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FBI vs. US Marshal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 5, 2023
The FBI focuses on investigating federal crimes and intelligence, while the U.S. Marshals primarily manage federal law enforcement, fugitive operations, and witness security.

Key Differences

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) chiefly operates as a federal investigative and intelligence agency, concentrating on protecting and defending the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats. Meanwhile, the U.S. Marshals Service, often referred to simply as U.S. Marshals, primarily fulfills roles related to enforcing federal laws, managing federal prisoners, and ensuring the effective operation of the federal judiciary. The fundamental distinctions between these two entities significantly govern their respective roles, responsibilities, and operational focuses within the context of federal law enforcement.
When it comes to their primary functions and duties, the FBI takes on a broad spectrum of responsibilities that span from counter-terrorism and cybercrime to protecting civil rights and combating public corruption. U.S. Marshals, on the other hand, hold the responsibility of providing security for the federal judiciary, apprehending fugitives, managing and selling seized assets acquired by criminals, housing and transporting federal prisoners, and operating the Witness Security Program. This demarcation of duties speaks to the FBI’s focus on investigative and intelligence activities, versus the U.S. Marshals’ emphasis on direct law enforcement and judiciary support.
The jurisdictional reaches of the FBI and U.S. Marshals also diverge notably. The FBI operates both domestically and internationally, conducting investigations in the U.S. and overseas, often liaising with law enforcement agencies in other countries. U.S. Marshals, while they can operate internationally to some degree, are predominantly concentrated on enforcing U.S. laws within the nation, often focusing on aspects related to judiciary security, fugitive operations, and prisoner management, all primarily within U.S. boundaries.
Another comparative aspect lies in their involvement in dealing with criminals and suspects. The FBI, with its broad investigative purview, often gets involved in extensive investigations into federal crimes, which may entail elaborate operations to unearth and dismantle criminal networks. U.S. Marshals often become involved at later judicial and post-judicial stages, such as apprehending fugitives, managing federal prisoners, and ensuring the security and protection of witnesses, judges, and other judiciary personnel.
From a historical perspective, the U.S. Marshals hold the distinction of being the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency, established in 1789, with a history richly intertwined with the development of the American justice system. The FBI, founded in 1908, has evolved to become one of the principal federal investigative and intelligence agencies, playing pivotal roles in numerous high-profile investigations and contributing significantly to national security efforts.

Comparison Chart

Primary Focus

Investigative & intelligence agency
Law enforcement & judiciary support


Domestic and international
Primarily domestic

Main Responsibilities

Investigating federal crimes
Apprehending fugitives

Interaction with Crime

Investigative and enforcement
Primarily enforcement

Historical Origin

Founded in 1908
Established in 1789

FBI and US Marshal Definitions


The FBI engages in both domestic and international investigative activities.
The FBI collaborated with European agencies to combat international cybercrime.

US Marshal

U.S. Marshals enforce federal laws and ensure the effective operation of the federal judiciary.
The U.S. Marshal transported the defendant to the federal courthouse.


A key role of the FBI is to investigate and deter cybercrime and espionage.
The FBI issued a warning about a new, pervasive form of malware.

US Marshal

U.S. Marshals are responsible for managing and transporting federal prisoners.
The U.S. Marshal coordinated the secure transfer of prisoners between facilities.


The FBI supports other federal, state, local, and international agencies with intelligence and investigative capabilities.
The FBI provided critical information that prevented a smuggling operation.

US Marshal

U.S. Marshals manage assets seized from criminal enterprises.
The U.S. Marshal facilitated the auction of assets seized in the drug bust.


The FBI is a federal agency dedicated to national security and law enforcement.
The FBI is investigating the recent cyber-attack on the government's servers.

US Marshal

U.S. Marshals apprehend fugitives and manage the Federal Witness Protection Program.
The U.S. Marshal skillfully located and apprehended the escaped fugitive.


FBI agents work to prevent terrorist attacks and uphold federal laws.
The bank robber was apprehended by an astute FBI agent.

US Marshal

U.S. Marshals safeguard judges, court officials, and witnesses in the federal judiciary.
The U.S. Marshal ensured the witness safely testified in the high-profile case.


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


Is the U.S. Marshal service involved in prisoner management?

Yes, U.S. Marshals manage and transport federal prisoners and oversee prisoner-related operations.

What does the FBI stand for?

FBI stands for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Are FBI agents federal law enforcement officers?

Yes, FBI agents are federal officers with the authority to enforce various U.S. laws.

How are U.S. Marshals appointed?

U.S. Marshals are typically appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate.

What is the historical significance of the U.S. Marshal service?

Established in 1789, the U.S. Marshal Service is the United States' oldest federal law enforcement agency.

What does the FBI primarily investigate?

The FBI investigates a wide range of federal crimes, including terrorism, cybercrime, corruption, and civil rights violations.

What is the main role of the U.S. Marshal service?

The U.S. Marshals primarily enforce federal laws and manage fugitive operations, prisoner services, and judicial security.

Can the FBI work with local law enforcement agencies?

Yes, the FBI often collaborates with local, state, and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Are U.S. Marshals involved in asset forfeiture?

Yes, U.S. Marshals manage and dispose of assets seized from criminal enterprises.

Do U.S. Marshals engage in tactical operations?

Yes, U.S. Marshals conduct tactical operations, especially in fugitive apprehension and specialized enforcement activities.

Can the FBI enforce state laws?

The FBI primarily enforces federal laws but can work with state agencies when federal and state jurisdictions overlap.

Is the FBI involved in criminal intelligence gathering?

Yes, the FBI gathers criminal intelligence related to its investigative and national security operations.

Does the FBI work internationally?

Yes, the FBI has both domestic and international operations and liaises with law enforcement worldwide.

How are U.S. Marshals involved in fugitive operations?

U.S. Marshals lead efforts to locate and apprehend fugitives wanted on federal and other charges.

Do U.S. Marshals protect federal judges?

Yes, U.S. Marshals provide security for federal judges and other judicial personnel.

How is the FBI involved in counter-terrorism?

The FBI investigates terrorist threats and activities, preventing attacks and prosecuting terrorists.

What role do U.S. Marshals play in court proceedings?

U.S. Marshals provide security for federal courts and ensure the safe transport and management of defendants and prisoners.

Does the FBI handle cybercrime investigations?

Yes, the FBI investigates cybercrimes, including hacking, online fraud, and cyber espionage.

What role does the FBI play in national security?

The FBI works to safeguard the U.S. against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, upholding national security.

Can U.S. Marshals operate across state lines?

Yes, U.S. Marshals can operate nationally and, in certain circumstances, internationally.
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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