Since 9/11, the number of criminal prosecutions the US Justice
Department credits to the Federal Bureau of Investigation has
dropped by more than 30 percent. Among the steepest declines: white-
collar crime, drug prosecutions, and organized crime.
The data reflect a fundamental shift in the mission of the FBI,
from primarily a law-enforcement agency dedicated to investigating
crime to an intelligence and counterterrorism one dedicated to
preventing attacks on the US. The numbers show the extent of that
transformation, raising concern in some quarters about the strength
of crime-fighting in America and the FBI's enhanced surveillance
In 2001, the Justice Department credited almost 19,000
prosecutions to the FBI. In 2006, the bureau was credited with
12,700, according to an analysis of Justice Department data by the
Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse
University in New York. During that same five-year period, terrorism
prosecutions rose 26 percent, but they account for a small fraction
of the FBI's cases and have dropped in number since peaking in 2002.
FBI officials declined to discuss the TRAC data specifically. But
they note there hasn't been a terrorist attack on US soil since 9/
11. They also point to FBI successes in infiltrating potential
terror cells, such as the recent foiling of alleged plots to attack
Fort Dix in New Jersey and John F. Kennedy International Airport in
The drop in traditional prosecutions is simply the opportunity
cost associated with such a significant shift of FBI priorities, say
some former agents and law-enforcement analysts. Still, the drop in
prosecutions is alarming to some observers.
"I don't pick up the business section every day of the week that
I don't see some kind of shenanigans going on in the business
sector," says Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the 9/11 commission.
"There's an awful lot of malfeasance in this country at high levels:
You've got drug dealers, and ordinary criminals, and all the rest,
and they need to be prosecuted."
The drop in prosecutions has also caught Congress's attention. At
a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs in
May, Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware said that since 9/11, the
number of violent-crime investigations by the FBI has dropped 60
percent - even though cities across the country are seeing an
increase in murders and other violent crime, after a decade of
Senator Biden, chairman of the subcommittee, blamed the White
House for transferring about 1,000 agents to counterterrorism from
traditional law-enforcement duties and not replacing them. He has
introduced legislation to remedy that by adding 1,000 agents to the
bureau, which currently has about 12,500 agents total.
"The federal government has taken its focus off street crime
since 9/11, asking law enforcement to do more with less," he said at
the hearing. "It's a false choice between fighting terrorism and
Drug prosecutions still make up about half of all cases the FBI
brought to court in fiscal year 2006, about the same share as before
9/11. But there are simply half as many of them as in 2000: 2,380
now compared with 5,014 then, according to the TRAC analysis.
Organized-crime cases saw the biggest decline - a 73 percentage
drop in prosecutions filed between fiscal 2000 and 2006. The study
reported that the FBI filed 163 such cases last year, compared with
606 in 2000. …