Our Secret Intel Reveals the Wildest Facts About the FBI

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:54:42 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: FBI Photos/Wikimedia Commons

In movies, the FBI are stoic people in suits with an almost supernatural ability to find and apprehend criminals. FBI agents are pretty impressive in real life, too, but they're not quite as infallible as Hollywood would have you think. Their secretive operations haven't remained entirely confidential, and over the years some crazy details have managed to reach the public. Take a look at these lesser-known facts about the FBI — the good, the bad and everything in between.

Art Theft Is No Joke

You might think that major art heists only happen in movies like Ocean's 8, but they're a thing in the real world, too. After all, well-known pieces of art can come with huge price tags. What better way to get rich than by swiping a couple of Van Goghs?

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Photo Courtesy: mollyroselee/Pixabay

As a result, the FBI created a unit in 2004 to deal with art theft — and they've been pretty successful at it, too. To date, they've recovered almost $150 million worth of artwork. So yes, the FBI cares a lot about art.


Part of the FBI's job is to exhaust every possible opportunity for criminal investigations and apprehensions. They look for, test and implement new interrogation tactics, weapons and investigation techniques. They even went so far as to investigate whether ESP was a plausible tool for the government to use.

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Photo Courtesy: MiraCosic/Pixabay

If you're not up to speed, ESP stands for "extrasensory perception," aka reading people's minds or using psychic powers to find answers. They ran many tests in the 1950s but, sadly, eventually found there to be no scientific justification for the use of ESP.


FBI Most Wanted

You may have heard of the FBI's infamous Most Wanted List. You certainly don't want to find yourself on it, as the only way people can be removed is if charges are dropped or the individual is deemed harmless to society.

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Photo Courtesy: FBI

Once you get on that list, there's a good chance you're going to get caught — the FBI has found 484 of the 518 total names on the list since 1950. Sure, a couple dozen people may have gotten away, but would you want to bet on those odds? Probably not.


They Don't Like Borat

You know the movie Borat? The mustache-clad Kazakh reporter who offends just about everyone he meets? Well, it turns out the FBI compiled a file on actor Sacha Baron Cohen for the many hijinks he performed while filming Borat. Driving around in an ice cream truck and pranking people was Cohen's typical activity at the time.

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Photo Courtesy: Joella Marano/Wikimedia Commons

The FBI received so many complaints about a "terrorist" that they even paid a visit to Cohen's hotel room. He ended up jumping out the window, however, so the actor never did get to meet a real-life agent.


They Take Songs Seriously

Not only does the FBI value high-caliber art, but they put a lot of stock into music, too. Instead of protecting this song, though, they studied it to search for potentially pornographic language. The song in question was Louie Louie by The Kingsmen.

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Department Of State

Their investigation lasted a surprising two years before they came to their senses and dropped the case. Sound like a strange project for the FBI? Well, it did take place back in the 1960s, so at least they can blame it on the times.


A One-Man Show

Nowadays, people imagine the FBI to be an immense organization with many agents in many different areas of the country — and by all accounts, that's exactly what it is. It wasn't always such a thriving institution, however.

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Photo Courtesy: DarkoStojanovic/Pixabay

Take the FBI laboratory: It’s currently one of the biggest crime labs on Earth with 500 employees. When it first got started in 1932, it was manned and operated by one lonely soul. That's right. One individual was responsible for the entire FBI laboratory and made do with a humble assortment of lab tools.


Busting Crime Isn't Cheap

Sometimes, to catch the criminals, you have to spend big bucks. After all, busting crime isn't cheap. Not only do you need to pay your agents, but you've also got to have the right equipment on hand to do the job. There was one man, however, who cost the FBI a legendary amount of money.

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Photo Courtesy: Captain Roger Fenton/Flickr

In the early 1900s, famed gangster John Dillinger went on a bank-robbing spree, totaling $500,000 in stolen money. As for how much the FBI spent trying to catch him? A whopping $2 million in Great Depression-era dollars.


