WASHINGTON — U.S. intelligence officials said today that the government shutdown is seriously damaging the intelligence community’s ability to guard against threats. They said they’re keeping counterterrorism staff at work as well as those providing intelligence to troops in Afghanistan, but that the danger would increase daily with fewer spies to track targets.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told Congress today that roughly 70 percent of the civilian workforce — including staff from the CIA, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency — have been furloughed.
Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he has tried to keep on enough employees to guard against “imminent threats to life or property,” but may have to call more back to work if the shutdown continues.
“The risk is 75 percent more than it was yesterday,” Clapper said, when asked to quantify the damage.
“The danger here... will accumulate over time. The damage will be insidious,” Clapper said of the information lost because he has fewer staffers to track targets. “So each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases,” he said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized President Barack Obama for what said was an unwillingness to work with Republicans on the budget impasse that caused the shutdown.
“I don’t think President Obama should be playing politics with this. He should be stepping forward to address this problem right now....The intelligence community needs to be funded.”
The federal government effectively shut down as of midnight Tuesday because of a standoff over the federal budget. House Republicans wouldn’t agree to a bill to keep funding the government unless Congress and the administration agreed to stop paying for Obama’s health-care overhaul law. The standoff could continue for days.
Clapper even raised the specter of treason, saying financial stress could make his intelligence officers vulnerable to being bought off by foreign spies.
“This is a dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees already, many of whom subject to furloughs driven by sequestration, are going to have, I believe, even greater financial challenges,” Clapper said. Civilian government employees were forced to go on several days of unpaid leave this year because of the automatic budget cuts that went into effect last March.
NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander told lawmakers that he has kept on employees working on “the most significant counterterrorism and other threats that we see into the support to our military forces in Afghanistan and overseas,” but he said the sequester has had a huge impact on morale. While many employees at NSA are fulltime military and therefore exempted from the shutdown, many are civilian analysts.
The total number of employees at such agencies is classified.