CIA vs FBI | How Are They Different?

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are perhaps two of the most well-known U.S federal agencies in the world. With the rising mainstream popularity and fictional depictions of both the agencies, it is now more crucial to understand the fundamental differences between the CIA and the FBI.

The two federal agencies have entirely different responsibilities, goals, and authority. While the CIA is a foreign intelligence agency, which collects information related to U.S national security and policy, the FBI is a federal law enforcement agency tasked with investigating federal crimes and enforcing laws.

In other words, they are both concerned with the security of the United States but operate in entirely different areas or fields.

Below, we have provided a comprehensive analysis of how the two agencies are different based on organizational structure, missions and objectives, budget, and training.

The Central Intelligence Agency as an Organization

The Central Intelligence Agency is a prominent member of the U.S Intelligence Community, a group of organizations responsible for collecting different forms of intelligence related to national security and foreign policy.

Aerial view of the CIA HeadquartersAn aerial view of CIA headquarters in Langley | Image Courtesy: Carol M. Highsmith

The CIA, as we know it today, was established on September 18, 1947, under President Harry S. Truman. However, the foundation of the agency was laid a year ago with the creation of the Central Intelligence Group, or CIG.

The Central Intelligence Group replaced America’s first centralized intelligence organization — the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was responsible for intelligence collection and conducting covert missions against enemy nations during World War II. The CIG was dissolved after less than two years of its formation and was replaced with the Central Intelligence Agency as part of the extensive restructuring of military and intelligence organizations in the United States in 1947.

In its current structure, the CIA is headed by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The DNI is a member of the Cabinet of the United States and oversees the U.S Intelligence Community.

The agency headquarters, known as the George Bush Center for Intelligence, is located in Langley, Virginia, U.S. The entire facility is situated over a massive area of 104 hectares, or 1.4 sq km, and a total floor area of 2.5 million sq ft. It was the world’s largest intelligence headquarters until 2019.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation as an Organization

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the leading U.S federal law enforcement agency responsible for domestic or internal security. The FBI reports to not one but two members of the Cabinet of the United States: the U.S Attorney General, who is the executive head of the Department of Justice, and the Director of the National Intelligence.

The FBI was established on July 26, 1908, as the ‘Bureau of Investigation, or BOI. It was not until 1935 that the bureau would change to its current name and become an independent agency under the Department of Justice. However, its roots can be traced back to 1896, when the National Bureau of Criminal Identification was established to keep an extensive record of convicted criminals.

The agency is headed by the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who is appointed by the President of the United States with U.S Senate confirmation. The first director of the FBI was Stanley Finch. He held the office for more than three years.

J. Edgar Hoover was perhaps the longest-serving and one of the most influential directors of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, spending 48 years at the agency (including its predecessor) between 1924 and 1972.

J. Edgar HooverJ. Edgar Hoover, during his time as the head of the FBI in 1961

In 1976, the United States Congress passed an amendment to put a term limit of ten years on future FBI directors. However, since Hoover, none of the FBI directors have completed their full tenure, except for Robert Mueller, who served an extended term of 12 years between 2001 and 2013.

The FBI headquarters, named after J. Edgar Hoover, is located at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. It also operates 56 field offices in large cities and 350 resident agencies in towns and smaller cities across the United States.

How is the CIA different from the FBI?

Although the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are concerned with the overall security of the United States, they were created to achieve different goals. We have compared the two agencies based on their objectives and responsibilities, influence, training method, and budget.

Central Intelligence Agency Federal Bureau Of Investigation
Founded in – September 18, 1947 July 26, 1908
Jurisdiction – Worldwide Within the United States’ international borders
Organizational structure – Independent agency; reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Function under the Department of Justice; reports to the U.S Attorney General and DNI
Budget – Classified, $14.7 billion in 2013 $9.8 billion in 2021
Responsibilities –

Foreign intelligence gathering (and analysis); assisting U.S lawmakers in important security decisions and conducting covert operations.

Responsibilities –

Law enforcement; investigative authority in federal crimes; counterterrorism operations in the U.S; and Counterintelligence

CIA vs FBI: Mission and Objectives

The Objectives of the CIA

The CIA is a U.S foreign intelligence agency tasked with collecting and analyzing information related to national security from around the world. It assists the U.S President, National Security Council, and policymakers in making crucial national security decisions. Officially, the agency also gathers restricted domestic intelligence mainly for counterintelligence purposes.

