An agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or one of its fictional counterparts. The FBI is the investigative branch of the United States of America's Department of Justice, and is generally considered the top law enforcement agency in the USA. It was founded as the Bureau of Investigation in 1908, using agents transferred from the Secret Service. At first, its duties and powers were limited, as was its effectiveness. When J. Edgar Hoover was appointed Director in 1924, he began reorganizing and strengthening the Bureau, which gained its current name in 1935. In addition to a near-tyrannical management of the Bureau's internal structure, J. Edgar worked hard to project an image of tough, intelligent and dedicated agents to the outside world, particularly the media. This worked well from the late 1920s through the 1950s; "G-Men" were seen in fiction as incorruptible forces for law and America, with very rare exceptions. However, J. Edgar Hoover's suspicion of the politics and motivations of prominent civil rights activists, and growing paranoia about the social changes in America, caused the FBI's activities to become increasingly out of step with the times. Mishandled cases and other scandals, some decades old, were talked about more publicly. After Hoover died in 1972, a law previously passed to limit the tenure of FBI directors came into effect. Scurrilous rumors of J. Edgar's sexual pecadillos or connection to organized crime figures got a lot more play once he couldn't sic his agents on those reporting them. Media portrayals of the FBI since then have depicted a flawed but usually well-meaning organization, some of whose agents are corrupt or evil. Works of fiction will often use a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of the FBI and Hoover. FBI agents during the majority of the Hoover period were Always Male (there had been female agents before he took office, but he felt that women were unsuited for the work) and agents of color were rare to non-existent, which made working in certain communities, especially infiltration, difficult. Special agents must have a 4-year ("bachelor's") college degree, with a preference given to Law and Accounting. Sometimes overlaps with Men in Black.
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Works that feature the FBI or its agents include:
- The James Cagney movie G-Men, was released in 1935, and was the first movie about the renamed FBI.
- FBI agent Lemmy Caution appeared in Peter Chaney's novels This Man Is Dangerous (1936) and Can Ladies Kill? (1938).
- Will Graham and Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs.
- The F.B.I., a television show with fictionalized versions of real FBI cases, starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
- Twin Peaks featured FBI agent Dale Cooper.
- X Files has a fictitious two-person "department" of the FBI that investigates possibly paranormal connections to cases.
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