The government shutdown is “extremely damaging” to U.S. intelligence operations, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Wednesday.
Clapper noted that he has worked in the intelligence field for 50 years, and “never seen anything like this.”
The shutdown “seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation,” he told a Senate panel.
The law allows intelligence agencies to hold on to the employees needed to protect against “imminent threat to life or property,” he noted. Following that guide, approximately 70% of employees were furloughed, he said.
“We do not consider any of our employees ‘non-essential,'” and officials had to make “very painful choices” about who would be furloughed, he added.
The shutdown affects the ability of the intelligence community to support the military, diplomats, and policy makers, Clapper explained.
“Damage will accumulate over time,” and the danger “will be insidious,” he warned.
And with intelligence workers facing financial struggles, particularly after already suffering through furloughs due to sequestration, “This is a dreamland for foreign intelligence services to recruit,” Clapper said.
Intelligence services are setting up counseling to help employees handle financial issues, he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, took the opportunity to assail both Republicans and Democrats, including the president, over the situation.
“I think it’s irresponsible for all of us to let it continue, but where the hell is the commander-in-chief?” he said. “If you really told him that, that our nation is less safe and every day that goes by we’re being less capable of detecting potential terror attacks against the homeland, … why aren’t the members of the House and the Senate in the White House right now to try to solve this problem?”
“For the president of the United States, for our House Democrats to not negotiate is not responsible. For our Republican Party not to try to find a way to end this mess is irresponsible,” he added.
At around the same time, President Barack Obama invited congressional leaders to the White House later Wednesday to discuss reopening the government and raising the debt ceiling.
The shutdown came after Congress did not pass a budget. The holdup: House Republicans insist on provisions to defund, derail or otherwise chip away at the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
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