J. Edgar Hoover's Controversial Career

It's pretty safe to say that running the FBI is no easy job. For some, it's proven especially tumultuous. J. Edgar Hoover was the second director of the FBI and spent the better part of his life at the helm. He made great advancements in the organization and was a leader to many.

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Photo Courtesy: US GOVT/Wikipedia

But his tenure was not without its controversies. For example, he had quite a hostile view towards Martin Luther King Jr., and certain evidence of abuse of power came out after his death. His determination allegedly had no limits.


They Busted McDonald's?

You may remember a promotional game designed by McDonald's called the McDonald's Monopoly game. The promotion consisted of certain Monopoly pieces that yielded prizes for customers ranging from a free burger to $1 million in cash. This fun marketing ploy was run by one Jerome Jacobson.

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Photo Courtesy: WikimediaImages/Pixabay

Jacobson couldn't resist temptation and ended up rigging the system in order to secretly reap all the rewards for himself and his friends and family. This went on for six years before, at last, the FBI caught him and sent him to jail. This was one case they won hands down.


Some Things Are Never Solved

As much as the FBI solves the hardest-to-crack cases, sometimes they simply can't get to the bottom of an incident. One of these incidents is the 2003 case of a missing passenger plane in Angola. The mystery started with two mechanics working on a Boeing 727 and ended with them inexplicably taking off.

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Photo Courtesy: PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

The two flew away, never to be found again despite the FBI and CIA's strongest efforts. The question remains to this day: Why did two men leave on an empty plane, and where in the world could they hide such an enormous machine?


Strange Connections

You can't have a successful FBI program without making some connections — and some unlikely ones, at that. The FBI has always relied on informants to let them know when shady behavior is taking place or to keep an eye on specific individuals.

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Photo Courtesy: janeb13/Pixabay

Surprisingly enough, Mr. Walt Disney was one of those informants. Yes, that would be the one of Mickey Mouse fame. In exchange for filming perks, Disney snitched on potential communists in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He was one of the FBI's right-hand men.


An Embarrassing Moment

When you're meant to investigate the strangest, most secretive operations in the U.S., you're bound to stumble upon some false leads. As it turns out, the FBI is not immune to embarrassing slip-ups now and again, and that's what happened in 2005.

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Photo Courtesy: Utility_Inc/Pixabay

FBI agents latched on to a cult called "The Church of the Hammer" and spent two years investigating it. One day, someone realized the cult's website had an interesting disclaimer: It wasn't a real cult at all, but a parody. Hopefully, the agents saw the humor in this gaffe.


You Can Find More Than You Think

Do you ever find yourself curious about what information lurks behind the FBI's walls? Of course, the general public will never truly gain access to all their juicy files (unless you set your sights on becoming an agent yourself) but there’s a surprising amount of information available to the masses.

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Photo Courtesy: creativesignature/Pixabay

The Freedom of Information Act means the FBI must make files available upon request to anyone interested in seeing them. All their intel on Steve Jobs, Marilyn Monroe, Whitney Houston and others could be handed over to you in the blink of an eye.


They Don't Like Webcams, Either

You might tease your dad for keeping a piece of tape over his computer's webcam, but he might not be far off track when it comes to virtual monitoring. Organizations like the FBI do, in fact, use webcams to investigate groups or individuals.

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Photo Courtesy: Aksa2011/Pixabay

Even the former director of the FBI James Comey reportedly keeps his webcam covered at all times — and if he's doing it, it's got to be true. You might not be a high-profile criminal, but even so, taping up your webcam gives you an added layer of privacy.


They Might Have Your Fingerprint

Even if you've never committed a crime, the FBI might have your fingerprints in their database. Many jobs require applicants to provide their fingerprints as part of a background check, and these go directly to the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System along with 100 million others.

