NEW YORK - The FBI, after years spent focusing on national
security, is struggling to find agents and resources to investigate
wrongdoing tied to the country's economic crisis, The New York Times
reported in Sunday editions.
Citing current and former FBI officials, the Times said cutbacks in
its criminal investigative workforce following the September 11 attacks
left the FBI weaker in areas like white collar crime.
The cutbacks were the result of a shift in focus to terrorism and
intelligence matters. More than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of
all those in criminal programs, moved into those areas, the Times said.
"Clearly, we have felt the effects of moving resources from criminal
investigations to national security," the newspaper quoted FBI
Assistant Director John Miller as saying. "In white collar crime, while
we initiated fewer cases over all, we targeted the areas where we could
have the biggest impact. We focused on multimillion-dollar corporate
fraud, where we could make arrests but also recover money for the fraud
While the FBI plans to double the number of agents working on
financial crimes, people within and outside the Justice Department
question where the agents will come from and whether that will suffice,
the Times said.
Records and interviews show that FBI officials have warned of a
looming mortgage threat since 2004, and asked the Bush administration
to fund such nonterrorism investigations, but the requests were denied
and no new agents were approved for financial criminal investigation
work, the newspaper said.
Internal FBI data shows the cutbacks were especially sharp in areas
of white collar crime like mortgage fraud, with more than 600 agents
lost, or more than one-third of 2001 levels.
According to Justice Department data, fraud prosecutions directed at
financial institutions dropped by nearly one-half from 2000 to 2007,
insurance fraud cases fell 75 percent and securities fraud decreased by
17 percent, the Times said.
"The administration's top priority since the 9/11 attacks has been
counterterrorism," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told the
paper. "In part, that's reflected by a significant investment of
resources at the FBI to answer the call from Congress and the American
public to become a domestic intelligence agency, in addition to a law
According to the Times, several former law enforcement officials
said that senior administration officials, notably those at the White
House and the Treasury Department, made clear that they were concerned
the Justice Department and the FBI were taking an anti-business
attitude that could inhibit corporate risk-taking.
One former official said some in the administration characterized aggressive corporate prosecutions as "over-deterrence."
Reporting by Chris Michaud