US agencies on red alert as budget cuts to limit capability

US agencies on red alert as budget cuts to limit capability

US agencies on red alert as budget cuts to limit capability

A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley. Spy agencies are making preparations for potentially sweeping budget cuts, a senior official says. AFP photo

U.S. spy agencies are making preparations for potentially sweeping budget cuts that could drastically limit their ability to respond to crises, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Feb. 14. Secretary of State John Kerry also expressed his concerns at Congress that the move would undermine U.S. diplomacy and security policies at a time of turmoil across the Middle East and Africa.

In an interview, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Reuters that cuts required under a budget sequestration plan which Congress approved in 2011 would be the “budgetary equivalent of emergency amputations.”

“It’s an accurate statement to say this profoundly limits our flexibility and our ability to respond to crises,” Clapper said.

Among intelligence activities that might have to be cut back, Clapper said, are “human intelligence” which covers recruiting and handling of undercover informants and “overhead collection” which includes electronic eavesdropping and image-producing satellites - among the most critical U.S. intelligence collection systems. Sequestration could also result in fewer counter-intelligence and security personnel - meaning fewer resources to identify, track down and neutralize efforts by foreign spy services, “bad actors” and disgruntled insiders to compromise U.S. intelligence activities, he said.

$85 billion of cuts across the entire US budget

It is rare for a senior intelligence official to complain publicly about threats to the intelligence budget, which is classified except for an overall figure of $72 billion.

According to John Kerry the cuts would take $2.6 billion out of the budget for the State Department and USAID, America’s development assistance agency.

“Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy and development,” he wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, chairwoman of Senate Committee on Appropriations.

The security assistance cuts could include $300 million in the Foreign Military Financing program and “lead to reductions in military assistance to Israel, Jordan and Egypt, undermining our commitment to their security at such a volatile time,” wrote Kerry. Kerry also said cuts would impair efforts to beef up security at U.S. diplomatic facilities, a sensitive issue after the attack by armed militants on the U.S. mission in the Libyan city of Benghazi. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in that attack.

The cuts would total about $85 billion this year across the entire U.S. budget and will take effect March 1 unless Congress comes up with alternative deficit reduction measures. Democrats on Feb. 14 rallied around a $110 billion tax increase and spending cut plan that would postpone the sequestration cuts.

As a result of fiscal pressures on the military, the U.S. Defense Department announced last week the cutting of its aircraft carrier presence in the Persian Gulf region from two carriers to one.