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Intelligence head says cutting 'non-essential' CIA, NSA employees puts the country in danger

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James Clapper
James Clapper

Over two-thirds of the intelligence communities civilian employees have been told to go home in the government shutdown. But is the disheartening furlough an impending disaster or a sign that the US intelligence apparatus isn't as vital as it says? Today, a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence told Defense Tech, part of military and veteran membership group, that the NSA, CIA, and other intelligence agencies were scrambling to cover vacancies. "Today, less than 30 percent of intelligence community employees are on the job," said Shawn Turner, "and those who are working are stretched so thin that they are only able to focus on the most critical security needs." He warned that the longer it lasted, the spottier the intelligence community's information will become.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was more direct in a Senate hearing earlier today. "Does America remain safe, even with a shutdown?" asked Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). "I have to qualify that," Clapper responded. "I don't feel that I can make such a guarantee as each day of this shutdown goes by. I'm very concerned about the jeopardy to the country because of this."

If the nation is in jeopardy, though, it's difficult to believe that Clapper was unable to keep more people on board — a question that Grassley also asked. "Sir, we're gonna look at that," Clapper responded. He then clarified that his office was constantly monitoring the situation to determine who needs to stay at work. But he also noted that unlike plenty of other US agencies, intelligence organizations can lean on non-furloughed military staff. Early on, Clapper said, the NSA told civilian staffers to go home while keeping military ones on, but "over time, that condition cannot continue."

Neither Clapper nor Turner elaborated on who exactly was furloughed. It's possible many were administrative workers, who are important in the long term but not directly involved in collecting data. It's likely at least a few were in charge of updating intelligence agency websites. But it does suggest that the intelligence community isn't exempt from being considered "non-essential," despite warnings to the contrary.