The primary objectives of the Central Intelligence Agency are –

  • Foreign intelligence collection;
  • Critical analysis of the collected information, and
  • Conducting covert operations

The CIA is not a law enforcement agency meaning it cannot enforce the law; or respond to, investigate and prosecute any violation of the law. However, it often corporate with federal law enforcement agencies on various issues such as counterterrorism.

A large section of the foreign intelligence gathered by the agency is through HUMINT or human intelligence. As the name suggests, human intelligence is obtained from human sources. While modern HUMINT is often associated with the use of clandestine techniques, human intelligence gathering can also be overt in nature; in which the information is collected through official security debriefs and voluntary interviews.

The CIA also performs clandestine intelligence collection operations through SIGINT or signals intelligence, MASINT, or measurement and signature intelligence. MASINT is a form of technical intelligence gathering which identifies, tracks, and locates target sources by analyzing data from various detection and sensing platforms. MASINT has several branches or disciplines, including radar intelligence and acoustic intelligence.

Although most MASINT operations among the members of the U.S Intelligence Community are carried out by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Central Intelligence Agency has been almost entirely responsible for conducting covert MASINT operations across the globe since the 1980s.

According to the details of the 2013 ‘black budget’ for the U.S intelligence agencies revealed by the Washington Post, the CIA has four priorities –

  • Counterterrorism – To neutralize and eliminate terr*rism
  • Counterintelligence – To protect the agency’s assets from foreign intelligence
  • Long-distance surveillance through SIGINT and other technical intelligence gathering methods; and
  • Offensive cyber operations or cyber intelligence

Objectives of the FBI

In contrast to the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a U.S federal law enforcement agency responsible for domestic security. It conducts criminal investigations, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism operations across the United States.

The FBI also has extensive domestic intelligence-gathering responsibilities. FBI Intelligence Branch, which oversees all intelligence functions of the agency, is a component of the U.S Intelligence Community.

The FBI has several responsibilities and priorities –

  • Protect civil rights of the U.S citizens
  • Investigate all forms of corruption
  • Track and eliminate transnational organized crime
  • Prevent terr*rist attacks and conduct counterterrorism operations in the U.S;
  • Conduct counterintelligence operations against foreign intelligence
  • Take action against violent crimes
  • Prevent cybercrimes
  • Investigate white-collar crime and fraud

The functions and responsibilities of the FBI are similar to that of other domestic security agencies such as British MI5, French DGSI, and the Russian FSB.

Despite being a domestic law enforcement agency, the FBI has a considerable presence outside the U.S. The agency has about 63 offices, also known as ‘legats,’ and 30 sub-offices in cities around the world. They allow better coordination with foreign security services and are regulated by the FBI International Operations Division at the U.S headquarters.

CIA vs FBI: Training Comparision

The two agencies have different training methodologies and a completely separate training setup.

CIA Training

The Central Intelligence Agency operates multiple education and training facilities across the United States. It includes CIAU, or CIA University, Warrenton Training Center in Virginia, and Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity in North Carolina.

CIAU is a primary education institution of the Central Intelligence Agency founded in 2002. The university instructs new hires, as well as, experienced CIA officers in various intelligence and defense-related courses on weapons proliferation, WMDs, chemical weapons manufacturing, counterterrorism, anti-money laundering geography skills, and basic management. It also provides extensive language training to its students.

A small number of enrollees in the CIAU are employed in other U.S intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Importantly, the university doesn’t train spies or any foreign intelligence officers.

A vital component of CIAU is the Sherman Kent School for Intelligence Analysis. It focuses on different types of intelligence analysis and studies, such as wiretap transcript analysis, satellite image analysis, and media reports analysis.

The school was initially opened in the year 2000 as an independent institute, but it became part of the CIA University when it was established in 2002. It is named after Sherman Kent, a former CIA officer and professor at Yale University, who developed many of the intelligence analysis methods used today.

For more advanced training, the CIA utilizes multiple defense facilities under the Department of Defence that are shared by multiple U.S Intelligence and law enforcement agencies and branches of the military. One such training facility is the Harvey Point Defense Testing Activity, also known as ‘The Point‘ in Perquimans County, North Carolina. It serves as an advanced paramilitary and counterterrorism training facility for the CIA, ATF (Bureau of Alc*h*l, T*bacc*, Fir*arms, and Expl*sives), and U.S special forces.

Another similar covert training facility is Camp Peary, or ‘The Farm,’ located in York County, Virginia. It is used by the CIA and DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) to train their operatives in clandestine activities.

