It’s day 34 of President Trump’s government shutdown with no end in sight. And while most of the media’s attention has been focused on the long lines at airport security and food that’s going uninspected, there’s another topic that isn’t getting much coverage: the potential for rampant corruption.
There’s literally never been a better time to bribe someone who works for a U.S. government agency—from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to U.S. Coast Guard service members and State Department officials overseas. The RAND Corporation has a startling new report about the potential risks.
“U.S. adversaries could exploit the shutdown by trying to corrupt border agents and airport screeners who are doing their jobs but not getting paid,” Ryan Consaul, a senior researcher at RAND writes. “Transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels have tried to bribe officers before.”
Conasul notes that 144 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers were arrested between 2005 and 2012 on charges related to corruption, and that was when people were getting paid. Now that government workers are being forced to work for free, things could get much worse.
With over 800,000 federal employees not getting paid right now, many have resorted to begging for money on GoFundMe, visiting food banks, and selling personal items on Craigslist. The risk of corruption is only growing with each passing day. Otherwise morally upstanding people are more willing to break the rules to make sure that they can survive when things get really desperate. And things are really desperate at the moment.
As the RAND report notes, Congress passed a bill in 2010 that attempted to curtail corruption at agencies like CBP, but that law was neutered by the Republican-controlled House in 2017 in an effort to speed up hiring.
One investigation was of a Border Patrol agent who worked with drug traffickers to smuggle marijuana across the Mexican border into the United States. The agent pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import marijuana and was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release.
The other investigation centered on a TSA employee who was observed meeting with a known narcotics/money courier in uniform at an airport and was later found with a bag containing $130,000. The TSA employee pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year of house arrest followed by 48 months of probation.
These examples are, of course, the rarest of exceptions. Nevertheless, the financial pressures caused by the shutdown provide U.S. adversaries with an opening to possibly exploit.
The new RAND article is primarily focused on agencies like CBP, but few people seem to be talking about other risks at places like the FBI and State Department—organizations that hold incredibly sensitive information, including state secrets.
If America’s New Cold War adversaries like China and Russia are looking to flip government officials and turn them into spies, now’s the time to strike. But they know that already. That’s one of the reasons that background checks for people in government positions include credit checks. Financially strapped police officers and diplomats have more of an incentive to betray their country. And unless President Trump gives up on his stupid and unnecessary border wall those incentives are only going to get more enticing.
Not only is President Trump simply a blathering idiot, he’s also making Americans less safe. Good job, Mr. President. Please open the government so that people can get on with their lives. You’ve done enough damage already.