The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to find enough resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the U.S. economic crisis, reports the New York Times. The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. The cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation's economic woes.
The FBI is planning to double the number of agents working financial crimes by reassigning several hundred agents. Some people inside and out of the Justice Department wonder where the agents will come from and whether they will be enough. So depleted are the ranks of the FBI's white-collar investigators that executives in the private sector say they have had difficulty attracting the bureau's attention in cases involving possible frauds of millions of dollars. Cutbacks have been particularly severe in staffing for investigations into white-collar crimes like mortgage fraud, with a loss of 625 agents, or 36 percent of its 2001 levels. The number of criminal cases that the FBI has brought to federal prosecutors – including a wide range of crimes like drug trafficking and violent crime – dropped 26 percent in the last seven years, from 11,029 cases to 8,187. Prosecutions of frauds against financial institutions dropped 48 percent from 2000 to 2007, insurance fraud cases fell 75 percent, and securities fraud cases dropped 17 percent. The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, using somewhat different methodology and looking only at the FBI, reported a steeper decline of nearly 50 percent in overall white-collar crime prosecutions in the same period.