WASHINGTON — National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and James Clapper told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday that 70 percent of intelligence employees have been furloughed since the federal government shutdown began two days ago, shocking the committee.
“You scared the hell out of all of us,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “For our Republican party not to try to end this mess is irresponsible.”
While Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he didn’t think politics should be to blame, he hoped for a quick fix.
“I hope we can see bipartisan cooperation today to agree to come together,” Cruz said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called for a policy change to revise the current “non-essential” percentage standard of 70 for intelligence organizations, and Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., echoed this thought.
“As you are aware of, two days ago we passed some legislation quickly, very quickly — unanimously — to protect the military from this shutdown,” Flake said. “Have you recommended to the president that he recommend to the Congress that we do something similar for the intelligence services?”
Clapper said he planned to make such a recommendation, and Flake seemed sure Congress would accept it.
“I can guarantee both the House and Senate would move expeditiously to do this if it really is a problem, and I believe it is,” Flake said. “I trust you will make that recommendation to the president.”
“I can’t believe that 70 percent of the intelligence community is being furloughed and we’re still able to meet our national security responsibility,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said. “That concerns me very much.”
Clapper said painful choices as to who is deemed “necessary to protect against imminent threat of life and property” are made on a day-to-day basis.
He added that unlike the obvious impact of closing public parks, in the case of intelligence the consequences are insidious.
“As each day goes by, the jeopardy to the security of this country will increase,” Clapper said.
Sen. Amy Klobouchar, D-Minn., seemed particularly concerned about the shuffling in and out of people to deal with threats as they are encountered that Clapper mentioned.
“These threats change day to day as I’ve learned and you need people on the ground to be able to respond to them,” she said.