Discover more from SpyTalk
CIA Silent on the Looming Shutdown
Spies will continue work, with or without pay
As befits a secret service, the CIA doesn’t want to talk how it’s going to handle the looming government shutdown. But it will quietly cope, CIA veterans say, as it has 14 times since Ronald Reagan became president in 1981 and Republicans turned federal agency shutdowns into a regular Washington clown show.
The last one, in late 2018, over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a border wall, lasted 34 days and caused $3 billion in permanent losses, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The current budget demands by hard-right “Freedom Caucus” Republicans have everything to do social wedge issues and nothing to do with entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, the major engines driving the soaring national debt.
Like most of the Defense Department, the CIA’s critical missions are excepted from shutdown paralysis. Spy agency employees at the far end of the spear will be furloughed and sent home but most others in the operations, analysis, and cyber directorates will continue working, even after the paychecks stop coming. Non-critical travel will be suspended.
"We're gonna continue crushing our adversaries, whether the government's open or closed. We do hope it gets opened back up," Trump’s first CIA Director Mike Pompeo said during the 2018 shutdown. "The American people are having complicated discussions about their priorities. I think that's entirely appropriate in a democracy," Pompeo added.
Pinch and Play
“CIA will continued to perform its mission within the guidance,” a U.S. intelligence official said, referring to the personnel advisories OMB sent to all agencies on Sept. 22.
Brief shutdowns are annoying, but not really disruptive, say former CIA officers, including retired former senior CIA operations officer John Sipher, who weathered a few during his 28 years in the agency.
“I worked through a couple shutdowns and nothing changed in the slightest except for our pay stopping,” he told SpyTalk. “For younger officers, the agency could provide no-interest loans that could be paid back once the shutdown ended. Some at headquarters might be sent home but most keep working.”
Likewise, “My experience was that nonessential personnel were sent home without pay with the understanding that back pay would be provided when a budget was approved,” says Luis Rueda, another 28-year CIA operations veteran.
“People overseas were deemed essential, as were the majority of [operations] people supporting the field and a sizeable number of analysts and physical security personnel,” he added. “Hiring was halted. Those deemed essential worked without pay.”
But, Rueda added, “If it goes longer beyond a week, problems will start to crop up. Some programs will have to stop because of money shortfalls and it is always difficult to start up again. Confidence on the part of sources and allies weakens…”
For young entry level employees, the pay stoppage “really hurts,” said another retired CIA ops veteran. Indeed, former CIA analyst Gail Helt commented on LinkedIn, “These shutdowns hurt even mid-career employees. Sixteen days in 2013 were among the most stressful of my life.”
So, too, the communities where large numbers of federal employees, particularly in the military services, are concentrated. Restaurants and shops around Langley, Va., home to the CIA’s headquarters, will feel a pinch if the stoppage drags on, but Navy towns like Hampton Roads could be bludgeoned by an extended cash drought, Sen Mark Warner said.
Nationwide, reported the Virginian Pilot, “about 79% or 638,000 of 804,000 civilian defense employees rely on congressional funding, according to the Pentagon. Almost 200,000 would have to keep working without pay because they’re considered ‘necessary to protect life and property.’”
That could impact CIA, too. Especially over the past 20 years of the global war on terror, CIA and the DoD’s special activities units work hand in glove.
SpyTalk is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.