For advanced technical training, the CIA and other U.S intelligence agencies use a secretive government complex called Warrenton Training Center, located in central and northern Virginia. The center accommodates a number of data centers, a radio station, a laboratory, and a signals intelligence facility. It also features an underground bunker to facilitate uninterrupted signals intelligence gathering for the CIA, NSA, and other departments of the U.S DOD.

How to Join the CIA?

If you have ever wondered what CIA agents do, how much they get paid, or how to become one, here we have answered all these queries.

A CIA agent is an intelligence officer who collects and analyzes information concerned with national security. As one of the world’s largest and most powerful intelligence organizations, the CIA offers a wide range of career opportunities from a foreign language expert, a cartographer, and a software developer, to an open-source intelligence specialist, a cyber threat analyst, and a special operations officer.

While the specific duties of CIA agents depend on their job title, the responsibilities may include –

  • Collection and analysis of intelligence related to the U.S national security
  • Scanning international media sources for any potential intelligence (open-source intelligence collection)
  • Analyzing satellite imagery to monitor potential threats to national security
  • Deciphering encrypted texts, and
  • Writing comprehensive intelligence reports for law enforcement agencies and government agencies.

Before being recruited by the CIA, all applicants must go through a series of medical and security tests. It includes an extensive background check, a polygraph interview, and a physical and psychological examination based on the standards established by the  Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

According to the online job listing and employment website, Indeed, the average salary of a CIA analyst is $71,382 per year, while a senior analyst earns up to $150,324 per year.

FBI Training

FBI AcademyAerial view of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia | Image Courtesy: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Unlike the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation operates a single large training and research facility for its agents, known as the FBI Academy. The academy is located less than 40 miles away from Washington D.C in Quantico, Virginia, and provides extensive training to new recruits, FBI special agents, intelligence analysts, and other officers.

The FBI Academy conducts numerous training programs, including –

  • Basic Field Training Course (BFTC): An expansive training program for new agents and intelligence analysts to develop basic collaboration skills.
  • Tactical and Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (TEVOC): A highly advanced vehicle training course in which FBI agents are exposed to various techniques and maneuvers to evade dangerous situations on the road and also track wanted criminals.
  • Fir*arms and defensive tactics: It helps new recruits develop basic weapons handling skills for the safe and effective use of fir*arms while on duty.
  • Law Enforcement Executive Development: It is a skill development program for agency executives in areas such as strategic planning, media relations, and leadership.

An important component of the FBI Academy is ‘Hogan’s Alley,’ a tactical training facility that simulates realistic urban settings for special agents and tactical teams to participate in terr*rist and hostage-taking situations. The facility is often used by other local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the DEA (U.S Drug Enforcement Administration).

Every newly recruited FBI special agent must successfully complete a five-month training course at the academy before they can assume their duties. The academy also instructs tactical units such as FBI Hostage Rescue (HRT) and SWAT teams in various combat and rescue simulation courses.

How to join the FBI?

Joining the FBI as an agent requires both physical and mental toughness, collaboration, communication, and reasoning skills. The FBI hiring process itself is highly competitive and strenuous and often takes a year or even longer to complete.

To pursue a career with the FBI, as in the case with the CIA, one must fulfill a list of federal requirements, which include U.S citizenship, a bachelor’s degree, no criminal record, good economic standing, and physical fitness.

Assuming that you are already eligible, you must complete a series of physical fitness tests and background checks, including a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) clearance. In the next and final phase, all remaining applicants go through intensive 20-week training at the FBI Academy in Quantico.

FBI agents work in different capacities across the agency. Their tasks include investigating federal crimes, conducting surveillance, collecting and analyzing intelligence data, monitoring cyber activities, and making arrests. In other words, FBI agents are responsible for enforcing federal laws.

The average salary range of FBI special agents is between $78k and $153k annually. In comparison, supervisory special agents have an annual salary of up to $170k.

FBI Evidence Response TeamAgents with the FBI Evidence Response Team | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/FBI

According to the official data, as of 2009, the FBI had 33,852 total employees. Out of which, 13,412 were special agents and 20,420 other professionals, including research specialists, language experts, and intelligence analysts. The agency currently employs more than 34,000 people.

CIA vs FBI: Budget Comparison

One of the most significant differences between the CIA and the FBI is the amount of federal budget they receive in a fiscal year.

Central Intelligence Agency Budget

As with most other U.S intelligence agencies, the annual budget of the CIA is highly classified. However, several attempts have been made, throughout the past few decades, to obtain budget-related data of the agency.

