So says James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, but Senator Charles Grassley couldn’t quite believe it this morning. Clapper called the government shutdown a “dreamland” for terrorists looking to exploit holes in American national security, but Grassley wondered whether this might just mean that the agencies employ too many people in the first place:
“This is a dreamland for foreign intelligence services to recruit,” Clapper said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
Clapper also said the budget stalemate was having a serious impact on U.S. intelligence agencies’ ability to guard against threats to national security.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “From my view, I think this—on top of sequestration…seriously damages out ability to protect the security and safety of this nation and its citizens….This is not just a beltway issue. This affect our global capability.”
The ranking Republican on the panel, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said he was puzzled by reports that 72% of intelligence agency civilian workers have been furloughed as non-essential.
“The intelligence community either needs better lawyers who can make big changes to the workforce or are you over-employing in those areas?” he asked. “It can’t be that 70% of the intelligence community is being furloughed and we’re still able to meet our national security responsibilities.”
Grassley’s skepticism isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction. Clapper has misled the Senate on intelligence activities in the past, and so has NSA director Keith Alexander, who corroborated Clapper’s testimony afterward. Their credibility on Capitol Hill is already exceedingly low, which points up the problem of keeping both in their positions after their earlier testimony got exposed as false. Who’s going to trust them on staffing and legal issues in the future?
Besides, the federal government can by law continue to fund “essential” services, especially those needed for national security. If the current administration can’t figure out how to classify national-security operations in the intelligence agencies as “essential” while sending out the National Park Service to build Barry-cades around the World War II Memorial on the Mall, that speaks a lot more to the “dreamland” created by executive incompetence than a food fight over the budget.
Meanwhile, Valerie Plame has some harsh words for Clapper and Alexander and the NSA’s surveillance program, which probably continues unabated:
Also, McClatchy reminds us that Clapper’s friends continue their deep probe into Clapper:
After a public backlash to government spying, President Barack Obama called for an independent group to review the vast surveillance programs that allow the collections of phone and email records.
Now, weeks before the group’s first report is due, some lawmakers, technology organizations and civil liberties groups are concerned that the panel’s members are too close to the Obama administration and its mission too vague to provide a thorough scrubbing of the National Security Agency technologies that have guided intelligence gathering since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Maybe that’s a dreamland for Clapper.
Update: Gabriel Malor has more on the essential/non-essential distinction at AoSHQ.