The Federal Bureau of Investigation – Capabilities and Service
By Gideon T. Rasmussen, CISSP, CISA, CISM, MVP

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is an elite law enforcement organization. This article provides an overview of FBI teams, InfraGard and the FBI Citizens' Academy.

I. FBI Priorities

Take a moment to review the list of FBI priorities. What you see might surprise you. Top on the list is terrorism, intelligence threats, etc. The FBI mission has changed in recent years.

1. Protect the United States from terrorist attack
2. Protect the United States against foreign intelligence operations and espionage
3. Protect the United States against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes
4. Combat public corruption at all levels
5. Protect civil rights
6. Combat transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises
7. Combat major white-collar crime
8. Combat significant violent crime
9. Support federal, state, local and international partners
10. Upgrade technology to successfully perform the FBI's mission

II. Life of an FBI Agent

FBI agents have a simple mantra. Know your domain! Domain in the FBI vernacular refers to knowledge of an area's threats, population and demographics. The FBI strives to develop alliances with American companies, universities, and research laboratories to protect targeted technologies. Establish a relationship with the FBI now, before an incident.

The FBI is also focused on situational awareness: Expect the unexpected; Know your adversary; Nothing is what it seems.

Each FBI field office has several teams. FBI Agents are typically assigned to more than one (e.g. SWAT as an alternate duty).

The services provided by the FBI are not without consequences. Since its inception in 1908, 50 FBI agents have been killed in the line of duty.

The FBI Deadly Force Policy is as follows: "Agents may use deadly force when necessary, that is, when an agent has probably cause to believe that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the Agent or other persons." Use of deadly force is a last resort.

III. Teams

1. White Collar Crime Program

The WCC Program has many sub-programs most of which are focused on fraud. Fraud occurs in many businesses including corporations, securities and commodities firms, health care organizations, financial institutions, etc. Fraud is not a victimless crime. It affects stocks, pension plans, mutual funds and the people who invest in them. The FBI's Certified Fraud Examiners have the depth and breadth of experience to conduct complex fraud investigations.

The FBI does not typically investigate fraud until it hits the $150,000 mark. In the near future, the threshold may be extended to $500,000 due to resource constraints. For more information, refer to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's "FBI's Terrorism Trade-off" article.

The WCC program includes mass marketing fraud and identity theft crimes. The FBI also investigates corruption of public officials at all levels of government.

2. National Joint Terrorism Task Force

JTTFs are a collective of counter terrorism units spread throughout the U.S. The primary goal of each unit is to prevent, disrupt and defeat terror operations before they occur. JTTF units consist of FBI agents and a combination of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials (e.g. the ATF, Federal Air Marshals, State Bureaus of Investigation, DHS, police officers, state law enforcement, etc.). JTTF members sign a memorandum of understanding to work under FBI leadership. Each unit is deputized by the FBI as federal law enforcement officers and work as one team.

Terrorists can look like anyone. There is no stereotype. The first phase of any JTTF investigation is intelligence gathering. Who is involved? What are they doing? The next phase is threat assessment. Public records checks and database checks are conducted. This most basic form of investigation may reveal that a suspect is lying or has been stopped for similar surveillance at another location. If a case is warranted, a preliminary or full investigation is initiated. When terrorism activity is confirmed, the decision is made whether to disrupt, arrest or deport the suspect.

Each JTTF refers to a list of terrorist groups established by the State Department. It is a felony for any individual or organization to knowingly support a terrorist group. When support of is identified, the FBI works with the Treasury department to freeze assets (bank accounts) and suspend business operations. At that point, the FBI will also announce that anyone who conducts business with that organization is supporting terrorism and is also committing a felony.

3. Field Intelligence Group (FIG)

FIGs ensure intelligence gathered by field offices is appropriately shared across the FBI and with law enforcement and intelligence agencies. The goal of information sharing is "share by rule, withhold by exception" and "protect sources and methods".

Like most intelligence organizations, FIGs are drowning in information and starving for knowledge. Intelligence collection is the primary role of Special Agents (answering the 5 Ws). Intelligence Analysts evaluate information, identify trends, recommend options, and forecast outcomes.

Finally, FIGs develop Intelligence Information Reports and disseminate them within approved channels in a timely and usable manner.

The expression "I could tell you but, then I'd have to kill you" applies here. Much of the tactics of a FIG are classified.

4. Violent Crimes & Major Offenses/Drug Program (VCMO)

The VCMO team is primarily focused on organized crime and bank robbery. Typical investigations include gangs, mafia and drug trafficking. Gangs are active in 40 states and DC. The FBI's National Gang Strategy is to investigate, disrupt and dismantle violent gangs. Gangs have a hierarchical structure with leaders and defined roles and operations. Accordingly, the FBI focuses on prosecuting gang leadership to "cut the head off the snake". Gangs use sophisticated technology to secure their communications (e.g. cell phone encryption, wire detectors, spy gear, codes and ciphers). The FBI uses safe streets programs and violent gang task forces to disrupt their operations. The FBI maintains SWAT teams and is well equipped to arrest violent criminals.

The FBI is famous for solving armed bank robberies. Bank robberies account for 50% of all robberies. Typically $5,000 or less is stolen.

The FBI also investigates kidnapping, extortion, cold case homicides, serial killers and interstate domestic violence.

5. Evidence Response Team (ERT)

An ERT has all the capabilities of a Crime Scene Investigations unit and more. ERTs work federal crime scenes (e.g. Indian reservations, national parks and terrorist events). ERTs have investigated cars, violent bank robberies, plane crashes, 9-11 and bomb incidents.

