Odd priorities at the FBI

ODD PRIORITIES AT THE FBI…. That Justice Department sure is busy.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country’s economic crisis, according to current and former bureau officials.

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. Current and former officials say 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 pressure on the F.B.I. has recently increased with the disclosure of criminal investigations into some of the largest players in the financial collapse, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The F.B.I. is planning to double the number of agents working financial crimes by reassigning several hundred agents amid a mood of national alarm. But some people inside and out of the Justice Department wonder where the agents will come from and whether they will be enough.

It’s unpleasant dynamic. Of course, we learned this week that this is the same Justice Department that has the time and resources to investigate trumped up ACORN allegations, and pursue pointless registration fraud cases, so I’m afraid there’s something of a disconnect here.

Where will the agents come from to consider financial crimes? Here’s a radical idea: stop using the FBI to pursue baseless Republican schemes and assign those agents to real law-enforcement work.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.