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FBI History
History of the FBI

End of the Cold War: 1989 - 1993

The dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 electrified the world and dramatically rang up the Iron Curtain on the final act in the Cold War: the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, which occurred on December 25, 1991.

While world leaders scrambled to reposition their foreign policies and redefine national security parameters, the FBI responded as an agency in January 1992 by reassigning 300 Special Agents from foreign counterintelligence duties to violent crime investigations across the country. It was an unprecedented opportunity to intensify efforts in burgeoning domestic crime problems--and at the same time to rethink and retool FBI national security programs in counterintelligence and counterterrorism.

In response to a 40-percent increase in crimes of violence over the previous 10 years, Director Sessions had designated the investigation of violent crime as the FBI's sixth national priority program in 1989. By November 1991 the FBI had created "Operation Safe Streets" in Washington, D.C.--a concept of federal, state, and local police task forces targeting fugitives and gangs. Therefore, it was now ready to expand this operational assistance to police nationwide.

At the same time, the FBI Laboratory helped change the face of violent criminal identification. Its breakthrough use of DNA technology enabled genetic crime-scene evidence to positively identify--or rule out--suspects by comparing their particular DNA patterns. This unique identifier enabled the creation of a national DNA Index, similar to the fingerprint index, which had been implemented in 1924.

The FBI also strengthened its response to white-collar crimes. Popularized as "crime in the suites," these nonviolent crimes had steadily increased as automation in and deregulation of industries had created new environments for fraud. Resources were, accordingly, redirected to combat the new wave of large-scale insider bank fraud and financial crimes; to address criminal sanctions in new federal environmental legislation; and to establish long-term investigations of complex health care frauds.

At the same time, the FBI reassessed its strategies in defending national security, now no longer defined as the containment of communism and the prevention of nuclear war.

By creating the National Security Threat List, which was approved by the Attorney General in 1991, it changed its approach from defending against hostile intelligence agencies to protecting U.S. information and technologies. It thus identified all countries--not just hostile intelligence services--that pose a continuing and serious intelligence threat to the United States. It also defined expanded threat issues, including the proliferation of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; the loss of critical technologies; and the improper collection of trade secrets and proprietary information. As President Clinton was to note in 1994, with the dramatic expansion of the global economy "national security now means economic security."

Two events occurred in late 1992 and early 1993 that were to have a major impact on FBI policies and operations. In August 1992, the FBI responded to the shooting death of Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan, who was killed at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, while participating in a surveillance of federal fugitive Randall Weaver. In the course of the standoff, Weaver's wife was accidentally shot and killed by an FBI sniper.

Eight months later, at a remote compound outside Waco, Texas, FBI Agents sought to end a 51-day standoff with members of a heavily armed religious sect who had killed four officers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Instead, as Agents watched in horror, the compound burned to the ground from fires lit by members of the sect. Eighty persons, including children, died in the blaze.

These two events set the stage for public and congressional inquiries into the FBI's ability to respond to crisis situations.

On July 19, 1993, following allegations of ethics violations committed by Director Sessions, President Clinton removed him from office and appointed Deputy Director Floyd I. Clarke as Acting FBI Director. The President noted that Director Sessions' most significant achievement was broadening the FBI to include more women and minorities.

Directors Then and Now
Photographs and biographies of FBI Directors since 1908
History of the FBI
Detailed description from 1908 to the present
- Origins:
- Early Days:
- Lawless Years:
- The New Deal:
    1933-Late 1930's
- World War II Period:
- Postwar America:
- Vietnam War Era:
Aftermath of Watergate:
- Rise of International    Crime: 1980's
- End of the Cold War:
- Rise of a Wired World:
- Change of Mandate:
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