Clapper: Intelligence cuts could be ‘insidious’

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, is warning that federal budget cuts known as sequestration will hurt the nation in ways that might not be known until it is too late. Employee furloughs are under consideration, but none has been announced.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee during the annual open hearing on worldwide threats on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 12, 2013. FBI Director Robert Mueller listens at left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, right, testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee during the annual open hearing on worldwide threats on Capitol Hill on March 12, 2013. FBI Director Robert Mueller listens at left. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“We’re cutting real capability and accepting greater risk,” Clapper told reporters in his office Friday. “For intelligence, this is not quite like shorter hours for public parks or longer lines at the airports. For intelligence, it’s insidious.

“The capability we cut out today you won’t know about that, you won’t notice it,” he said. “The public won’t notice it. You’ll notice it only when we have a failure.”

Clapper provided no details on how the government’s intelligence capabilities would be cut. He did, however, provide a history lesson.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” he said, referring to intelligence cuts in the 1990s when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We closed CIA stations overseas,” he said. “We cut human intelligence, we let our overhead reconnaissance architecture atrophy. We neglected the basics like power space and cooling … and most painfully we allowed the workforce to be distorted.”

Then came the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and intelligence budgets grew. But now, “we’re in another cut cycle,” he said.

Clapper stressed the importance of maintaining the workforce, even as he acknowledged the possibility of making employees take unpaid leave days.

“This is…a big deal to me,” he said.

“It is a uniform conviction across the leadership of the intelligence community that the most important resource we have is our people,” Clapper said. “So I’m going to try to do all I can, all of us are, to protect our people. If we have to furlough, then minimize the damage and the impact of doing that. All that hasn’t been worked out.”

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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