The top U.S. intelligence official says automatic government spending cuts are reducing the nation’s ability to detect and respond to threats across the globe, from terrorist plots to the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. The comments were made in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
National Intelligence Director James Clapper told senators Tuesday that budget sequestration is degrading America’s early warning apparatus for threats at home and abroad.
“Let me now be blunt for you and the American people,” he said. “Sequestration forces the intelligence community to reduce all intelligence activities and functions, without regard to impact on our mission.”
Clapper said intelligence agencies will have to, in his words, “do less with less.”
“We will reduce human, technical and counter-intelligence operations, resulting in fewer collection opportunities, while increasing the risk of strategic surprise,” he said.
The national intelligence director provided an example. “Our cyber efforts will be impacted,” he said. “This is an area where, you all know, we need to keep ahead of rapid technology advances to maintain and increase access to adversaries, as well as provide warning of a cyber attack against the U.S.”
Clapper said the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks demonstrated the consequences of inadequate intelligence capabilities — a mistake he said the nation risks repeating.
“Unfortunately, I have seen this movie before. Now, if we are not careful, we risk another damaging downward spiral,” he said.
Clapper said the timing of across-the-board budget cuts could not be worse for intelligence agencies.
“In my almost 50 years in intelligence, I cannot recall a period in which we confront a more diverse array of threats, crises and challenges around the world. To me, this makes sequestration even more incongruous,” he said.
The national intelligence director urged Congress to give the intelligence community flexibility in implementing budget cuts to minimize their impact on national security.
Senators of both parties on the Intelligence Committee voiced support for the request.
“We are committing to do everything within our power to ensure that the resources are there to allow you to continue to do what you are asked to do every single day,” said Saxby Chambliss, a Republican.
The committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, said she will press the Senate to authorize greater budgeting flexibility for intelligence agencies. This week, the chamber is debating a bill to fund the U.S. government for the remainder of the fiscal year.