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Clapper: Budget cuts could squeeze intel capabilities

Sep. 13, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments
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Sequestration. Snowden. Syria.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper refers to them as the three S’s. On the first of those topics, Clapper made clear at a Washington conference Thursday that the intelligence community isn’t immune to the sequester budget cuts he says will reduce the IC’s capabilities.

“Whatever you think about intelligence, well, you’re going to have a lot less of it to complain about,” Clapper said during a keynote at the Intelligence National Security Alliance IC summit Thursday.

Cuts of this magnitude will force agencies to accept greater risks in some areas that they traditionally have not, he said. Agencies made budget decisions based on the assumption the sequester wouldn’t extend into fiscal 2014.

“We’re trying to make some conscious judgments,” Clapper said. But agencies are probably in for another year of cuts. Short-term fixes like cutting margins from acquisition programs are not sustainable.

Plus, it’s hard to explain to people the impacts of cutting analysts because there may not be a real impact tomorrow but in the future. There aren’t longer lines at airports or shorter hours at public parks.

On former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, Clapper said while his acts were egregious, they sparked much needed conversations that should have happened a long time ago. But Clapper is disturbed by the impact and public perception the leaks have had on NSA and the potential national security damage to come.

Agencies are focusing more on the insider threat today than they were pre-Snowden. Clapper also noted the intelligence community’s initiative to standardize IT across agencies — called ICITE — and improve security and information sharing. Had IT capabilities under ICITE been implemented, agencies might have detected Snowden, he said.

Clapper didn’t speak much on Syria but added it to a list of priorities for the IC, along with cybersecurity and counterterrorism.

He stressed the need for the IC to err on the side of transparency, noting this week’s public release of declassified court documents about the NSA’s intelligence collection programs.

“This is something we have to do in this country,” he said. “We must restore the trust and confidence of the people.”

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