CIA Silent on the Looming Shutdown

Spies will continue work, with or without pay

2 mins read
Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters Building (Credit: CIA)

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.

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.

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.

“II 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.”

Cash Calls

That’s fine for those up in the ranks, but for young entry level employees, the pay stoppage “really hurts,” said another retired CIA ops veteran. So, too, the communities where large numbers 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.

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the editor-in-chief of SpyTalk, a newsletter covering U.S. intelligence, defense and foreign policy, on the Substack platform. Previously, he was the SpyTalk columnist (and national security correspondent) at Newsweek, and before that, the SpyTalk blogger at The Washington Post.

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