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This scary report says the government shutdown is crippling US cybersecurity

Published Jan 24th, 2019 5:37PM EST
Government shutdown 2019 update
Image: Cultura/REX/Shutterstock

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At this point, you’re probably sick of reading stories about the ongoing partial government shutdown which, at the time of this writing, still has no end in sight. It’s important to note, however, that a new report makes clear the shutdown has led to a cascade of scary national security-related consequences, none of which have really bubbled up to the surface enough to merit prominent national news coverage. But that doesn’t mean their ramifications aren’t potentially profound — as this new report about the shutdown’s effect on the US cybersecurity apparatus makes clear.

A 72-page report released in recent days from the FBI Agents Association walks through some of the consequences. Among other things, it quotes an FBI agent in the bureau’s northeast region as lamenting that it has no funds available to pay its confidential human sources. “In my situation,” this agent is quoted in the report as saying, “I have two sources that support our national security cyber mission that no longer have funding. 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.”

Investigative reporter Brian Krebs paired that report with insights gleaned from his own contacts, including a federal agent who told him that the shutdown is “crushing” law enforcement’s ability to fight cyber crime.

“The talent drain after this is finally resolved will cost us five years,” said the source, who Krebs quotes anonymously for a new piece he published on his website KrebsOnSecurity today. “Literally everyone I know who is able to retire or can find work in the private sector is actively looking, and the smart private companies are aware and actively recruiting. As a nation, we are much less safe from a cyber security posture than we were a month ago.”

As if that wasn’t enough, Krebs’ source went on to lament that his agency “can’t even get agents and analysts the higher clearances needed for sensitive cases because everyone who does the clearance processing is furloughed.”

He continued: “Investigators who are eligible to retire or who simply wish to walk away from their job aren’t retiring or quitting now because they can’t even be processed out due to furlough of the organization’s human resources people. These are criminal investigations involving national security. It’s also a giant distraction and people aren’t as focused.”

CNN has reported that FBI field offices have started opening food banks to help special agents and staff who are among the some 800,000 federal workers going without pay as a result of the shutdown. Some federal agents are turning to part-time work to make money on the side, but even that presents its own problems.

Precarious financial situations like some workers may be facing now can make people more susceptible to foreign influence, being drawn into illegal activity, taking bribes and more. “The shutdown,” according to Krebs, “may be inadvertently creating new recruiting opportunities for foreign intelligence operatives.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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