Bush Budget Shifts FBI’s Resources from Crime to Counterterrorism

Lost between the battles over SCHIP and funding the occupation of Iraq, a lot of the other elements of Bush’s budget are being lost in the shuffle. One of them, while not new, is a major round of deep cuts in the law enforcement budget of the FBI and a Big Step towards Bush’s dream of a GOP-run police state. Simply put, a new study by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shows that the budget for non-terrorist law enforcement activities is being erased and hundreds of agents are being shifted into counterterrorism operations – you know, the ones where the Democrats agree with Bush that things like “warrants” are an unnecessary drag and the king president can throw anybody he wants to in jail without having to be bothered by the onerous task of proving they did anything wrong.

 

It’s what you might call a wholesale shift. Entire departments are being drastically underfunded and understaffed, particularly those dealing with – you guessed it – white collar crime and civil rights. And, as you might expect by now, the Democratic version of the budget lets him get away with almost all of it.

The Bush administration’s 2008 budget cuts deeply into the FBI’s crucial criminal program, further crippling the bureau’s ability to tackle white-collar fraud, police abuse, civil rights violations and many other crimes, a Seattle P-I analysis has found.

***

But the Democratic majority’s spending plan — under the ever-present threat of a presidential veto — restores only a small fraction of the FBI agents needed to keep the criminal program at current levels.

Through accounting sleight of hand, President Bush’s plan concentrates the loss of thousands of unfilled staff positions across the FBI on its criminal program by transferring hundreds more agents to counterterrorism operations — continuing a trend that started after 9/11.

“This is gutting the criminal program. Incomprehensible. Just plain dumb,” said one recently retired top FBI official who requested anonymity.

Not really, not if the aim is to short-circuit investigations of corporate donors’ skullduggery and civil rights abuses against minorities who tend to vote Democratic while at the same time enhancing and enlarging that section of the FBI that is least accountable to the law. Any law. Then it makes perfect sense.

FBI_budget28 Echoing the concerns of many within the bureau, as well as state and local law enforcement officials, the former official said the impact of the cuts will reverberate nationwide.

“At a time when fraud is a huge undercurrent of the subprime mortgage crisis, this will completely wipe out the FBI’s white-collar program,” the source said. “The ability to investigate cases like Enron will be severely handicapped. And look at public corruption. Those are complex investigations that take about five agents to work one case.”

***

Six years after the terrorist attacks on the nation, the White House has failed to replace at least 2,400 agents transferred to counterterrorism squads. The result has been a dramatic overall drop in FBI investigations and case referrals.

Thousands of criminals likely have escaped federal prosecution, based on comparisons to pre-9/11 prosecutions. Since 2001, according to Justice Department data analyzed by the P-I, there has been a 34 percent drop in criminal cases referred to federal prosecutors, a 65 percent plunge in civil rights cases and a 30 percent decline in white-collar crime convictions.

In Western Washington, the drop has been even more severe. In this state, records show the FBI sent 28 white-collar cases to prosecutors in 2005, down 90 percent from five years earlier.

“It’s breathtakingly frightening,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who recently demanded that the FBI add more agents in Washington state.

(emphasis added)

The pattern is easy to see and even easier to understand. Kind of obvious, really.

While 2007’s spending plan called for a total of 6,423 criminal agents, in 2008 there is funding for only 5,777.

To achieve the cut, the bureau transferred 400 street agents fighting crime to counterterrorism positions and eliminated 246 vacant criminal-agent positions. The cuts can’t be found on any single budget line. It becomes clear only by sifting through a mountain of budget documents.

The 246 are part of a bureau-wide cut of 2,700 positions — 614 agents and 2,100 analysts and support staff — made to reflect the fact that neither the president’s budgets nor those adopted by Congress for the past several years have adequately reflected increases in costs such as pay raises and health insurance.

The net effect: The criminal program continues to lose staff so counterterrorism units nationwide can grow, with less additional funding.

What other reason could there be for this kind of resource-shifting? The actual threat of terrorist activities against the US on our own soil has been almost entirely deflected by the occupation of Iraq. Al Qaeda – the real one, not the imaginary Islamofascist ghost the right-wing conjures up whenever it wants to strip yet another Constitutional guarantee from US law – is once again concentrating its antagonism in actions against its real target: Saudi Arabia. The threat, if anything has decreased.

Murray is leading the fight against this BS but it’s an uphill battle. She’s getting little help from a Democratic Congress facing yet another Republican filibuster and yet another presidential veto, and controlled by a conservative alliance and a leadership that would just as soon see it done, not out of cowardice but because they’re on the same page with Bush and the Pubs.

Whether we like it or not, we are about to take yet another Giant Step toward a police state focused on spying on and imprisoning its own citizens.

Orwell was only off by 20 years.

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