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What Is the Difference between the CIA, FBI and Interpol?

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If you’ve ever wondered about the differences between the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), and Interpol (International Police Agency), you’re in good company. The CIA and FBI are United States agencies. They manage many of the same kinds of threats but threat levels vary according to each agency’s responsibilities:

  • The CIA responds to actions that may extend to a global arena. It affects the United States’ foreign policies. For instance, the CIA disseminates relevant and timely information to U.S. military leaders in combat.
  • The FBI is typically considered a domestic threat agency. It shapes and enforces the United States’ interior policies. The FBI investigates crimes like kidnapping, tax evasion, and bank robbery.

Both the CIA and FBI are staffed with intelligent and motivated staff, and both have access to global state-of-the-art technologies.

  • Interpol’s headquarters are in Lyon, France. As an international police agency, Interpol’s role is to assist member countries’ local law enforcement agencies in solving crimes. It’s considered a politically neutral agency, so it can’t get involved in activities that involve issues that are political, religious, racial, or military in nature. Interpol works to keep people around the world safe by fighting significant crimes against humanity, including public corruption, genocide, computer crimes, war crimes, human trafficking, piracy, and terrorism.

In this article, we explore the similarities and differences between the CIA, FBI, and Interpol.

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What is the CIA?

The role of the CIA includes collecting and analyzing information—intelligence from other countries that may pose risks to U.S. security. The CIA passes information it collects to officials in the U.S. government, such as the President of the United States, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Defense.

CIA is the nation’s top secret intelligence unit. It contributes to our nation’s foreign policy as well as the foreign policies of other countries around the globe, such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

What the CIA Does

CIA collects intelligence in a variety of ways. Yes, CIA agents in the movies typically organize undercover operations in exotic places. However, the CIA also uses less glamorous methods to obtain intelligence, such as:

  • Collects and translates foreign press, radio, tv, and Internet traffic
  • Uses satellites to take images
  • Intercepts/decodes encryptions
  • Hires nationals from other nations to collect intelligence in their countries

The CIA’s multi-billion dollar budget enables them to gather enormous amounts of intelligence.

What the CIA Doesn’t Do

The CIA isn’t a law enforcement agency. It gathers intelligence and hasn’t any authority to enforce laws or arrest citizens.

Since the CIA focuses on foreign issues, it’s illegal for it to investigate a U.S. company or citizen within the borders of the U.S.—unless that investigation is performed as a part of collecting foreign intelligence.

For instance, the CIA could investigate a citizen in Texas if he’s suspected as a member of a terrorist plot that’s being organized in a foreign country. He or she couldn’t make an arrest.

What is the FBI?

The FBI is sometimes called the biggest law enforcement agency on earth. Unlike the CIA, the FBI doesn’t operate in countries outside of the U.S.

The FBI is the enforcement and investigative arm of the United States Department of Justice. It has jurisdiction over 200+ categories of federal crimes.

With a budget of almost USD 8.5 billion (2016), the FBI’s goals include:

  • Protecting the country from terror attacks
  • Protecting the country from espionage/foreign intelligence operations
  • Protecting the country from high-tech and cyber-based crimes and attacks
  • Combating public corruption; national/transnational crime organizations/enterprises; white-collar crime; violent crime
  • Protecting civil rights
  • Supporting federal/state/local/international partners
  • Upgrading technology to allow and enact successful execution of the agency’s missions

FBI isn’t limited to purely domestic activities. It also engages in international activities by cooperating and interacting with other nations’ internal intelligence agencies when required. With a USD 8.5 billion budget, FBI has the resources to pursue suspected criminals throughout the United States.

How the FBI Works

Most often the FBI works with state and/or local police and law enforcement agencies. An individual who commits a federal crime over which the FBI has jurisdiction may be prosecuted in a state court. Depending on the results of an investigation, the Department of Justice may press federal criminal charges.

Agents of the FBI are bound by the same ethical and legal rules as Texas police and other law enforcement officers. For example, FBI agents must obtain a search warrant before entering your home or office to collect criminal evidence or, in an arrest, must have an arrest warrant beforehand. The FBI agent is restricted as to when he or she may use a deadly weapon to apprehend a suspected criminal.

Although an FBI agent in a movie may use spy tools in suspects’ homes without a warrant, the FBI agents in Texas must obey the same laws as our police officers.

Differences Between the FBI, Texas State and Local Police

Agents of the FBI have a nationwide reach. State and local officers usually cannot enforce state laws beyond the specific jurisdiction (state, county, city). FBI agents have arrest and/or investigative authority as long as they’re in the United States and a federal crime has occurred.

The FBI is a U.S. intelligence agency that’s recognized around the world. The FBI is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. As an agency of the Department of Justice, it focuses on criminal investigations. It has jurisdiction over 200+ categories of federal crimes.

What Are the Differences Between the CIA and the FBI?

Both the CIA and FBI are intelligence agencies of the United States:

  • FBI dually provides domestic intelligence services and sustains law-enforcement matters, usually within the United States’ borders. The FBI is more “hands-on” regarding domestic policy, Homeland Security, and law enforcement issues. Local and state law enforcement teams often work with the FBI. As a result, FBI processes seem more transparent and relatable than those of the CIA.
  • CIA operates on the international level. It protects the nation and its citizens from international terrorists. It’s an external protection barrier of sorts.

In comparison, the CIA is seen as a more secretive or mysterious organization. According to author Michael V. Hayden (“Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror,” 2016) the CIA and the FBI don’t always efficiently share information. The agencies often use different methods and sources to generate intelligence. Sometimes, they don’t share or communicate well with each other. In fact, the agencies have been fiercely competitive since J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI tried to squelch the new CIA agency in the late 1940s. Old habits seem to die hard.

What is Interpol?

Interpol, or International Criminal Police Organization, is the international police agency. It assists law enforcement authorities in its member countries. According to Interpol, 190 countries are members today. Like the CIA, Interpol is an intelligence agency. However, it carries out investigations differently from the CIA.

What Interpol Does

Interpol gets involved in serious crimes, such as financial or commercial institution fraud, murder, organized crime, weapons smuggling, child pornography, money laundering, crimes against humanity, cybercrimes, or terrorism.

For example, if Interpol is investigating a terrorism plot, it gathers details regarding suspected terrorist individuals. After evaluating the investigative data, Interpol uses a worldwide network to collect more intelligence from other nations’ intelligence services, such as the CIA in the United States.

What Interpol Doesn’t Do

Over the past few years, news reports have claimed that a U.S. presidential directive could prompt Interpol to investigate certain officials in the U.S. or the CIA. Because Interpol is a politically-neutral agency, it doesn’t go about performing random investigations.

Its core initiative is modest. Interpol exists to assist police and law enforcement organizations to coordinate actions and to communicate. It gathers intelligence from crime information databases and provides training and support services.

Interpol doesn’t employ officers. It doesn’t arrest anyone. However, police organizations from around the globe place their officers in the service of Interpol when required.

CIA, FBI and Interpol

Both the CIA and FBI in the U.S., and Interpol’s international police organization, are unique. When necessary, these organizations do offer some level of support to the others.

If you have been arrested by the FBI, or you have concerns that the CIA is investigating crimes orchestrated in a foreign country in which you have an involvement, or you believe that Interpol is gathering information about you, it is essential for you to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Contact the Law Office of Brett A. Podolsky to schedule an initial case evaluation. Mr. Podolsky is Texas Board-Certified in Criminal Law and is a former Assistant Criminal District Attorney for the state of Texas.

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