updated 10/3/2005 11:40:50 AM ET 2005-10-03T15:40:50

The number of criminal cases opened by the FBI has dropped by nearly half since 2000, a reflection of the bureau’s shift toward stopping terrorist attacks, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Monday.

The decline was steepest in drug investigations and extended to organized crime, bank robberies, civil rights, health care fraud, corporate fraud and public corruption, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said in a 194-page audit, which was censored because it contained sensitive law enforcement information.

FBI Director Robert Mueller ordered a reorganization of the bureau to make counterterrorism its top priority following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Among the FBI’s traditional criminal investigations, only gang cases increased, Fine said. The report looked at cases opened and the deployment of agents in the 2000 government spending year — the last full year before the attacks — and in 2004.

The FBI opened 62,782 criminal investigations in 2000 and 34,451 last year, a drop of 45 percent, Fine said. Drug cases declined by 70 percent, he said.

There were 2,200 fewer field agents investigating criminal matters in 2004, he said.

State and local law enforcement officials said they have tried to fill the gaps, but have been unable to take up the slack in complex financial fraud cases that the FBI handled before Sept. 11.

“This reprioritization has affected not only the FBI’s operations but also the investigative operations of other law enforcement agencies,” Fine said.

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