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FBI drops 'law enforcement' from its mission statement

The FBI now lists "national security" as its primary function, saying the agency is a "post 9/11 FBI."
FBI agents in SWAT gear respond to an incident on Constitution Avenue outside the U.S. Capitol Oct. 3, 2013 in Washington.
FBI agents in SWAT gear respond to an incident on Constitution Avenue outside the U.S. Capitol Oct. 3, 2013 in Washington.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's primary mission has been changed from "law enforcement" to "national security."

The change in the mission was noted on the bureau's fact sheet, as first reported by Foreign PolicyThe FBI fact sheet previously stated, "The primary function of the FBI is law enforcement." But the mission has now been changed to, "The primary function of the FBI is national security."

It remains unclear when the change in the language was made. Kel McClanahan, a national security lawyer based in Washington, D.C., told Foreign Policy he first noticed the change last month while reviewing a Freedom of Information Act request from the agency.

The institutional change marks the agency's advances into counterterrorism after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI's website indicates how the the agency has become a "post 9/11 FBI" and refocused its efforts towards intelligence and national security in the past 12 years. Detailing how the bureau has changed since 9/11, the website states that the nation's primary domestic counterterrorism agency has "become a more intel-driven and future-focused agency."

An agency spokesman told Foreign Policy that the FBI has changed its mission to keep up with the times.

"When our mission changed after 9/11, our fact sheet changed to reflect that," FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told Foreign Policy

Bresson clarified that the change is not a move away from law enforcement, but that the bureau has always prioritized national security. 

"We rank our top 10 priorities and CT [counterterrorism] is first, counterintel is second, cyber is third," Bresson said. "So it is certainly accurate to say our primary function is national security.

The new mission statement should not come as a surprise as the agency doubled the number of FBI agents dedicated to counterterrorism between 2001 and 2009, according to a report from the Justice Department’s inspector general. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer also reported deep declines in the number of white-collar criminal cases investigated nationally as the FBI focused more on counterterrorism. 

While the bureau has long been seen as a government agency enforcing the laws of the land, the FBI has seemingly emphasized its primary purpose as national security, broadening its scope of handling threats to the United States.