Top DOJ official warns of potential ‘dangerous’ shutdown impact on nation’s cyber defenses

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(WASHINGTON) — A government shutdown could have a “dangerous” impact on the nation’s cyber defenses as well as on state and federal efforts to combat violent crime, a top Justice Department official said Tuesday.

“The cascading effects of something like this is really, I think, quite dangerous and quite irresponsible,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in an interview Tuesday morning with Washington Post Live. “We need to be able to give our employees certainty that they can come to work and do their job.”

With the Oct. 1 funding deadline looming, Monaco raised alarm over the thousands of staffers across DOJ’s 115,000-plus workforce who could be furloughed as a result of a shutdown, as well as grants that could be stalled that aid local police departments around the country.

“Folks who have life and safety missions will continue to do their work,” Monaco said. “But all of the support that they have, all of the work that they do and that we fund with our state and local partners — when we talk about violent crime, the lion’s share of that work to combat violent crime, it’s being done by our state and local law enforcement partners.”

“Our ability to fund those efforts, to work in partnership — all of that is dramatically reduced and hindered by a government shutdown,” she added.

A contingency plan released this week shows that roughly 85% of the department’s workforce will be expected to remain on the job even if there is a lapse in funding, either because their roles involve protecting human life or property or their compensation is funded by a revenue stream separate from annual appropriations.

That would include, for example, officials on the staff of all three special counsels appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland — who are expected to continue their investigations even if the government shuts down.

Federal courts and other judiciary operations are expected to begin running out of money around Oct. 13 after exhausting court fees and other leftover balances.

Criminal cases would continue uninterrupted, according to the department, though civil litigation could be “curtailed or postponed” as a result of a shutdown.

In her remarks Tuesday, Monaco also raised concerns about the approaching expiration of a key surveillance program used by the government to collect communications from foreign targets overseas who message on U.S.-based communications platforms.

For months, Monaco and other senior law enforcement officials from the Biden administration have been engaged in a full-court press to persuade Congress to reauthorize the program — Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — before it’s due to expire at the end of the year.

That campaign has been further complicated by recent disclosures from the FBI of how analysts have at times abused the program by conducting improper searches on the system seeking information on Americans.

The FBI has said it has implemented a number of reforms to protect against future abuses, and has reported significant improvements in the last year showing a drop in improper queries. While negotiations to reauthorize Section 702 could be further stymied in the event of a government shutdown, Monaco argued allowing the program to lapse would eliminate one of the most “vital” tools in the government’s arsenal to protect against foreign threats such as cyber attacks and terrorism.

“If we lose this authority it is catastrophic for our national security efforts,” Monaco said. “It is vital to our ability to understand threats — from cyber threats, to nation-state adversaries, to Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, plans and intentions across a whole host of threats.”

Monaco said she supported reauthorizing the program “with appropriate changes” that would assure Americans “we are using this tool in accordance with our responsibilities under the law and under the Constitution.”

“That’s what we owe the American people,” she added.

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