Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

What the hell is Gen. Clapper thinking, saying that furloughs may encourage intelligence officials to sell secrets?

By “Sto Akron”  Best Defense bureau of intelligence review On October 2nd, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee less than 48 hours after the government shutdown began, Director of National Intelligence Clapper characterized the furlough of thousands of members of the intelligence community as a “dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees, already many ...

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Wikimedia
Wikimedia

By "Sto Akron
Best Defense bureau of intelligence review

On October 2nd, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee less than 48 hours after the government shutdown began, Director of National Intelligence Clapper characterized the furlough of thousands of members of the intelligence community as a "dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees, already many of whom [are] subject to furloughs driven by sequestration, are going to have, I believe, even greater financial challenges."

Mr. Clapper, the very idea that after two days or two-hundred the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community would be more inclined to become traitors and commit espionage lays bare your lack of appreciation for the deep sense of patriotism, pride, and commitment to national security that drives them. Those of us who have served alongside them know that they would turn to the private sector, or even the local unemployment office, before ever knocking on the door of the Russian Embassy.

By “Sto Akron” 
Best Defense bureau of intelligence review

On October 2nd, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee less than 48 hours after the government shutdown began, Director of National Intelligence Clapper characterized the furlough of thousands of members of the intelligence community as a “dreamland for foreign intelligence service to recruit, particularly as our employees, already many of whom [are] subject to furloughs driven by sequestration, are going to have, I believe, even greater financial challenges.”

Mr. Clapper, the very idea that after two days or two-hundred the dedicated men and women of the intelligence community would be more inclined to become traitors and commit espionage lays bare your lack of appreciation for the deep sense of patriotism, pride, and commitment to national security that drives them. Those of us who have served alongside them know that they would turn to the private sector, or even the local unemployment office, before ever knocking on the door of the Russian Embassy.

More worrisome, perhaps, is the fact that it highlights your fundamental misunderstanding of what leads people to commit treason. While there have been and always will be prospective spies that make it through the screening process, the vast architecture you currently oversee is not filled with would-be Edward Snowdens. Anyone who has worked in the intelligence field will tell you that spotting, assessing, developing, and recruiting human sources is a rigorous and relentless process — even in countries that are in far worse shape than ours.

So, while it is certainly easy to follow your logic — that furloughed American workers are easier targets because they suddenly don’t have a regular paycheck or even a job — it is difficult to imagine intelligence professionals rushing out to do the unthinkable as the United States becomes a “dreamland for foreign intelligence services.”

Most Americans are concerned about their own job security and the precarious state of the economic recovery. What’s more, they understand the importance of the intelligence community and that sending a good part of it home is bound to have an impact on national security. But the last thing they need to hear from the director of national intelligence is a sensational call to get his people back to work lest they sell off the rest of the family jewels.

Mr. Clapper, in your testimony you also said, “I’ve been in the intelligence business for about 50 years. I’ve never seen anything like this.” Well, as that 50-year period covers most of the Cold War and the entire span of the ongoing global war on terror, I think most would agree that there have been dozens of times more harrowing and uncertain than the past 48 hours. Truth be told, at a time when the entire country is disgusted with the partisanship that has run the federal government into the ground, your comments do little to resolve deepening concerns about the current state of leadership in this country.

“Sto Akron” is a former case officer of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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