Difference Between FBI and CIA

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The CIA and FBI are both top tier agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Each agency has a specific area of focus, although they do occasionally cooperate on cases to share information which could lead to a breakthrough. The staff of each agency are highly trained specialists in their field, and people interested in pursuing careers at these agencies usually attend top tier schools.

The main difference between the two can be illustrated in their names: the FBI investigates crimes, and the CIA gathers intelligence.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government, tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world.

The CIA operates around the world, using a series of agents on the ground to relay information back to the central offices in Virginia. CIA agents often cooperate with other international intelligence agencies, especially wartime allies.

The National Security Act charged the CIA with coordinating the nation’s intelligence activities and correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence affecting national security.

The CIA’s areas of focus include:

  • Nuclear nonproliferation
  • Counterintelligence
  • Counterterrorism
  • Foreign organized crime
  • Arms control
  • Drug trafficking

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a governmental agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency.

The FBI is primarily a law enforcement agency, collecting intelligence related to domestic security as well as investigating federal crimes.

Organizationally, the FBI falls under the US Department of Justice. According to its website, the FBI has a three-part mission:

  • To protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats.
  • To uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States.
  • To provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners.

Despite its primary law enforcement role, the FBI also has an intelligence collection function. Specifically, the organization’s Intelligence Branch serves as a member of the US Intelligence Community.

In other words, priorities of the FBI broadly include:

  • Protecting the U.S. from terrorist attacks
  • Protecting the U.S. against foreign intelligence operations and espionage
  • Combatting public corruption
  • Protecting the U.S. against cyber attacks and high technology crimes
  • Protecting civil rights
  • Combatting major acts of violent crime such as kidnapping, homicide etc
  • Supporting federal, state, county, municipal, and international partners
  • Combatting major acts of white-collar crime
  • Upgrading technology in order to keep up with the FBI’s mission

Also Read: Difference Between Federal And State Prisons

FBI vs CIA: Key Differences

Basis of ComparisonFBICIA
DescriptionThe Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a governmental agency of the United States Department of Justice that serves as both a federal criminal investigative body and an internal intelligence agency.The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the United States federal government, tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world
Nature of WorkThe FBI is a premier law enforcement agency that investigates crimes, gathers evidence, and builds cases for prosecution.The CIA is an intelligence agency that collects and analyzes information to provide insights and recommendations to policymakers.
Operation
FBI has special agents that can effect arrest anywhere in United States.
CIA doesn’t have a law enforcement function. Its role is begin and ends with intelligence gathering.
JurisdictionThe FBI’s operations are domestic, focused on addressing threats and criminal activities within the United States.The CIA’s operations are international, involving intelligence collection and analysis on a global scale.
Legal AuthorityThe FBI operates under the authority of the U.S. Department of Justice and adheres to domestic laws and regulations.The CIA operates under the authority of the U.S. President and is governed by the National Security Act of 1947, which outlines its roles and responsibilities.
OperationFBI agents often cooperate with other security agencies such as secretary service, National Security Agency (NSA) etc.CIA agents often cooperate with other international intelligence agencies, especially wartime allies.
FormedJuly 26, 1908September 18, 1947
Organizational StructureThe FBI is structured as a law enforcement agency, with special agents, analysts, and various divisions focused on different areas of law enforcement.The CIA is an intelligence agency with a broader scope, including analysts, operatives, and specialists focused on intelligence collection and analysis.
Leadership and AccountabilityThe FBI is led by a Director, who reports to the U.S. Attorney General and ultimately to the President.The CIA is led by a Director, who reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the President.
StaffEstimated 13,000 agents, 3,000 intelligence analysts and 22,000 staff in 2018.Estimated 25,000 agents and 35,000 staff (including intelligence analyst) in 2018.
Public vs. CovertThe FBI’s activities are generally more visible to the public, as its investigations often lead to arrests, trials, and public announcements.The CIA’s activities are often covert and classified, involving intelligence gathering, espionage, and other sensitive operations.

Key Takeaways

  • The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) are both members of U.S Intelligence Agency.
  • The CIA, however, has no law enforcement function. Rather, it collects and analyzes information that is vital to the formation of U.S. policy, particularly in areas that impact the security of the nation.
  • The CIA gathers information internationally which is relevant to American security. In other words, CIA’s role is to spy on anyone around the world, who is a threat to the US security and interests.
  • The CIA operates around the world, using a series of agents on the ground to relay information back to the central offices in Virginia.
  • CIA agents often cooperate with other international intelligence agencies, especially wartime allies.
  • The FBI also gathers domestic intelligence, and works to put a stop to threats from within the United States. In other words, FBI’s role is to investigate Federal crimes perpetuated on American soil to present evidence to Federal attorneys to bring the suspect to trial.
  • The staff of each agency (CIA and FBI) are highly trained specialists in their field, and people interested in pursuing careers at these agencies usually attend top tier schools.
  • As the premier law enforcement agency in the United States, the FBI assists local police in handling major cases, and also has a sophisticated evidence lab.
  • The FBI also handles domestic surveillance. If the CIA wants information on individuals within the United States, they must go through the FBI to obtain it.
  • The CIA generally works outside the United States and gathers information via a network of spies, while the FBI mostly operates inside the United States and collects intelligence as well as prosecuting federal crimes.