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Photo Courtesy: geralt/Pixabay

But don't worry. This shouldn't pose a problem unless you find yourself at the scene of a crime. Logging your fingerprints is simply one of the ways the FBI ensures the public's protection. Without this expansive database, many crimes might have gone unsolved.


1234? Try Again

Not all criminals are masterminds, and some of the biggest names on the most wanted list have been caught for the simplest reasons. One infamous cyberhacker, Jeremy Hammond, was captured thanks to his flimsy computer password: His cat's name, plus the numbers 123.

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Photo Courtesy: StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

If you're not a hacker, it might not be such a big deal to have a simple password — but it's never a bad idea to make things just a tad more complex. After all, the criminal hackers out there could one day try and hack your computer.


Strict Qualifications

Ever dreamed of becoming part of the FBI? Well, before you get your hopes up, take a quick look at their qualifications before sending in an application. For starters, if you aren't between the ages of 23 and 37, you're out of luck.

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Photo Courtesy: FBI/Wikimedia Commons

You also have to undergo rigorous physical exams — so make sure you're in tip-top shape — and you can't have partaken in any marijuana use for the previous three years. That's only the beginning, too; FBI agents truly must be the best and brightest the country has to offer.


Behind the Curve

While the FBI likes to market themselves as a cutting-edge, advanced organization, they were shockingly behind the curve when it came to digitizing records. Before the year 2012, they were still using paper trails for every case. Talk about ancient!

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Photo Courtesy: Eddie Green/Naval Sea Systems Command

Originally, the transition from paper to computer was supposed to happen in 2010, but someone on the team fudged the coding. This mistake delayed the process and made the FBI seem even more out of date. Someone probably received a healthy chewing out for that mix-up — if not a boot out the door.


Plenty of Samples

When you think about the sheer number of crimes happening on a day-to-day basis, it makes sense that the FBI must keep their growing quantities of evidence stored up somewhere. When a case has been processed, they can't simply throw the hair, blood and fingerprint samples away — they've got to box them up.

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Photo Courtesy: Eugene Oliver/Moody Air Force Base

The most common piece of evidence in the FBI's possession? Hair. They have over 5,000 human and animal hairs on file simply for use as references and comparisons. After all, they need to measure current samples against something.


An Unlikely Target

It's common knowledge that the FBI keeps tabs on certain persons of interest. You might be surprised, however, at just who those persons turn out to be. Not everyone knows that 1950s superstar Frank Sinatra was someone the FBI kept a close watch on over the years.

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Photo Courtesy: FotoshopTofs/Pixabay

His close friendship with John F. Kennedy and alleged connections with the mob meant Sinatra was no stranger to the federal government. During his lifetime, the FBI amassed more than 2,000 pages on the singer. Nowadays, you can see these pages yourself if you go looking for them.


Insider Lingo

As with any top-level organization, the FBI has its own secret language agents use to communicate. Many of their codewords are unknown to the public, but a few have become common knowledge. The word "bucar," for example, refers to a special FBI car.

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Photo Courtesy: ernestoeslava/Pixabay

An FBI "brick agent" is one who works out on the streets in the middle of the action. There are plenty of other secret phrases, but the funniest might be the codename other groups give to the FBI: "Famous but Incompetent." Clearly, not everyone thinks highly of them.


The Overworked Agent?

You might have an idea in your head of the overworked FBI agent who has no life outside of their job. This may not always be the case, however. It turns out that the FBI has part-time roles for those individuals who don't want to spend every waking minute going over gruesome criminal cases.

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Photo Courtesy: FBI/Wikimedia Commons

These people work only 16 hours a week. They get more than enough time to recuperate from the stressful, oftentimes explicit material of their cases before coming back to the office. Sounds like a pretty good deal!


Tough on Alcohol

During the time of Prohibition — 1920 to 1933 — the government had an unfavorable view on alcohol. In our current day and age, when you can see 10 different liquor stores in the same area, a ban on booze seems preposterous. In the 1920s, however, it was no simple matter.

