By Alex Zank
The consequences of the government shutdown, now in its second day, are becoming increasingly more dire, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Judiciary Committee at an oversight hearing today.
"On top of the sequestration cuts, this seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of citizens," Clapper said. He added: "This is not just a beltway issue." The shutdown, he said, will affect the intelligence community's effectiveness internationally.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the judiciary committee, expressed concern to Clapper and Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, about the high number of government workers in the intelligence community (70 percent) who are not on the job now because of the shutdown. Grassley suggested that there are too many government employees working on tasks that are not essential to the protection of the national security.
Clapper said his intelligence office made tough decisions on which employees to keep on the job during the shutdown. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, he said, kept staff “essential to protect against imminent threat,” as required by shutdown protocol.
“I think that (the 70 percent figure) will change as this furlough drags on” and more workers will be brought back, Clapper said.
Clapper and Alexander warned of increased security threats as a result of the shutdown. When Grassley asked about whether America is safe in the shutdown, Clapper responded: “I don’t feel I can make a guarantee.”
“From the NSA’s perspective, this has impacted us very hard,” Alexander said. “From my perspective, (the shutdown) has a huge impact on morale.”
Today’s discussion marked the committee’s second oversight of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Washington-based surveillance court in recent months has come under intense scrutiny for its role in approving the NSA’s collection of phone and electronic information of Americans.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, focused his questions today on the need for greater transparency within the intelligence community. Leahy said the difference between what he and others are told by intelligence officials—compared to surveillance-related information published in media reports—has him worried “we’re still getting inaccurate information.”
Referring to a recent New York Times article that suggests the NSA has gathered data about Americans from their social networking sites, Leahy said “we get more (information) from the newspapers than we do in the classified briefings that you give us.” Alexander said the Times story was inaccurate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which held a hearing last week on government surveillance programs, today defended the NSA’s collection of phone records, including the time and duration of calls.
The Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, Feinstein said, are working on legislation to bring about possible reform to the intelligence community. “We are looking for increased transparency … but not looking to destroy (the program),” she said.
Contact Alex Zank at firstname.lastname@example.org.