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Report examines FBI's focus on terrorism

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

FBI not faulted in DOJ study intended to document impact of bureau's re-prioritization.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Justice Department

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI's seismic shift from a broad attack on crime to an intense focus on counterterrorism has resulted in tens of thousands fewer investigations into traditional crimes since the 9/11 attacks, according to a new Justice Department study.

The detailed analysis by the department's inspector general found that cases related to violent fugitives alone have dropped sharply, with 11,617 fewer opened in 2003 than in 2000.

The comparison of the two years also shows that in 30 areas where the FBI reduced agents in the wake of 9/11, a total of more than 17,000 fewer cases were opened.

The report, however, did not criticize the FBI, nor offer opinions on the FBI's performance in undertaking the dramatic shift of resources to fight terrorism.

Inspector General Glenn Fine said the study was intended to document the impact of the FBI's re-prioritization, and encourages the FBI to begin to undertake similar internal studies to understand the impact of the decision.

The FBI overhaul, which enabled an intense campaign to locate potential terrorists, required a reduction in traditional efforts aimed at organized crime, drug trafficking, tracking of fugitives, and bank robbery investigations.

"Our detailed statistical review shows that FBI investigative activities in 2003 generally were in line with its post-September 11 priorities," Fine said.

FBI Director Robert Mueller has repeatedly stressed the FBI's post-9/11 list of priorities. The top priority is to protect the United States from terrorist attack. The second priority is to protect the country against foreign intelligence operations and espionage. And the third is to protect against cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes.

Following those priorities are combating public corruption and protecting civil rights, responsibilities uniquely suited to the FBI.

But that has limited the FBI's ability to combat drug trafficking, white collar crime and violent crime.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has attempted to fill part of the void from the FBI's reduction in drug trafficking investigations. The U.S. Marshals Service has taken a greater share of responsibility in pursuing fugitives, and local police agencies have had to increase efforts to combat violent crime and bank robberies.

Nonetheless, the FBI continues to help conduct operations in those areas. One surprising finding was that despite a decrease of 26 percent in agents assigned to bank robbery cases, the FBI actually opened 485 more bank robbery cases in the year 2003 than in 2000.

The 135-page unclassified report represents a condensed and redacted version of a classified 486-page report previously provided secretly to the FBI and Capitol Hill.

The report released Monday is the second of three studies intended to examine the FBI's move to a counterterrorism focus. The first report, released last year, compared FBI operations just prior to September 11, 2001, with its activities in the first months after that date.

The third report, to be released next year, is expected to focus on how the FBI's changes are affecting state and local law enforcement agencies.

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