Attorney General's Guidelines On General Crimes, Racketeering Enterprise And Domestic Security/Terrorism Investigations

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Editor's Note: In 1976, in response to disclosures that the FBI had abused the civil liberties of protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, Attorney General Edward Levi issued guidelines to govern the conduct of FBI officials. These guidelines restricted the ability of the FBI to undertake wide-ranging investigations of domestic groups without due cause. Recently, Attorney General John Ashcroft issued new guidelines giving the FBI wider latitude in investigations. The media reported that this was the first revision to the rules imposed by Mr. Levi. Actually, as Athan Theoharis points out elsewhere in our pages, the Levi restrictions were eased considerably in 1983 by Ronald Reagan's Attorney General, William French Smith. Below are excerpts from Mr. Smith's revised guidelines.


Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Re: Attorney General's Guidelines on Domestic Security/Terrorism Investigations

...It is important that the FBI devote its criminal intelligence expertise to domestic security/terrorism cases as it has, with increasing success, in organized crime cases. In the past, operating under distinct guidelines setting different standards and procedures has hampered this effort. The new approach, combining both organized crime and domestic security investigations in a single set of guidelines, should make it easier for your agents to focus their intelligence efforts on those criminal enterprises which threaten our people to attain ideological goals.

/s/William French Smith
Attorney General

March 7, 1983




In its efforts to anticipate or prevent crime, the FBI must at times initiate investigations in advance of criminal conduct. It is important that such investigations not be based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment or on the lawful exercise of any other rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. When, however, statements advocate criminal activity or indicate an apparent intent to engage in crime, particularly crimes of violence, an investigation under these Guidelines may be warranted unless it is apparent, from the circumstances or the context in which the statements are made, that there is no prospect of harm.

General crimes investigations and criminal intelligence investigations shall be terminated when all logical leads have been exhausted and no legitimate law enforcement interest justifies their continuance.

Nothing in these Guidelines is intended to prohibit the FBI from collecting and maintaining publicly available information consistent with the Privacy Act.

Nothing in these Guidelines prohibits the FBI from ascertaining the general scope and nature of criminal activity in a particular location or sector of the economy.


B. Preliminary Inquiries

(1) On some occasions the FBI may receive information or an allegation not warranting a full investigation - because there is not yet a"reasonable indication" of criminal activities - but whose responsible handling requires some further scrutiny beyond the prompt and extremely limited checking out of initial leads. In such circumstances, though the factual predicate for an investigation has not been met, the FBI may initiate an"inquiry" involving some measured review, contact, or observation activities in response to the allegation or information indicating the possibility of criminal activity.

This authority to conduct inquiries short of a full investigation allows the government to respond in a measured way to ambiguous or incomplete information and to do so with as little intrusion as the needs of the situation permit....

(6) The following investigative techniques may be used in an inquiry without any prior authorization from a supervisory agent:
(a) Examination of FBI indices and files;
(b) Examination of records available to the public and other public sources of information;
(c) Examination of available federal, state and local government records;
(d) Interview of the complainant, previously established informants, and confidential sources;
(e)Interview of the potential subject;
(f)Interview of persons who should readily be able to corroborate or deny the truth of the allegation, except this does not include pretext interviews or interviews of a potential subject's employer or co-workers unless the interviewee was the complainant;
(g) Physical or photographic surveillance of an person.


B. Domestic Security/Terrorism Investigations

1. General Authority
a. A domestic security/terrorism investigation may be initiated when the facts or circumstances reasonably indicate that two or more persons are engaged in an enterprise for the purpose of furthering political or social goals wholly or in part through activities that involve force or violence and a violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The standard of"reasonable indication" is identical to that governing the initiation of a general crimes investigation under Part II.

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Cameron Smith - 2/27/2003

William French is my hero! Thanks so much for everything you have done.