The government shutdown is damaging the intelligence community's ability to guard against threats, U.S. intelligence officials told Congress on Wednesday.
They said they are keeping counterterrorism staff on duty, and are worried about staff morale.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that roughly 70 percent of the intelligence workforce — including staff from the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency — has been furloughed.
"I've been in the intelligence business for about 50 years. I've never seen anything like this," Clapper said at the hearing on the controversial spy programs.
"I think this, on top of sequestration, seriously damages our ability to protect the security and safety of this nation and its citizens," Clapper said.
He added that the agencies risk losing valuable staff, especially after layoffs forced by the so-called sequestration budget cuts that went into effect earlier this year.
Clapper said he has tried to keep on enough employees to guard against potential threats, but may have to call more back to work if the shutdown continues.
NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander says that he has kept on employees who work on counterterrorism, but that the shutdown has had a significant impact on morale. The total number of employees at such agencies is classified.
"Our nation needs people like this, and the way we treat them is to tell them, 'You need to go home because we can’t afford to pay you. We can’t make a deal here,'" Alexander said.
The NSA director said his agency risked losing thousands of Ph.D.s, computer scientists and mathematicians forced off the job by the shutdown.
The federal government effectively closed on Tuesday — forcing at least 800,000 employees out of work — after Congress failed to reach a deal on the nation's budget. President Barack Obama is meeting with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday evening to discuss a solution to the crisis.
Al Jazeera and wire services