, state, and other federal agencies, as well as agencies of other countries. It also unveiled the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team (pictured left) as a domestic force capable of responding to complex hostage situations such as tragically occurred in Munich at the 1972 games.

Perhaps as a result of the Bureau's emphasis on combatting terrorism, such acts within the United States decreased dramatically during the 1980s. In 1986, Congress had expanded FBI jurisdiction to cover terrorist acts against U.S. citizens outside the U.S. boundaries. Later, in 1989, the Department of Justice authorized the FBI to arrest terrorists, drug traffickers, and other fugitives abroad without the consent of the foreign country in which they resided.

This is a photograph of CART computer hardwareExpanded resources were not limited to "established" crime areas like terrorism and violent crime. In 1984, the FBI established the Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART) to retrieve evidence from computers. CART would become fully operational in 1991.

On May 26, 1987, Judge Webster left the FBI to become Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Executive Assistant Director John E. Otto became Acting Director and served in that position until November 2, 1987. During his tenure, Acting Director Otto designated drug investigations as the FBI's fifth national priority.

On November 2, 1987, former federal Judge William Steele Sessions was sworn in as FBI Director. Prior to his appointment as FBI Director, Sessions served as the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. He had previously served as a District Judge and as U.S. Attorney for that district.

Under Director Sessions, crime prevention efforts, in place since Director Kelley's tenure, were expanded to include a drug demand reduction program. FBI offices nationwide began working closely with local school and civic groups to educate young people to the dangers of drugs. Subsequent nationwide community outreach efforts under that program evolved and expanded through such initiatives as the Adopt-A-School/Junior G-Man Program. The expansion in initiatives required a larger workforce and by 1988, the FBI employed 9663 Special Agents and 13651 Support Employees in 58 Field Offices and 15 Legal Attaches.

Directors Then and Now
Photographs and biographies of FBI Directors since 1908
History of the FBI
Detailed description from 1908 to the present
- Origins:
    1908-1910
- Early Days:
    1910-1921
- Lawless Years:
    1921-1933
- The New Deal:
    1933-Late 1930's
- World War II Period:
    1930's-1945
- Postwar America:
    1945-1960's
- Vietnam War Era:
    1960's-1970's
Aftermath of Watergate:
    1970's
- Rise of International    Crime: 1980's
- End of the Cold War:
    1989-1993
- Rise of a Wired World:
    1993-2001
- Change of Mandate:
    2001-Present
- Text Only Version  
FBI Headquarters
The J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building from start to finish

Freedom of Information Act
Thousands of pages of frequently requested historical records

Historic Dates
Timeline of important events in FBI history

Hall of Honor
In honor of FBI Agents killed in the line of duty

Famous Cases
Including gangsters, spies, and Top Tenners
Heraldry of the FBI Seal
The significance of each symbol and color of the FBI seal