One such report was published in 1965, revealing that the CIA’s annual budget in 1963 was $550 million. According to an official document released publically by the U.S government in 1997, the total budget of U.S intelligence agencies for that fiscal year was $26.6 billion.

Since 2007, the U.S government has publicly reported the overall federal spending on intelligence almost every year. However, it has never revealed any specifics on how exactly the budget is utilized. In 2013, a series of top-secret documents-leak disclosed budget details of the CIA and other U.S intelligence agencies.

According to those documents, the CIA’s annual budget for 2013 stood at $14.7 billion, about 28 percent of the entire U.S intelligence budget and significantly more than that of NSA ($10.8b) and NRO ($10.3b). The disclosures further revealed that a large portion of the CIA’s budget was directed towards its ‘Covert action programs’ and logistics. The other large allocation was towards its HUMINT operations at $2.3 billion.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Budget

The fiscal budget of the FBI is publicly accessible, unlike that of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the fiscal year 2021, the federal budget of the FBI stood at $9.7 billion, most of which is spent on salaries and expenses (S&E). The agency has increased budged allocation in areas including – fir*arms background checks, vetting process, counterintelligence capabilities, and IT upgrades.

Read: What if NASA Had The US Military Budget?

The CIA and FBI, compared to other U.S federal agencies

There are a few U.S intelligence and federal law enforcement agencies that are somewhat similar to the CIA and the FBI. However, they usually have different priorities and specializations.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) – The DIA is an intelligence agency tasked with the collection and analysis of military intelligence from foreign nations (through clandestine and overt methods). In other words, DIA is a military counterpart of the CIA with more specific and special responsibilities.

National Security Agency (NSA) – The NSA is a U.S intelligence and a global monitoring agency that collects intelligence and conducts counterintelligence operations, both domestically and internationally. It is also tasked with safeguarding critical U.S IT and communication systems. Most of its operations involve elements of signals intelligence or SIGINT, that are clandestine in nature.

Although both the NSA and the CIA are predominantly civilian intelligence agencies, they are widely different regarding specific responsibilities.

United States Secret Service (USSS) – The United States Secret Service is responsible for protecting the top-most U.S political leaders, executives, and their immediate families. They also provide protection to former U.S presidents and visiting heads of foreign governments.

Formed in 1865, the Secret Service is one of the oldest federal agencies in the U.S. It was the initial U.S domestic intelligence and counterintelligence agency before these responsibilities were taken over by the FBI.

Bureau of Alc*h*l, T*bacc*, Fir*arms, and Expl*sives (ATF) – The ATF, or BATFE, is a U.S federal law enforcement agency that investigates federal crimes related to fir*arms, arsons, expl*sions, and b*mbings. It is also responsible for investigating the illegal trafficking of alc*hol and t*bacco items. ATF also regulates the manufacturing and possession of fir*arms through licensing.

Although the ATF has jurisdiction over illegal fir*arm violations and b*mbings within the borders of the United States, such cases are also investigated by the FBI, especially under extraordinary circumstances. The ATF is a much smaller agency compared to the FBI by, both, budget and the total number of agents.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) – The DEA is also a U.S federal law enforcement agency, similar to the FBI and ATF. However, it has jurisdiction only in drug-related federal crimes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which agency is more powerful? CIA or FBI?

Neither of the agency is more or less powerful than the other because the two cannot be fairly compared. The CIA and FBI have mostly separate jurisdictions, completely different missions and priorities, and organizational structures. While the Central Intelligence Agency has more influence internationally, the FBI usually has more authority within the United States.

What is the highest position in the CIA? And who can become one?

The Central Intelligence Agency is headed by the Director of the CIA (D/CIA), nominated by the President of the United States, and appointed after Senate confirmation.

Many past CIA directors have held public and government offices before joining the CIA and were eventually nominated to the highest position in the agency. Two of the former CIA directors (after G.W Bush administration) were retired U.S military generals, and one D/CIA was a career intelligence analyst with the CIA.

Read More:

16 Most Dangerous Special Forces in the World

13 Best Spy Agencies in the World 

Written by
Bipro Das

I am a content writer and researcher with over seven years of experience covering all gaming and anime topics. I also have a keen interest in the retail sector and often write about the business models/strategies of popular brands.

I started content writing after completing my graduation. After writing tech-related things and other long-form content for 2-3 years, I found my calling with games and anime. Now, I get to find new games and write features and previews.

When not writing for RankRed, I usually prefer reading investing books or immersing myself in Europa Universalis 4. But I am currently interested in some new JRPGs as well.

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