The Bush administration's refocusing of the FBI in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks has left far fewer agents to target certain white-collar crime cases the bureau has traditionally pursued, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported Wednesday.
More than five years after the attacks, the Justice Department has failed to replace at least 2,400 agents who were detailed to focus on counterterrorism, the newspapers said.
The switch has led to thousands of white-collar criminals nationwide who are no longer prosecuted in federal court, frustrated victims and potentially billions of dollars, the newspaper said.
"Politically, this trade-off has been accepted," said Charles Mandigo, who retired four years ago as special agent in charge in Seattle. "But do the American people know this trade-off has been made?"
The newspaper said its six-month investigation analyzed more than 250,000 cases handled by FBI agents and federal prosecutors before and after Sept. 11, 2001.
Among the key findings:
¦ The number of criminal cases investigated by the FBI nationally has steadily declined. In 2005, the bureau brought slightly more than 20,000 cases to federal prosecutors, compared with about 31,000 in 2000, a 34 percent drop.
¦ FBI investigations of white-collar crime have also plummeted. In 2005, the FBI sent prosecutors 3,500 cases, a fraction of the more than 10,000 cases assigned to agents in 2000.
¦ Had the FBI continued investigating financial crimes at the same rate as it had before the terror attacks, about 2,000 more white-collar criminals would be behind bars, according to the newspaper's analysis, which was based on Justice Department data from 1996 through June 2006.
Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske said his department isn't as equipped to handle complex white-collar investigations. Whether more FBI agents are hired or some are shifted back from counterterrorism, he said more resources should be aimed at white-collar crime.
"This is like the perfect storm," Kerlikowske said. "It's now five years later. We should be rethinking our priorities."
Records show that over the past eight years, the ranks of FBI agents have increased, from about 11,000 to 12,575, and virtually all have been assigned to anti-terrorism duties, the newspaper said.
The Justice Department and the Office of Management and Budget assert that traditional criminal enforcement by the FBI hasn't suffered.
"The administration strongly disagrees that the FBI has been anything less than effective in the years since 9/11 in combating domestic crime issues," said Office of Management and Budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan. "We have worked to achieve a balance between the FBI's homeland security and criminal investigative missions."
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