Copper thieves, sometimes acting as "organized groups," are threatening what the FBI said is "critical" U.S. infrastructure, from electrical sub-stations, cellular towers, telephone land lines to railroads and crops, the agency said in an unclassified report unveiled Wednesday.
The report, Copper Thefts Threaten US Critical Infrastructure, said bandits are taking advantage of unprecedented high prices for copper, an almost 500 percent increase since 2001 as measured earlier this year.
But perhaps market forces can stop crimes that law enforcement officials cannot.
The FBI publicized the unclassified report the same day stocks of global mining concerns were battered as operations worldwide gear up for a 50 percent reduction in copper prices. Shares of Arizona-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, the world's largest copper supplier, plummeted nearly 20 percent Wednesday as the company suspended dividends, cut spending and scaled back copper production to adjust to weakening demand amid a global economic slump.
Still, the FBI's report, dated Sept. 15, contains striking stories about copper theft when the mineral's price was golden.
In one instance, the bureau reported, five tornado warning sirens in Jackson, Miss., did not sound ahead of an April tornado "because copper thieves had stripped the sirens of copper wiring, thus rendering them inoperable." In another case, 4,000 Polk County, Florida residents were left without power in March "after copper wire was stripped from an active transformer" -- a $500,000 loss. Arizona farmers reported $10 million in damages last year after copper pipes were stripped from irrigation wells and pumps, resulting in crop failures.