Lawmakers involved in the defense and intelligence communities said the government shutdown has pulled thousands of intelligence analysts away from their jobs and away from defending against less-than-immediate threats to the country and its infrastructure.

Speaking at Politico’s Cyber7 event yesterday, lawmakers and industry representatives lamented the civilian furloughs that resulted from the government shutdown, including furloughs for more than 70 percent of civilians in the intelligence field, whose job descriptions do not directly involve handling immediate threats.

U.S. Capitol
Several lawmakers warned that the government shutdown left networks open to cyberattacks and pulled intelligence officers from their vital work. Photo courtesy U.S. Congress.

“We can’t afford to have an interruption in that stream of funding, we’ve got to stay ahead of the curve,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “We’ve done that in the private sector, which is why we compete so well with folks around the world. But the intelligence community…if we do have an interruption in the funding stream, it’s not going to allow us to have the ability to monitor not only the folks we know about but also all the potential folks out there” who could attack American networks.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who represents many of the furloughed employees with the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, collocated at Fort Meade, residing in his district, said he is already seeing the effects of the shutdown.

“The contractors are being impacted,” he said. “I’m not going to name names, I was talking to a representative of one of the major contractors and they’re losing $20 million a day in what’s happened because there’s not work.”

“Intelligence is the best defense against terrorism, and when you have less people working on that in the cyber realm and others, you’re going to be more vulnerable,” he said. “And that’s what’s going on now.”

From an industry perspective, the government shutdown has meant not only a loss of business but also a loss of protection of their own private networks. Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer for security firm Mandiant, said during the event that one of the biggest impacts of the shutdown for companies is the pause in “one of the most effective programs I’ve seen in the last eight years or so, and that’s been the FBI’s external notification program.”

Bejtlich said that about two-thirds of the time a company learns it has been the victim of cyberattacks from state-sponsored hackers or other sophisticated culprits, the FBI’s program detected the attack and alerted the company. Now, with the FBI unable to continue that program during the shutdown, these companies will remain unaware and vulnerable until the government opens back up.