When a crime scene is discovered, the area is cordoned off to preserve evidence. ERTs follow well-defined procedures when processing a crime scene. Anyone entering the scene is signed in and must wear a Tyvek suit to prevent contamination (e.g. hair from an Investigator). A photographer takes pictures before Investigators enter, during evidence collection and upon exit. Footprints can be captured by photograph or plaster cast. Vacuum canisters with filters are used to collect small particles such as hair or clothing fibers. DNA evidence is detected with Alternate Light Source equipment. Investigators also lift latent fingerprints and use rods with laser pointers to trace bullet trajectory.

The FBI investigates any commuter plane crash. When processing a crash, ERT sifts through debris fields and searches for black boxes. Survey equipment is used to produce a three dimensional map of the crime scene.

Each ERT has the support of sophisticated labs at the FBI headquarters in Washington DC.

6. Civil Rights Program

The FBI investigates a variety of civil rights violations. Hate crimes are motivated by bias against persons or property based on race, religion or ethnic/national origin. Housing discrimination, church burnings and voting rights violations are classified as hate crimes.

Color of law abuses occur when a public official uses their authority to deprive someone of a right protected by US laws or the constitution. Color of law violations are obvious (e.g. the Rodney King arrest).

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. The FBI prosecutes anyone responsible for capture, detainment or transportation of a person for labor, through the use of force, fraud or coercion.

7. Polygraph/Profiling Program

FBI Agents use polygraph tests to get to the truth. Polygraph sensors include: a cardio cuff to measure blood pressure, two chest tubes to measure breathing and two electrodes to monitor sweat activity. Examiners ask questions that are known truths and known lies to determine a physiology baseline. Next, questions related to the situation are asked. When a particular question or line of questioning causes an issue, the Examiner asks in different ways and in different orders to isolate the lie. The work is getting the innocent person to think, "I'm OK, I didn't do it" and the guilty person to think, "I did it, I'm so done". When a FBI Examiner conducts a polygraph, a supervisor reviews results before a finding is issued. Polygraph test results are: deceptive, non-deceptive or inconclusive.

Suspects cannot be compelled to take a polygraph (by the FBI or anyone else). FBI agents are polygraphed initially, at the five year mark (reinvestigation) and before leaving the country. Polygraph is not a perfect science. It is a tool to point in a direction. Polygraph alone cannot be used to convict someone.

8. FBI Hostage Rescue Team

HRT offers a tactical option for any extraordinary hostage crisis or other law enforcement situation that may occur within the U.S. For more information on the HRT, read Christopher Whitcomb's Cold Zero. It is an intriguing look within the HRT and includes details of Waco and Ruby Ridge.

9. FBI Public Relations

The Public Relations team is responsible for releasing information to the media and ultimately the general public. There is a delicate balance between the public's right-to-know how the federal government operates and need-to-know criteria restricting sensitive information from the public domain. Limiting factors include FBI investigations policy, Department of Justice media policy, and numerous FBI security and accuracy guidelines for releasing information. In some states, there is only one FBI media representative. Given policy and resource constraints, the PR mission can be challenging.

10. Computer Crime Program

The Computer Crime Team's # 1 priority is to prevent, detect and prosecute computer intrusions. Typical intrusions include illicit bank transfers and theft of classified information. Insider threat is also a serious consideration. In fact, FBI Special Agent Robert Hanssen began spying for the KGB in 1979 and was not discovered until 2000.

Under the Innocent Images initiative, the FBI combats child sexual exploitation via Internet. Child pornography is prevalent today due to the ease of use of computers, the number of children online and the amount of images available. Prosecution is complicated by jurisdictional complexities, lack of coordinated law enforcement and coordinated efforts by offenders.

Internet fraud is a federal crime prosecuted by the FBI. Many common cyber crimes fall under this category (e.g. credit/debit card fraud, reshipping, and investment fraud).

The FBI also protects intellectual property rights (trade secrets, copyrights and trademarks). Economic espionage is an underreported crime when it is detected at all. U.S. businesses estimate monetary losses in the billions in addition to countless jobs. The outflow of information has eroded the US global military and economic advantage. Economic espionage affects the bottom line.

The # 1 way spies obtain information is by asking for it (social engineering). The best form of protection is to become a difficult target. Make them go somewhere else.

IV. FBI Outreach Programs

FBI Citizens' Academy

The FBI Citizens' Academy is an eight-week program that gives business, religious and community leaders an inside look at the FBI. This article was written from extensive Citizens' Academy briefings and handouts.


InfraGard was established by the FBI to promote protection of critical information systems. The key benefits of InfraGard membership are daily industry reports, bi-monthly meetings, interaction with industry peers, presentations by industry specialists and sensitive FBI briefings. Membership also connects businesses with specific FBI resources to contact in the event of an emergency. Join by surfing to

V. Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: How can I learn more about the FBI?

A: The FBI Citizens' Academy is a great place to learn more. Your local FBI office is also just a phone call away. Consider inviting a FBI agent to your professional organization as well (e.g. ISSA, ISACA and ASIS).

Q. How can I contact the FBI with an issue?

A. Contact your local FBI field office. The FBI also maintains a Tips and Public Leads web site to report suspected terrorism or criminal activity.

Q. What can the FBI do for my organization?

A. The FBI is available to investigate any of the crimes detailed above. If your organization is critical to the U.S. economy, provides critical infrastructure services or conducts government research, the FBI is available to partner with you.

VI. Final Thoughts

George Orwell is often quoted as "Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Sleep tight America, the FBI is looking out for your best interests.


Gideon T. Rasmussen is a Charlotte-based information security professional with a background in Fortune 50 and military organizations. His website is

Originally published in Help Net Security (October 15, 2007)