FBI Agents Report Stalled Investigations and Training, Problems with Sources Due to Shutdown

In this July 31, 2018, photo, an FBI employee works in a computer forensics lab at the FBI field office in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

WASHINGTON — A new report from the FBI Agents Association paints a grim picture of a bare-bones agency hit hard by the government shutdown, including lost counterintelligence sources, stalled sex-trafficking investigations, and safety risks posed by agents distracted by their sudden lack of income.

“The failure to fund the FBI is making it more difficult for us to do our jobs, to protect the people of our country from criminals and terrorists,” FBIAA president Tom O’Connor told reporters today while presenting the 72-page report. “This is not about politics or partisanship. As I have said, special agents are working and are committed to protecting our country, but we need funding to do our work.”

The FBIAA advocates for more than 14,000 active and retired special agents, along with legal representation and financial support including a college fund for the children of fallen agents.

The “Voices from the Field” report was compiled from voluntary, confidential anecdotes contributed by special agents across the nation who continue to work without pay because their jobs are deemed essential.

The FBIAA said the report should underscore to Congress, the administration and the public that “financial security is national security” and the lobbying by agents to end the shutdown is not political but “a matter of completing our mission and protecting the Constitution and the people of our nation.”

The shutdown is adversely affecting FBI operations including investigating crimes against children, gang crime, terrorism, espionage, and cybersecurity, along with recruitment and retention, training, travel and supplies.

“On the child exploitation side, as an [undercover employee], I have had to put pervs on standby…. This just puts children in jeopardy,” said an agent from the southeast.

“I currently investigate a particularly violent street gang…. I have had to tell our local law enforcement partners that I cannot assist in funding these operations because my field office does not have money,” said an agent from the Central Region. “This means that the one chance we may have to take down several violent individuals may pass us by and we may not get the chance again.”

Another agent engaged in a long-term investigation of the MS-13 gang reports being stymied since the shutdown because the division has lost all Spanish speakers yet informants speak Spanish.

On counterintelligence and counterterrorism, the Bureau has had to postpone indictments, cancel WMD training and travel to areas of concern, and cut off payments to confidential human sources.

“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,” said an agent from the Western region. “The fear is our enemies know they can run freely.”

“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,” said another agent, noting the phone is necessary to avoid identification through subscriber information.

“Not being able to pay Confidential Human Sources risks losing them and the information they provide FOREVER,” another agent stressed. “It is not a switch that we can turn on and off.”

In a petition earlier this month, the agents’ association emphasized that FBI leadership “is doing all it can to fund FBI operations with increasingly limited resources” but “this situation is not sustainable.”

“Pay uncertainty undermines the FBI’s ability to recruit and retain high-caliber professionals. Special Agents are skilled professionals who have a variety of employment options in the private sector,” the FBIAA added. “The ongoing financial insecurity caused by the failure to fund the FBI could lead some FBI Agents to consider career options that provide more stability for their families.”