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Local FBI office victim of Congressional budget cuts

Due to federal budget constraints the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed yesterday that it will be consolidating the FBI office operations in American Samoa with its Honolulu FBI office.

Vida G. Bottom, Special Agent-in-Charge (SAC) of the FBI Honolulu office said in a news release that all FBI operations and investigative efforts in American Samoa will be handled by the Honolulu office. The decision for this consolidation was made by the U.S. Congress, who cited budgetary reasons, said Bottom.

“The FBI is committed to continuing our investigations into issues of national security and federal criminal activity on American Samoa,” Bottom said. “However, budgetary realities can no longer justify staffing an office on American Samoa full time.”

The FBI’s American Samoa office will be phased out gradually over the next few months as equipment and supplies can be moved to Honolulu, the FBI said.

The official announcement by the FBI comes weeks after speculation that the local office was expected to be closed down soon, as no more agents are present here. The office was once staffed by two, and sometimes three agents, who were reassigned from other offices across the country.

Samoa News reported last month reliable sources were saying the local FBI office would not be closing down, but that the FBI’s annual budget is being cut back. The sources also said that FBI offices across the country are pulling agents off of domestic crime issues and it’s not just in American Samoa where this is happening.

Samoa News further reported that the agents based in the territory are gone and the local office is not manned, although according to Pago Plaza, where the office is located, the FBI is still occupying the premises.

According to the FBI news release, the local office was first opened as a satellite of the Honolulu field office. Since then, many high-profile public corruption, civil rights and violent crime investigations have resulted in criminal convictions, it says. It did not identify the criminal convictions.

Samoa News was unable to confirm yesterday if the FBI has informed Gov. Togiola Tulafono and other local authorities of the decision to close down the local office.

The FBI’s local office has been utilized by other federal agents and senior law enforcement officials when they are on island. The idea of setting up an FBI office in Pago Pago first surfaced in early 2001 as the federal agency was conducting three major investigations in the territory, including the Daewoosa Samoa human trafficking case.

When asked in April 2001 about an FBI office in Pago Pago, FBI special agent John Gillies told Samoa News that “based on the information we are receiving from American Samoa and investigations we are working on, we feel it warrants setting up an office at this time.” He also said local authorities had requested a local office be set up in the territory.

The FBI news release yesterday says the satellite office was first opened in 2006, but Samoa News archive stories shows that the satellite office was quietly opened in January of 2003. The arrangement at the time was to have FBI agents out of Honolulu dispatched to the territory when needed.

Honolulu-based FBI Special Agent William Dennson told Samoa News at the time that the FBI has investigative authority in states and territories, including American Samoa “and a physical presence on the island, we believe will facilitate our investigative authority.”

At the time of the interview, Dennson was the FBI designated liaison to American Samoa.

The official FBI office in American Samoa opened in early 2006, staffed by two FBI agents.

American Samoa residents who wish to report criminal activity or national security concerns to the FBI should contact the Honolulu field office at 808-566-4300.