Intelligence Chief: Shutdown Makes America More Vulnerable

A Senate hearing on surveillance raised alarms about the impact of the federal government shutdown on intelligence gathering. Intelligence chiefs said 70 percent of civilian workers at their agencies are being furloughed, and said they could not guarantee the US is safe during the shutdown.

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A Senate hearing today focused on the shutdown's impact on national security. Intelligence leaders told lawmakers they could not guarantee the safety of the country because most civilian intelligence workers are furloughed. NPR's Larry Abramson has that story.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: The original point of the hearing was the effort to reform intelligence laws following recent revelations about collection activities by the National Security Agency. But many lawmakers seemed more concerned about the fact that about 70 percent of all civilian intelligence workers have been furloughed, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

JAMES CLAPPER: This affects our global capability to support the military, to support diplomacy and to support our policymakers.

ABRAMSON: The 70 percent number does not include military intelligence workers, who are exempted from the shutdown. Clapper seemed only too glad to have the heat turned away from ongoing media stories about the extent of intelligence collection. Concern about the shutdown gave him the chance instead to shine the spotlight on the crucial role that intelligence workers play.

Ranking Republican Senator Charles Grassley asked Clapper how the community could possibly function with nearly three-quarters of its workforce at home.

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY: Is that an honest assessment that these employees are nonessential? I'm concerned that if your lawyers have determined that 70 percent of your employees are nonessential to your mission, then you either need better lawyers or to make big changes in your workforce.

ABRAMSON: Clapper said he and his staff are recalculating from day to day which employees are essential. Workers considered critical to warding off imminent threats can be brought in. But he warned lawmakers that over time the impact of the shutdown would grow. Some lawmakers said Clapper should recommend that President Obama support special funding for intelligence workers the way military personnel and some others have been exempted from the government closure. Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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