Federal Law Enforcement

FBI Agents Association Argues Shutdown Hurts National Security

By Lev Sugarman
Wednesday, January 23, 2019, 3:47 PM

“Financial security is national security.” So argues the FBI Agents Association (FBIAA), an outside group advocating for bureau employees, in a new report entitled, “Voices from the Field: FBI Agent Accounts of the Real Consequences of the Government Shutdown.” In a compilation of anonymous accounts provided by FBI personnel, the report warns of the shutdown’s far-reaching consequences for bureau operations and FBI agents themselves.

This is not the first time the FBIAA has released a document like this: in December 2013, it published a similar report describing the impact that budget cuts and impending furloughs resulting from sequestration were expected to have on FBI operations. That said, whereas the 2013 report was largely anticipatory, this year’s report—which is nearly twice as long—is notable in describing the impact that the government shutdown is already having on FBI personnel and operations.

Nearly every step of the criminal investigative process, the report states, from recruitment and training through evidence processing and the issuing of subpoenas, has been delayed or halted altogether due to the lack of funding. According to one agent working on crimes against children and sex trafficking on Native American reservations, “[C]ases are being delayed for grand jury because we can't get medical records from certain Indian Hospitals with attorneys who are furloughed. Additionally, cases are being delayed for [going before the] grand jury because investigators can't obtain land status information, [which is necessary for jurisdiction].” Another agent noted that some offices are experiencing shortages of basic supplies: “Our mechanics are cannibalizing [out-of-service] vehicles in an effort to replace flat tires.… We are almost out of copy paper.… Supplies needed for forensic processing are being expended and not being replaced.”

The report places a special focus on the effect that the shutdown is having on counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. FBI employees describe losing critical sources in sensitive investigations due to the FBI’s inability to continue paying informants. According to a Joint Terrorism Task Force Coordinator, “[T]he inability to pay Confidential Human Sources has had a detrimental effect on our counter-terrorism investigations and operations. We have lost several sources who have worked for months, and years, to penetrate groups and target subjects. These assets cannot be replaced.” As another agent elaborates, “Not being able to pay Confidential Human Sources risks losing them and the information they provide FOREVER. It is not a switch that we can turn on and off.” An agent working on cyber issues described losing two sources after funding dried up, remarking, “They are critical sources providing tripwires and intelligence that protect the United States against our foreign adversaries. The loss in productivity and pertinent intelligence is immeasurable.” Aside from payments to sources, at least one U.S. Attorney’s office has reportedly halted grand jury subpoenas for financial institutions. According to one agent, “Most of our [counter-terrorism] cases have a strong financial angle and our inability to fully utilize all available investigative tools slows down the pace of the investigation in critical [counter-terrorism] matters.”

Finally, “Voices from the Field” shows how FBI personnel themselves have endured hardship as a result of the shutdown. Agents describe finding themselves in dire financial straits, working without pay in an overall low-morale environment. One agent wrote: “If this lasts another month, many of us will have to decide between bankruptcy, eviction, or quitting…,” noting that such extreme financial vulnerability may also represent a counterintelligence risk, given the theoretical incentives for an agent to accept money for sensitive information. In addition, the report warns that agents’ security clearances could be compromised by missing bill payments and defaulting on debts—endangering their long-term career prospects. One account expresses a recurring sentiment: “I am proud to be an Agent, proud to serve my country, and willing to sacrifice my life in defense of the people and the Constitution, but to have my family placed in the financial situation we are currently facing due to partisan politics is disgusting to me as a government employee and a citizen.”

The full report is provided below: