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"It's never been so hard": FBI agents say the shutdown is hurting investigations

by Tess Owen
Jan 22 2019, 8:15pm

With federal cash and supplies quickly drying up due to the ongoing federal government shutdown, FBI agents say that many of their day-to-day operations are becoming difficult to sustain.

A 72-page report released Tuesday by the FBI Agents Association, which advocates for 140,000 current and former agents, features anonymous testimonials from its members at home and abroad that shed some light on how the longest shutdown in history — now in its second month — has impacted the bureau’s work.

"The failure to fund the FBI undermines essential FBI operations, such as those designated to combat crimes against children, drug and gang crime, and terrorism,” said Tom O’Connor, head of the FBI Agents’ Association, at a press conference Tuesday. O’Connor stressed that agents were still showing up for work, despite not having been paid in 32 days.

“Serving my country has always been a privilege, but it has never been so hard or thankless,” one agent said, according to the report.

In response to a question about whether the shutdown was making Americans less safe, O’Connor hedged. “I will leave that question up to you to answer,” he replied.

One agent said supplies needed for forensic processes are being used up and not replaced. “We are now almost out of trace evidence filters, casting material, DNA swab kits, etc., with no ability to replenish them,” the agent said, according to the report. His office is also almost out of copy paper.

A handful of other agents said the shutdown was stymying undercover investigations into gangs and drug trafficking, in part because agents usually rely on government funds to purchase narcotics or firearms during operations.

“We are relying on borrowing money from state and local partners for operations, although in very small amounts since their budgets are not equipped for large scale gang and drug operations,” one agent said, according to the report. “Additionally, we are impacting our liaison partners and relationships as we are unable to pay our dedicated state and local officers who assist our investigations on overtime hours above and beyond their regular shifts, which many times includes late nights and weekends.”

Another agent in the report said their years-long investigation into MS-13 has hit roadblocks since the shutdown because they’ve been unable to get a Spanish speaker in their division. ‘We have several Spanish speaking informants,” the agent said. “We are only able to communicate using a three way call with a linguist in another division.”

Other interest groups have shared similar concerns. For example, Nathan Catura, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association — which represents more than 26,000 officers across a dozen agencies — told the Washington Post that he’s worried about the impact of the financial strain on officers’ abilities to do their jobs.

“My biggest concern is there’s going to be an agent who is not going to be focused on his job. He’s going to be out on the street doing some enforcement of something, and he’s going to get hurt,” Catura told the Post. “Other law enforcement people I continue to speak to, they share the same concerns. The longer this drags out, the more I’m concerned that something’s going to happen.”

Cover image: FBI agents carry waterproof cases containing newly 3d printed decoy heads, used to mount a famous prison escape in 1962, to a news conference on Alcatraz Island Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)