U.S. intelligence agencies have had to furlough 70 percent of their civilian staff, including operations personnel, and the government shutdown makes employees easy targets for recruitment by enemy agents, officials said Wednesday.
Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he had no choice but to follow the clear legal guidelines in determining who he could keep on the job.
Staff could report for duty only if their job “is necessary to protect against imminent threat to life or property. And so our applying that standard is what resulted across the board in furloughing of roughly 70 percent,” Mr. Clapper said.
Mr. Clapper’s spokesman, Shawn Turner, confirmed that the furloughs covered the full range of duties of staff across the sprawling collection of agencies that insiders call the intelligence community — including both operations and support personnel.
“If there are people working on ongoing operations where [the target does not present] an imminent threat to life or property, some of those people have been furloughed,” Mr. Turner said.
Mr. Clapper, the nation’s fourth director of national intelligence, also told Congress that the financial impact of being without wages would make intelligence staff more vulnerable to recruitment by America’s enemies.
“This is a dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees already, many of whom were subject to furloughs driven by sequestration, are going to have, I believe, even greater financial challenges,” he warned.
He said that his office was working to get counseling for employees “to help them manage their finances” as the shutdown dragged on.
Mr. Clapper said the furloughs “seriously damage our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation and its citizens,” and he said decisions about which employees are reporting to work are reviewed daily.
“We will have to shuffle people in and out depending on what we believe the concern of the day is,” he said.
He said the longer the shutdown goes on, the more the danger builds.
“So each day that goes by, the jeopardy increases,” he said.
Testifying alongside Mr. Clapper, Army Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, echoed that warning.
The NSA had by law to focus on “the most specific threats against our nation” — which meant “the most significant counterterrorism and other threats that we see [and] the support to our military forces in Afghanistan and overseas,” he said.
The shutdown “has had a huge impact on morale,” Gen. Alexander concluded.
Republican senators at the hearing said Congress should pass a bill that would specifically fund the 16 agencies of the intelligence community and the civilian functions of the Pentagon. Both chambers this week already passed legislation, which President Obama signed, to exempt the military services from furloughs and other effects of the shutdown.