The Financial Times is reporting that the Securities and Exchange Commission has asked Standard & Poor’s to disclose “who within its ranks knew of its decision to downgrade U.S. debt before it was announced last week.” Citing people familiar with the matter, the paper says the request is part of a preliminary investigation into potential insider trading.

SEC spokesman Kevin Callahan declined to comment when reached by AdvisorOne.

“The inquiry was made by the SEC’s examination staff, which has oversight of credit rating firms,” according to the Times.  “The exam staff can make referrals to the SEC’s enforcement division if it believes any laws have been violated, but the inquiry might not result in a referral.”

This paper says they were looking at who had the information as a starting point. The paper added that “the agency is not aware of a leak from an S&P insider, nor was it aware of an aberrational trade.”

But as the paper notes, the downgrade was rumored for months prior to S&P’s action and proving that someone leaked information about the downgrade could be difficult.

“Many traders anticipated the downgrade and bets could occur across numerous securities or currencies without inside information. In a traditional insider trading case, there is often a more predictable correlation between a company’s stock price and a particular development.”

Stung by acquisitions of incompetence in the wake of the Bernie Madoff scandal, the inquiry comes as the SEC seeks to be more “pro-active in its oversight responsibilities.” According to FT, the agency launched specialized units within its enforcement division last year and has revised the approach of its examination group after hiring new leadership.