As FBI Shifts Mission to National Security, Old-Fashioned Crime-Fighting Slips Away

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A decade after shifting its focus from crime fighting to counterterrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has allowed possibly thousands of white-collar and other crimes go without punishment.


Following the September 11, 2001, attacks, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller decided that stopping further terrorist attacks on U.S. soil would be the agency’s top priority. That meant redirecting resources away from other FBI operations so it could double the number of agents dedicated to counterterrorism from 2001 to 2009.


But during that time period, the FBI investigated fewer criminal cases nationally, and really pulled back from pursuing business- and banking-related violations of the law.


Take a look at these numbers: FBI agents referred 10,000 white-collar crime cases to prosecutors in 2000. By 2005, the total had plummeted to 3,500 cases.


“Violent crime, property crime and white-collar crime: All those things had reductions in the number of people available to investigate them,” former FBI agent Brad Garrett told Foreign Policy. “Are there cases they missed? Probably.”


The FBI shows no signs of refocusing its attention on criminals. In fact, it reinforced its dedication to pursuing terrorists by quietly changing its fact sheets last summer to show “national security” was its primary function, not “law enforcement.”


“I think they’re trying to rebrand,” Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer, told Foreign Policy. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”


Like being criticized last year for not uncovering the Boston Marathon bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, before they carried out their plot, said FBI historian and Marquette University professor Athan Theoharis.


“I can't explain why FBI officials decided to change the fact sheet...unless in the current political climate that change benefits the FBI politically and undercuts criticisms,” Theoharis told Foreign Policy.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

FBI Drops Law Enforcement as 'Primary' Mission (by John Hudson, Foreign Policy)

FBI’s Change In Mission Causes Confusion, Concern (by Frederick Reese, MintPress News)


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