FBI agents have been more likely to be hunting for potential threats to national security than for ordinary criminals in recent years, but much of the time found neither, reports the New York Times. Data from a recent two-year period showed that the bureau opened 82,325 assessments of people and groups in search for signs of wrongdoing.
The data, obtained by the Times under the Freedom of Information Act, offers a view of the bureau's activities toward the end of a decade-long effort to transform itself from a law-enforcement agency focused on solving crimes to a domestic intelligence agency trying to detect potential threats before they reach fruition. During an assessment, agents may use a limited set of techniques, including searching databases, conducting surveillance, and sending a confidential informant to an organization's meetings. During the 2009-11 period agents opened 42,888 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were terrorists or spies. A database search in May 2011 showed that 41,056 assessments had been closed, and 1,986 preliminary or full investigations were started. Agents initiated 39,437 assessments of people or groups to see whether they were engaged in ordinary crime. Of those, 36,044 were closed and 1,329 preliminary or full investigations were opened.