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Officials Detail Shutdown Chilling Effect On National Security

National Intelligence Director James Clapper waits for a hearing of the Senate Judiciary on Wednesday.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told Congress this week that the partial federal government shutdown has forced the furlough of some 70 percent of employees throughout the intelligence community.

"I've never seen anything like this," said Clapper, a 50-year veteran of intelligence work.

So what impact is all this having on the spy world?

A senior U.S. official tells NPR that because of the shutdown, some intelligence agencies are focusing only on the biggest threats: counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation. So some other issues, such as detecting and defending against cyberattacks and keeping an eye on ballistic missile launches around the world, are falling by the wayside. They just don't have the personnel to keep track of everything.

There has been no spike in cyber attacks, the senior official said, but there's a worry that this could happen should hackers or adversaries such as Iran try to test the system. As far as ballistic missile launches, the spy agencies want to keep track of the missiles -- and what they can learn about any new developments -- in places like Syria to North Korea.

Moreover, with North Korea, the U.S. Command in the region is keeping a close eye on things. But the senior official said that since the shutdown, Washington, D.C-based intelligence agencies are unable to process some of the intelligence coming from North Korea.

Another consequence if the shutdown continues? The intelligence community won't have the manpower to be able to turn raw intelligence into reports for Capitol Hill and the White House.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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