FBI Saw Mortgage Crisis Coming, Didn't Stop It

The LA Times says that FBI agents told reporters that low interest rates and “soaring home values, [were] starting to attract shady operators and billions in losses were possible.” According to the report, Chris Swecker, the FBI official in charge of criminal investigations, told reporters that the FBI thought it was going to prevent a crisis similar to the S&L debacle.

From the LA Times:

“It has the potential to be an epidemic,” Chris Swecker, the FBI official in charge of criminal investigations, told reporters in September 2004. But, he added reassuringly, the FBI was on the case. “We think we can prevent a problem that could have as much impact as the S&L crisis,” he said.

Of course, we all know how well they prevented the (still on-going) mortgage meltdown. What happened?

Most observers have declared the mess a gross failure of regulation. To be sure, in the run-up to the crisis, market-oriented federal regulators bragged about their hands-off treatment of banks and other savings institutions and their executives. But it wasn’t just regulators who were looking the other way. The FBI and its parent agency, the Justice Department, are supposed to act as the cops on the beat for potentially illegal activities by bankers and others. But they were focused on national security and other priorities, and paid scant attention to white-collar crimes that may have contributed to the lending and securities debacle.

Now that the problems are out in the open, the government’s response strikes some veteran regulators as too little, too late.

Swecker, who retired from the FBI in 2006, declined to comment for this article.

But sources familiar with the FBI budget process, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the growing fraud problem, say that he and other FBI criminal investigators sought additional assistance to take on the mortgage scoundrels.

They ended up with fewer resources, rather than more.

FBI saw threat of mortgage crisis [LA Times]
(Photo: meghannmarco )