Now, it’s getting real.
We know what the shutdown is doing to airport security and of the growing inability of Transportation Security Administration agents to even afford to get to work. The consequences for air travel are obvious. Sooner or later, if the shutdown continues, commercial aviation will grind to a halt.
FBI agents have been suffering more silently, but more severely. Until this week. On Tuesday, the FBI Agents Association released a 72-page report outlining some of the unclassified ways that the shutdown has made it difficult or impossible for them to do their jobs. We can only guess at the problems the FBI is having that cannot be publicly disclosed.
The report makes for some chilling reading. The FBI’s counterterrorism activities are suffering badly. One agent quoted in the report warns, “The shutdown has eliminated any ability to operate. … It’s bad enough to work without pay, but we can only conduct administrative functions while doing it. The fear is our enemies know they can run freely.”
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To take one example, the FBI maintains an extensive network of sensitive sources to monitor terrorist threats from around the world. But due to the shutdown, they aren’t able to pay them: “We have lost several sources who have worked for months, and years, to penetrate groups and target subjects. These assets cannot be replaced.”
Even worse, in some cases, FBI agents aren’t even able to contact their informants: “I am unable to buy the phone card that I use to recharge my ‘cold’ phone … to talk to a very valuable (confidential human source who) reports on domestic and international terrorism.”
Agents are scrounging for tires, office supplies
Even the physical assets being used by the FBI are being exhausted or simply breaking down. The situation is so bad that agents have been reduced to cannibalizing equipment: “We are out of tires. 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. We are now almost out of trace evidence filters, casting material, DNA swab kits, etc., with no ability to replenish them.”
Investigations are being shelved because the FBI is unable to afford to go to court to get grand jury subpoenas. This, however, soon won’t matter because the court system itself has been defunded. It has been running on fumes since the shutdown in a heroic effort to keep the courthouse doors open but, eventually, those efforts will fail and the courts will close. This means no subpoenas, no grand juries, no indictments and no trials. Come to think of it, it’s probably a good thing, because there is also no money to run federal prisons or pay prison staff, including the guards.
There is an irrefutable, unshakable point here, and it has nothing to do with politics: When it comes to defending America, especially against international terrorism, the buck stops with the president.
Trump is failing to protect and defend us
This is a mantle that every president, regardless of party, has understood and freely accepted. You may disagree with what President George W. Bush or President Barack Obama did, maybe you think they went too far, maybe you think they didn’t go far enough. But there is no denying that keeping America safe from terrorism was their highest priority. And they knew that if something did go wrong on their watch, they would be held accountable for it.
Mr. President, go ahead and shut down the TSA if you want. If you believe that building your wall is worth the political heat you would get for crippling America’s civil aviation system and making it impossible to fly, that’s your call.
But what you cannot do is open America up to a terrorist attack to advance your political agenda. Making sure the FBI has the resources it needs to protect America is your job. Not House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s. Not Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s. Your job. And you are failing in it. And if, because of your failure, America is attacked, there will be no excuses, no shifting of blame. It will be your responsibility. And America will never, ever forgive you.
So do your job, Mr. President. Get funds flowing again to the FBI. If you do not, America — and you — will suffer the consequences.
Chris Truax, an appellate lawyer in San Diego, is on the legal advisory board of Republicans for the Rule of Law.