20 Startling Facts About the FBI Most of Us Didn’t Know Were True
Founded in 1908, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has stood the test of time, dealing with all kinds of criminals. It has long been featured in popular culture, which is where most people see an edited version of what really goes on. From owning their own Bitcoin wallet to investigating Borat to experimenting with extrasensory perception, the FBI has truths that are actually far more broad, diverse, and intriguing than we could’ve imagined.
Bright Side has gathered some interesting facts and stories about the FBI that you might find surprising.
1. “Please don’t lock this door tonight” — Sincerely, burglars
In 1971, a group of anti-war activists broke into the FBI Delaware office by simply leaving a note on the door stating: “Please don’t lock this door tonight.” The burglary was unsolved for 40 years until the activists came forward in 2014. The files, which have now been documented in the book “The Burglary: The Discovery of J Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI,” revealed many trade secrets and unfortunately for American citizens, evidence of widespread surveillance.
2. They investigated Borat.
Actor Sacha Baron Cohen had a team of FBI agents tracking his movements following a multitude of complaints when he was filming Borat in the United States. People complained about a “strange, mustached man traveling in an ice-cream van” and even labeled him a terrorist.
3. Many more celebrities were “Persons of Interest” to the FBI.
As for other celebrities, the FBI has files on many more than most would realize. Under their watch were high-profile people accused of being communists such as Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Lucille Ball. Other interesting case files, all of which are publicly available, have been made on the following high-profile people:
- Martin Luther King Jr. — accused of being a communist, an agitator during the civil rights movement in the United States, and quoted by J. Edgar Hoover as being the most powerful and dangerous man in America after his “I have a dream” speech.
- Charlie Chaplin — accused of being a communist sympathizer and was subsequently banned from the United States.
- Helen Keller — for being a social activist and a “radical.”
- Samuel L. Jackson — for being a social activist and accused of being a member of the Black Panther Party.
4. “Myspace Tom” caused a huge FBI raid by hacking a bank.
At only 14, Tom Anderson, creator of Myspace, caused one of the biggest FBI raids in Californian history after cracking into the Chase Manhattan Bank. His hacker pseudonym was “Lord Flathead”. The FBI was able to place a “cyber trap” to catch him. He wasn’t arrested due to his young age.
5. The FBI keeps an eye on the Burning Man festival.
The FBI keeps tabs on the Burning Man festival in Nevada. They admitted to having investigated the counterculture festival in 2010, looking for terrorist-related activities, but their only complaints were crowd control and drug-related issues.
6. They have a Bitcoin wallet
With the rise of cryptocurrency, and its added anonymity being exploited by criminals, the FBI has a Bitcoin wallet that contains seized Bitcoins. When Silk Road was shut-down in 2013, they seized 144,000 Bitcoins, but subsequently auctioned them off prior to the surge in worth we’ve seen in recent times. They’re probably kicking themselves now. Above is a screen-shot taken from when the first iteration of Silk Road was shut-down.
7. They take animal cruelty very seriously.
The FBI collects data on cruelty against animals and classifies it in the same category as a homicide, arson, and assault. The reason for this is that criminal psychologists have found links between animal cruelty and violence against humans, including serial killers. John Wayne Gacy, pictured above, began by torturing animals before becoming a serial killer.
Find more on the story of how data collection on animal cruelty came about here.
8. Einstein was labeled an “Extreme Radical.”
J. Edgar Hoover labeled Albert Einstein an “extreme radical,” and had his activities monitored. Hoover’s suspicions were based upon Einstein’s outspoken nature, particularly surrounding militant nationalism, capitalism, war, and racism. There were also doubts surrounding some of Einstein’s theories, such as gravitational waves, which has since been proven. By the time of Einstein’s passing in 1955, the file was 1427 pages long.
9. Until 2012, the FBI still used paper filing systems.
Until 2012, the FBI was still using paper filing systems. A failed attempt to implement their Virtual Case File system cost taxpayers over $100 million. A new system, code-named “Sentinel,” became active on July 1, 2012.
10. I bet he wished he had the “Get out of Jail Free” card.
Former police officer Jerome Jacobson, who became head of security for the firm that created the McDonald’s Monopoly pieces, illegally sold over $20 million worth of the rarest pieces. The investigation was turned over to the FBI, who gathered enough evidence to arrest Jacobson.
11. They experimented with Extrasensory Perception to help with cases.
The FBI investigated the potential of extrasensory perception (ESP), believing it could help with their counter-terrorism efforts. They abandoned the program after 3 years after deducing there was no scientific evidence to support this belief. Pictured above are Mr. Zirkle and Miss Ownbey performing an ESP experiment at Duke University in 1934.
12. Napoleon Bonaparte’s great-nephew founded the Bureau.
In 1908, Charles Joseph Bonaparte established what was then known as the Bureau of Investigation, which was renamed the FBI in 1935. He was a U.S. Secretary of the Navy and later a U.S. Attorney General. Interestingly, he was the great-nephew of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
13. They wiretapped bootlegger’s during the Prohibition Era.
During the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, the FBI began their first wiretapping to catch people smuggling alcohol.
14. There were only 3 female agents for 50 years.
In 1922, Alaska Davidson (pictured) became the first female special agent in the FBI. Only 2 other women became agents in the 20s, and under pressure from J. Edgar Hoover they all resigned. The FBI didn’t have any female agents again until the end of Hoover’s directorship in 1972.
15. J. Edgar Hoover kept “secret files” to protect his directorship.
After J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, he had served a 48 year directorship. Following this, congress changed the term length to be a maximum of 10 years for any future directors. At the time, the publicly known reason for his lengthy term was that he “personified the anti-communist efforts.” We now know that he kept “secret files” on anyone who could be a threat to his directorship, including members of Congress and even Presidents.
16. Their state-of-the-art laboratory began in a single room.
The FBI Laboratory in Quantico, now one of the largest and most comprehensive crime labs in the world, began as a one-man operation in a single room consisting of a microscope, a wiretapping kit, and basic handwriting and evidence analysis tools.
17. “Cover your webcam”, says James Comey
Ex-director, James Comey said he covers his webcam and recommends everyone do the same to protect their privacy.
18. “What took you so long?”
Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent until he was arrested for espionage in 2001 after leaving classified material at a dead drop site. He had in fact sold thousands of classified documents to Soviet and Russian intelligence for 22 years. When caught he said, “What took you so long?” He plead guilty to all charges and is spending the rest of his life in prison.
19. A hard combination to crack
Joya Williams and 2 accomplices attempted to sell a stolen sample of a new Coca-Cola product to Pepsi, who immediately referred the matter to the police. FBI agents posed as Pepsi executives to catch them red-handed. Coca-Cola keeps their secret recipes in a secure vault in Atlanta.
20. Walt Disney became an FBI informant.
Walt Disney gave to the FBI names of people he suspected to be communists during the McCarthyism period in the 1950s. In return, the Mickey Mouse Club was able to be filmed at the FBI headquarters.
Bonus: Hollywood vs Real Life
FBI agents are often portrayed in movies and TV shows as having exciting, dangerous, and unpredictable lives. While this may be true at times, the reality is not quite as glamorous as Hollywood would like us to believe. Agents work extremely hard to crack cases and keep the worst of the worst off the streets. The FBI recognizes the importance of a work-life balance and offers part-time positions to give their agents time to recuperate.
Which fact about the FBI did you find the most interesting? Have you heard of any others? Please let us know in the comments below.