Shutdown Raises Risk of Cyber Attack: Lawmaker


The government shutdown increases the risk of a cyber attack against the U.S. because many workers who monitor threats have been furloughed, a lawmaker said.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, cited recent figures from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence indicating about 70 percent of the intelligence community’s civilian employees took mandatory leaves of absence, known as furloughs, because of last week’s shutdown.

“If somebody wanted to attack us, this a great time to launch an attack on the United States,” the congresswoman said during a cybersecurity conference held Tuesday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., and hosted by Politico. “The people who do these jobs are not working.”

Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who was critically injured in Iraq, was among several lawmakers who spoke at the event. More than a dozen speakers attended, including outside experts and Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command.

The Defense Department has since recalled the roughly 350,000 civilian employees who were furloughed last week, though it’s unclear how many of those work at the National Security Agency. The move was expected to ease some of the economic pain of the shutdown, as the Pentagon accounted for almost half of the federal workers affected by the government closure.

Regardless, the Republicans and Democrats at the event weren’t optimistic that leaders would act quickly to end the shutdown, which began Oct. 1 after Congress failed to pass a budget for fiscal 2014.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he would support an idea floated by moderate Republicans to pass a temporary, stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution to reopen the government while negotiating a longer-term budget deal.

“We need to get these intelligence workers back to work,” he said.

The Republican-controlled House has demanded that any legislation to temporarily fund the government include language to scale back President Obama’s signature health-care law, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. The Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House have opposed any such provision, resulting in the impasse.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said the Chinese, Russians and Iranians are “licking their chops” at the thought of the U.S. taking a pause in cybersecurity activities.

A Chinese espionage group since 2006 has stolen hundreds of terabytes of information from at least 141 companies across 20 major industries, including aerospace and defense, according to a February report from Mandiant, a closely held company based in Alexandria, Va., that sells information-security services.

Lockheed and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. in 2011 had their networks disrupted after hackers gained codes to authenticating devices called RSA SecurID made by EMC Corp. (The tokens are also used by’s parent company, Monster Worldwide Inc.).

About two-thirds of notifications to companies of major network intrusions come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at Mandiant.

“That’s one of the reasons why I’d like to see this resolved,” he said.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, acknowledged the political gridlock on Capitol Hill over the budget is “sucking the oxygen out of the room” when it comes to other important legislative issues, including cybersecurity.

“It’s unfortunate this town drives by crisis,” he said. “It will take a cyber event of enormous proportions … before Congress acts.”

The Pentagon requested $4.7 billion for so-called cyberspace operations in 2014, a 21-percent increase from the previous year. Without a budget, however, the funding isn’t guaranteed.

Alexander, the general, said the shutdown is hurting the morale of the National Security Agency workforce, which includes almost 1,000 individuals with doctorate degrees, more than 1,000 mathematicians and more than 4,000 computer scientists.

“We’re making it hard for them to stay with the government,” he said.

Alexander also criticized what he called “sensational” reports about National Security Agency surveillance programs disclosed by former Pentagon contractor Edward Snowden, who received temporary asylum in Russia after fleeing the U.S. and Taiwan.

To track suspected terrorists, the government collects telephone metadata such as the date and time of a number called — not recordings of conversations, Alexander said.

“We made a commitment that 9/11 would never happen again,” he said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “One of the reasons it happened is because we didn’t have a database like this. We didn’t have a repository that would allow us to connect the dots.”

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Ben

    Yeah… Anyone who says metadata isn’t a big deal, in an attempt to ease fears, is an idiot. In some ways you can learn more about a person from metadata than if you were actively listening in on phone calls. It’s not insignificant.

    Case in point:

  • breitbart

    they actually do keep the content of calls , not just time date and number called.

    • blight_

      It’s probably stored in a /temp directory until the FISA court lets ’em loose on it.

  • paul

    The gov’t is so out of control spending wise it really needs to be shut down for a couple years.

    • kmmontandon

      Some of us actually like clean air and drinkable water.

      • Rest Pal

        The approx. 1 trillion dollars the US govt spent every year on various military operations, productions and services doesn’t produce clean air and drinkable water. It helps pollute the air and water.

        What are you gonna do about that?

      • XYZ

        And non salmonella-infected food.

      • Musson

        So you drive Lithium Powered hybrids that leach untolled amounts of heavy metals into the soil and pretend to be green? Or, perhaps you prefer Chinese made solar panels that have tons of illegal carcinagenic materials? And, don’t get me started on the Bird Chopper farms out there shredding bald and golden eagles under the guise of “Green” energy?

        • blight_

          Lithium’s less toxic than Nickel metal hydride or nickel cadmium batteries.

          You forgot to complain about CFL’s. Mercury is bad, but LED adoption will hopefully put CFL’s down for good. The halogen bulb may even outlast the CFL!

          Not all solar panels are Chinese, just the ones people seem to buy. Some are made in the US, people just don’t buy ’em.

          In re bird-shredding and wind farms, more birds die in plane engines than wind farms, but nobody is calling for a ban on planes. It’s the cost of civilization. The alternatives are nuclear and its long-term waste disposal, potential meltdown or the use of breeder reactors; solar and its high area footprint, coal, natgas et al.

  • hibeam

    We will have fewer insane lunatics with clearances running around on Naval bases. So maybe it all cancels out?

  • hibeam

    It’s very important that we keep spending at insane lunatic levels. Otherwise something bad might happen.

  • eric

    Be afraid mr Alexander for the moment the citizens of the USA finally have connected the dots.

  • Austin

    Seriously, you have to notify the hackers that we are having an open policy party right now?

    • If they’re smart enough to hack computers, they probably figured this out a while ago without studying what writes.

      • blight_


        “You can’t see this Constitution and Bill of Rights. It will allow the terrorists to find ways to exploit it”


  • guest

    What a crock of hippo trash. The vast majority of the feds are busy as beavers working as always, something like over 80% of em.
    Tax dollars continue to flow like the Nile into the Treasury Dept.
    Service on the $16 trillion Federal debt is about 10% of tax receipts, so they go it covered no matter what.
    The feds have the funds to continue vital operations plus excess funds to keep the National Park service real busy chasing Americans from the nature marvels of our country and erecting fences and barriers and issuing citations to people who ignore their plainly vindictive orders.

    • blight_

      I’m sure anything related to “homeland security” (internal repression) and “defense” (offensive capability) is “essential” and funded…until the govt hits the debt limit.

  • Big-Dean

    Just cut the lines to the public Internet-then lock up and go home. Problem solved.

    We don’t need 120,000 a n a l – ysts tracking C hi ne se hackers stealing our stuff.

  • Musson

    The Bad News is that Hackers just attacked the ObamaCare Websites.

    The Good News is – no one could even tell.

  • oblatt1

    Every day the cyberwannabees pray to go that somebody dies by cycber attack to justify their laughable existence – “please god send us a cyber pearl harbor so people don’t laugh at me at parties!” And every day their plaintive cry is left unheard.


    Wow, though this was a casino when I first saw it…

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