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FBI vs. CIA: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
FBI is a U.S. federal law enforcement agency handling domestic issues; CIA is an intelligence agency focusing on foreign intelligence and counterintelligence.

Key Differences

The FBI, or Federal Bureau of Investigation, primarily operates within the United States. Its main purpose is to handle domestic issues, ranging from counterterrorism to cybercrime. This agency conducts investigations, provides intelligence, and upholds federal laws. In contrast, the CIA, or Central Intelligence Agency, functions outside the boundaries of the U.S. Its focus is on gathering and analyzing foreign intelligence to aid in national security decisions.
Additionally, the FBI holds law enforcement powers. This means that FBI agents have the authority to make arrests, execute search warrants, and engage in undercover operations within U.S. territory. On the other hand, the CIA is strictly an intelligence agency. While it conducts covert operations overseas, the CIA does not possess any law enforcement powers and typically does not operate openly within the United States.
The organizational structures of the FBI and CIA also differ. The FBI is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice and has numerous field offices across the U.S. The CIA, however, operates under the Director of National Intelligence and has its main campus in Langley, Virginia, but operates globally through stations and bases in multiple countries.
The FBI and CIA do, however, collaborate when necessary. While their primary functions and jurisdictions differ significantly, they share intelligence and resources in certain cases to safeguard the nation's security. Still, it's crucial to recognize their distinct mandates: the FBI's being largely domestic and the CIA's international.

Comparison Chart

Primary Jurisdiction

Domestic (U.S.)

Main Purpose

Law enforcement & intelligence
Foreign intelligence & counterintelligence


Law enforcement powers
No law enforcement powers

Parent Department

U.S. Department of Justice
Under Director of National Intelligence

Operational Base

Field offices across U.S.
Stations and bases globally

FBI and CIA Definitions


U.S. governmental bureau dealing with domestic criminal investigations and counterterrorism.
The local police worked alongside the FBI on the high-profile case.


An agency that operates under the Director of National Intelligence.
The President receives regular briefings from the CIA on international matters.


The principal investigative arm of the U.S. federal government.
The bank robbery was of such scale that the FBI took over the investigation.


The primary external intelligence service of the U.S. federal government.
The CIA conducts covert operations to protect national interests.


U.S. agency focused on intelligence, counterintelligence, and federal law enforcement.
The suspect was apprehended after an extensive FBI manhunt.


U.S. governmental agency responsible for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities.
The CIA has operatives stationed in various countries around the world.


A major component of the U.S. Department of Justice.
The FBI has its headquarters in Washington, D.C.


U.S. organization tasked with espionage and analysis of global events.
The spy novel revolved around a CIA agent's adventures.


The federal agency responsible for upholding and enforcing federal laws in the U.S.
The FBI was called in to investigate the cyber-attack on the company.


An entity focused on gathering information on overseas threats to U.S. national security.
The CIA report indicated potential risks in the region.


A federal law enforcement agency that is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Justice


An independent agency of the United States government responsible for collecting and coordinating intelligence and counterintelligence activities abroad in the national interest; headed by the Director of Central Intelligence under the supervision of the President and National Security Council


What is the main purpose of the FBI?

The FBI handles domestic issues, from counterterrorism to cybercrime, and upholds federal laws.

Where does the CIA primarily operate?

The CIA primarily operates outside the U.S., focusing on foreign intelligence.

Can the FBI make arrests?

Yes, the FBI has law enforcement powers, including making arrests within U.S. territory.

Does the CIA have law enforcement powers within the U.S.?

No, the CIA is strictly an intelligence agency without domestic law enforcement powers.

Who oversees the FBI?

The FBI is part of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Is the FBI's jurisdiction primarily international or domestic?

The FBI's jurisdiction is primarily domestic.

Do the FBI and CIA ever collaborate?

Yes, they share intelligence and resources when necessary for national security.

Which agency would handle a major cybercrime case in the U.S.?

The FBI would typically handle major domestic cybercrime cases.

Who founded the FBI?

The FBI was established in 1908 and its first director was J. Edgar Hoover.

Who provides the budget for the FBI?

The FBI's budget is provided by the U.S. Congress.

Who receives intelligence reports from the CIA?

The President and other high-ranking officials receive intelligence reports from the CIA.

Do CIA agents work undercover?

Yes, many CIA agents work undercover, especially those in espionage roles.

Can the CIA influence foreign governments?

The CIA has been involved in covert operations that can influence foreign entities, but its primary role is intelligence gathering.

Where is the CIA's main headquarters located?

The CIA's main headquarters is in Langley, Virginia.

How does the CIA gather its intelligence?

The CIA gathers intelligence through various means, including human sources and electronic surveillance.

Can the CIA conduct operations inside the U.S.?

The CIA's primary focus is outside the U.S., and it typically doesn't conduct domestic operations.

How is the FBI different from local police?

The FBI is a federal agency with a broader jurisdiction, focusing on federal crimes and national security.

How do the FBI and CIA communicate with each other?

They have established protocols for information sharing and coordination.

How do citizens get employment with the FBI or CIA?

Both the FBI and CIA have specific recruitment processes, which usually involve rigorous background checks and training.

What types of crimes does the FBI investigate?

The FBI investigates a wide range of crimes, from terrorism to white-collar crimes.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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