FBI vs CIA: A Closer Look at America’s Top Intelligence Agencies

You may not know the ins and outs of these two American agencies, but there is little doubt you haven’t spent a significant amount of time enthralled by their actions, whether that is through the news media, documentary film, or regular old Hollywood films. Both are, to some extent, shrouded in mystery; both can be blamed for duplicity at times, bearing the scars of numerous scandals, and they are still currently the target of conspiracy theorists.

FBI’s Abridged History

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States’ premier law enforcement agency, has a storied history that dates back to its inception. Created in 1908 by Attorney General Charles Bonaparte and President Theodore Roosevelt, the FBI was initially known as the Bureau of Investigation (BOI).

According to the FBI website, Bonaparte jokingly told the president they should have men shoot at each other and whoever survives gets the job. The Bureau of Investigation (BOI) was created soon after, and 34 people were hired at first to work as special agents across all of America’s state borders. In 1935, it officially became known as the FBI, and prohibition became its raison d’etre.

Throughout its existence, the FBI has been involved in numerous high-profile cases, including:

  1. The pursuit of notorious criminals like Bonnie and Clyde.
  2. Investigating white-collar crimes such as the Enron scandal.
  3. The JFK Assassination.
  4. The civil rights movement, including the investigation of the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi.
  5. Watergate.
  6. The post-9/11 counter-terrorism efforts.

The FBI currently has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and there are 56 field offices in major US cities, as well as more than 350 smaller offices around the country. It also has about 60 offices in other countries. It employs about 35,000 people in all, which includes special agents, scientists, intelligence analysts, language specialists, and those with considerable IT acumen.

CIA’s Main Concerns

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a covert intelligence agency focused on national security and international affairs. Established on July 26, 1947, by President Harry S. Truman, the CIA’s main objectives include:

  1. Countering terrorism.
  2. Addressing threats related to weapons of mass destruction.
  3. Gathering intelligence on global political developments.
  4. Conducting cyber-intelligence activities.

The CIA has a rich history of involvement in international affairs, including actions such as the 1953 Iranian coup d’état and attempts to influence political events worldwide. The agency is known for its ability to manipulate countries, governments, and factions outside of governments in the interest of American national security.

Collaboration Between FBI and CIA

The relationship between the FBI and CIA is a matter of controversy. While the CIA’s website states that the relationship is strong and information is shared, there have been instances, such as the failure to counter the threat from Al Qaeda before 9/11, where intelligence was not shared responsibly.

The CIA focuses on intelligence collection and cannot make arrests, whereas the FBI has the authority to investigate and arrest individuals who violate federal law, including CIA agents if necessary.

Becoming an FBI or CIA Agent

To join the FBI, applicants must meet several requirements, including being between the ages of 23 and 37, holding a four-year degree, having three years of work experience, and possessing a driver’s license. Various qualifications, such as language skills, law, accounting, computer science, or diversified skills, can be advantageous. The selection process includes rigorous testing, physical fitness assessments, medical checks, background checks, and polygraphs.

For the CIA, candidates must also hold a university degree, preferably in fields like criminology, homeland security, or emergency management. Skills in data analysis, negotiation, diplomacy, and criminal investigative experience are valued. CIA applicants undergo background checks, medical evaluations, and polygraphs. Specialized training programs are part of the CIA’s rigorous preparation process.

Working for the FBI and CIA

Both agencies offer distinct experiences and challenges. The FBI may involve more personal risk due to its law enforcement nature, while the CIA’s covert operations come with a level of secrecy that can be isolating. Salaries for agents vary based on experience and roles, with senior agents earning significantly more.


In this article, we’ve explored the intriguing world of the FBI and CIA, from their historical origins to their recruitment processes and missions. Whether you aspire to be an FBI agent combating domestic crime or a CIA operative working in the shadows of international intelligence, these agencies offer unique career paths filled with excitement, challenges, and a sense of duty to national security.