Criminal and Investigative Agencies of the Armed Forces of the United States

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Within the federal government, nearly sixty investigative agencies exist. Except the multi-faceted Federal Bureau of Investigation, the majority hold jurisdiction over only a specific area of law, such as mail, income tax, or public lands. This myriad of civilian investigative agencies is in sharp contrast to the investigative agencies of the U.S. Armed Forces. Each branch relies on only one general agency to meet all of its investigative needs, while the federal civilian government relies on numerous specialized agencies. The central question addressed in this thesis is why or how has that contrast developed. Before addressing this central question, however, it is necessary to explore the history of investigations within the armed forces to determine the impetus for these agencies’ creation.

Despite a lack of published scholarship, enough data are available through government documents not only to trace the lineage of these agencies, but also to draw strong conclusions concerning their organizational structures, which are in contrast to those of the civilian investigative agencies. First, the gradual accruement of responsibilities by the federal government has resulted in numerous civilian agencies being created to meet specific investigative needs. Conversely, the Armed Forces’ investigative agencies were created to meet multiple investigative needs in the immediacy of war. Second, centralization was clearly a prerequisite for investigative autonomy within the military chain of command. Centralization affords organizational independence, which in turn severely limits the possibility of malicious interference with investigations from persons in positions of authority.

This study adds to the existing body of academic knowledge by exploring a previously untouched subject, one that, given the expanding role of the U.S. Armed Forces in criminal matters, is critically important to the discipline criminal justice science.


“The criminal investigative components of the Armed Forces of the U.S. fill a very unique and vital role, from investigating serious crimes ranging from homicide, rape, fraud, larceny, desertion, arson, and child abuse to conducting operations to detect and prevent terrorism, espionage, computer intrusion, and more ... Yet to most Americans, the criminal investigative agencies of the Armed Forces are simply military components responsible for policing the activities of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines ... The criminal investigative elements of the Armed Forces share many common missions and goals, from providing protective service to military and civilian dignitaries, to conducting counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations in support of military commanders, to providing force protection to U.S. military units operating overseas ...” – (from the Foreword) Marty J. Martinez, Assistant Director, Coast Guard Investigative Service

“A very important part of criminal justice/criminal investigation is that of the military system. Very little has been done to bring together the various military investigative agencies into an introductory overview ... The author has done considerable research to provide a short monograph on the numerous agencies and their unique role in the federal justice system. Amply documented history shows the development of the military investigation – Army, Navy, Air Force – over time. Discussion of the defense investigation agencies and coast guard service is particularly relevant and interesting. But most revealing is the discussion comparing the military and defense agencies with other federal civilian investigative agencies. This is a real contribution to our understanding of investigations on the federal level ...” – Professor Frank Morn, Illinois State University

“Since September 11, 2001, the United States has intensified its anti-terrorism efforts and engaged in prolonged military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some of these considerable efforts have come from military and defense agencies. Unfortunately, the public has known very little about such agencies ... This comprehensive work now outlines the contextual origins, growth or changes in function and administration, and current duties of investigative agencies attached to all branches of the military and to the Department of Defense as a whole ... Using news accounts, official publications, and material acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, the author has developed extremely valuable profiles of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Army Criminal Investigative Command, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Defense Criminal Investigative Service ...” – Professor Beverly A. Smith, Illinois State University

Table of Contents

I. Military Investigative Agencies
II. Defense Investigative Agencies
III. Coast Guard Investigative Service
IV. Military and Defense versus Federal Civilian: Organization and Specialization
V. Military and Defense Investigative Agencies: Comparative Synposis
Appendix A: Federal Civilian Investigative Agencies: Areas of Responsibility and Personnel Statistics
Appendix B: Military and Defense Agent Statistics
Appendix C: Abbreviations

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