Has the FBI Gone too far in Investigating White-Collar Crime and Fraud?


A recent Wall Street Journal article describing the FBI’s use against suspected financial criminals of techniques normally used to hunt terrorists shows how seriously white-collar crime is being viewed these days. It also vindicates those who sounded warning bells after 9/11 when Americans were asked to trade civil liberties for the promise of national security. Those who argued against the slippery slope of government encroachment on civil liberties were accused of aiding terrorists:

“To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists; for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies, and pause to America’s friends.”

- Attorney General John Ashcroft, December 5, 2001

However, the argument that we can increase national security by reducing civil liberties is an illusion; when we make ourselves less free, we are not safer, we are simply less free. Many Americans wrongly assume that constitutionally suspect FBI intelligence-gathering techniques will never be used on them. But, over time, what was once extraordinary becomes normal. The baseline continues to slide. Since 9/11, the DOD, FBI and other U.S. agencies have been engaged in domestic monitoring activities reminiscent of those used during the Vietnam era that outraged the public and led to new limits on domestic military intelligence gathering. In fact, a database established at the direction of the DOD to track potential terrorist threats includes “suspicious incidents” and “threats” such as anti-war activists gathering at a Quaker meeting house in Florida. So it is surprising that the FBI’s recent announcement that it is applying techniques used to hunt down terrorists against those suspected of financial crimes has garnered so little attention.

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