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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — James B. Comey, the new FBI director, was visiting the bureau’s field office in Indiana recently and was struck by how the invention of the automobile gave old-time Midwest bank robbers like John Dillinger a faster getaway.

Today, Comey’s FBI is more concerned with cybercrime, and it is that murky world of Internet theft that gave the director pause Wednesday to imagine a new kind of thief who can steal fortunes from the comfort of his own bedroom.

“John Dillinger couldn’t do a thousand robberies in the same day in all 50 states in his pajamas halfway around the world,” Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “That’s the challenge we now face with the Internet.”

On Monday, the FBI and Justice Department announced indictments against five Chinese military officials, charging them with economic espionage by hacking into corporate computer systems in the U.S. and stealing private data. The case, with more indictments expected soon, signals that the FBI views cybercrimes as the new rob-and-run bank heists of the 1930s.

Comey said a top priority is hiring new agents with cutting-edge computer and other technical skills.

“These cases illustrate our commitment to reach around the world to make clear to people that we’re not going to put up with this,” he said. “We’re going to treat these burglaries for what they are. We’re going to treat them as seriously as we would someone kicking in your door to steal your stuff, to steal your ideas, to steal your identity.”

Photo: O.maloteau via Flickr

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