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Photo Courtesy: elcodigodebarras/Pixabay

The FBI took Prohibition so seriously that they tapped people's phones in an attempt to catch them smuggling or making alcohol. In fact, this was when phone tapping first became a thing, and it's an FBI practice that's survived to this day.


Humble Beginnings

Our country's law enforcement system was not always as robust as it is today. The Federal Bureau of Investigation saw its humble beginnings in the year 1908, under President Theodore Roosevelt's supervision. During that time, the entire Justice Department was made up of only 38 individuals.

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Photo Courtesy: Pach Brothers/Wikimedia Commons

Those numbers didn’t stay down for long. The FBI made fast advancements in size and ability and quickly earned themselves a reputation with the American people. For many, their existence was a positive thing. The public generally saw crime as out of control at the time.


Less-Than-Admirable Decisions

Before the FBI officially became the FBI, it was headed by a man named Stanley Finch. Finch had a tough view on crime, which was all well and good, except his main focus was on busting prostitution. He saw the practice as inherently evil and detrimental to society.

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Photo Courtesy: Federal Bureau of Investigation/Flickr

To combat it, he played a major role in creating the 1910 White Slave Traffic Act targeting the transportation of women. Unfortunately, by singling out white women, it simply made minority women all the more vulnerable to sex trafficking. This one was a bust for the FBI.



Even systems meant to combat corruption are vulnerable to being corrupted. One would hope that the FBI of all organizations would be resistant to corruption, but FBI director William J. Burns proved otherwise. He found himself in a 1920s oil scandal called the "Teapot Dome Scandal."

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Photo Courtesy: The Masked War/Wikimedia Commons

Essentially, a secret deal was made between private oil companies and the U.S. Navy involving the sharing of resources. When one senator began questioning the deal, Burns was given the job of keeping things quiet. Looks like the government isn't as sparkly clean as some like to think.


A Boys’ Club

It's not surprising that the FBI was male-dominated in its early years, but it's disappointing nonetheless. Not only was it generally harder for women to get in, but director J. Edgar Hoover actively took action against women FBI agents.

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Photo Courtesy: FBI Photos/Wikimedia Commons

Hoover prohibited the few women agents that made it in from smoking cigarettes at their desks — even though men were allowed to do so. He also required women to wear skirts or dresses to work. Hoover also didn't hire women; the only ones on the team had been hired before he was director.


Intelligence Is Intimidating

The FBI likes having smart people within its ranks, but they're suspicious when highly intelligent people appear on the outside. This is why one Albert Einstein caught their eye in the mid-1900s. He was so incredibly smart that they feared the things he was capable of.

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Photo Courtesy: Ferdinand Schmutzer/Wikimedia Commons

Einstein was such an important figure that they collected 1,800 pages of information on him — still not as many pages as Frank Sinatra, but nothing to bat an eye at! One can only imagine what Einstein would have thought about this exhaustive surveillance.


Communists Beware

Another one of J. Edgar Hoover's less-than-charming traits back in the day was his hatred of supposed communists. He saw the threat of communism everywhere and was constantly on the lookout for a person, place or thing to accuse of communist sympathizing.

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Photo Courtesy: travis/Flickr

One of his targets? The hit Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life. If you remember, the movie's banker, Mr. Potter, was not depicted in such a favorable light, and this led Hoover to believe the movie was dispersing communist ideals. Was it really undercover propaganda, or just Hoover’s paranoia? Probably the latter.


Undercover Agent Gone Awry

Everyone loves a good story about an undercover agent. It seems like such a thrilling job, as if it’s rife with drama and adventure. The truth, however, is that it’s not always so glamorous. One undercover agent named Craig Monteilh was sent to Muslim mosques to catch terrorists.

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Photo Courtesy: GPA Photo Archive/Flickr

What he found was so mundane and uneventful that he began trying to trap people by bringing up terrorism and weapons himself. Muslim people around him were so frightened by this that they called the FBI themselves. Little did they know, he was working for the organization the entire time.