National security could be another victim of the shutdown

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Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. As if Washington needed any more tension, the US Capitol went briefly into lockdown this afternoon after a shooting incident outside the building. Police say the shots were fired during a car chase that ended with a crash near the capitol. Officials say it was an isolated incident that was not terrorism related. The other big story in Washington today is of course, the ongoing shutdown of the federal government. It's in its third day now and threatening to impact a wide array of government agencies. The World's Matthew Bell is with me to explain how the shutdown could affect those agencies handling national security, starting with the military.

Matthew Bell: Well, Marco, the Pentagon has about 1.4 million uniformed military personnel. They will stay on the job, but the defense department also employs about 800,000 civilian employees and about half of them are now on furlough. That is something that Barack Obama brought up when he put out a prerecorded message a couple of days ago as the shutdown got started, and he addressed that issue directly.

Barack Obama: I know the days ahead could mean more uncertainty, including possible furloughs. And I know this comes on top of the furloughs that many of you already endured this summer. You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we're seeing in congress. Your talents and dedication help keep our military the best in the world. That's why I'll keep working to get congress to reopen our government and get you back to work as soon as possible.

Bell: So a message of reassurance there, Marco, but you can also hear the politics in it. This is a big political standoff as well.

Werman: So what about US intelligence and counterterrorism operations. I know recent comments from the National Intelligence Director on Capitol Hill were pretty darn blunt.

Bell: Yes, you're talking about the National Intelligence Director James Clapper. That was yesterday he was speaking at the Senate Judiciary Committee. He came out and called the government shutdown a dreamland for foreign intelligence agencies. Here's a little bit of what he had to say:

James Clapper: This seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation and its citizens. This is not just a beltway issue, this affects our global capability to support the military, to support diplomacy and to support our policymakers. And the danger here of course that this will accumulate over time. The damage will be insidious, so each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases.

Bell: Another thing he said, Marco, to the senators there was 70% of all of the civilian employees that work for US intelligence agencies are also now on furlough.

Werman: So, Clapper obviously had political reasons for saying this, but beyond the politics, Matthew, I mean practically speaking, is he saying that the longer the shutdown goes on, the more likely we are to be cyber attacked, for example?

Bell: I think that's precisely the point. I talked to one former treasury department official who worked on stopping financing related to terrorist groups and rogue regimes, and he said that's exactly the problem. When you have lots of empty chairs in places like the treasury department that does this kind of counterterrorism work, and if it goes on for weeks, maybe even a month, that could be a real missed opportunity. This is work that's not getting done. He explained that chasing financing related to the Iranian government, for example, is like playing Whack-a-Mole. If you want people not stopping those different routes for financial to be channeled through, then the money is gonna keep flowing.

Werman: The World's Matthew Bell, thanks for unpacking this for us.

Bell: Thank you, Marco.