James Clapper, director of national intelligence, listens to testimony Oct. 2 during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Mark Wilson / Getty Images)
The partial government shutdown has forced intelligence agencies to furlough some 70 percent of their civilian employees, James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told a Senate panel Wednesday.
In 50 years in the intelligence business, “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Clapper said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. On top of sequester-related budget cuts, he said, “this seriously damages our ability to protect the safety and security of this nation and its citizens.”
Citing security reasons, a Clapper spokesman later declined to specify the exact number of furloughs throughout the intelligence community, but said the total is in the “tens of thousands.”
At the National Security Agency, “this has impacted us very hard,” Gen. Keith Alexander said at the same hearing. The agency has almost 1,000 Ph.D.s, Alexander said, and more than 5,000 computer scientists and mathematicians.
“They are furloughed. Our nation needs people like this, and the way we treat them is to tell them, ‘You need to go home, because we can’t afford to pay you. We can’t — we can’t make a deal here.’ ”
Their testimony at the previously scheduled hearing came as the government entered the second day of the partial shutdown triggered by Congress’ failure to pass a stop-gap spending bill to carry agencies into the new fiscal year.