Clapper: Sequester cuts could leave US intel blind to next attack

The massive, across-the-board budget cuts to U.S. intelligence capabilities will force decision makers to "rethink what [to] expect from the intelligence community, because it isn't going to be the same," according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. 

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"Unlike more directly observable sequestration impacts like shorter hours at the parks or longer security lines at airports, the degradation to intelligence will be insidious," Clapper told Senate Armed Services Committee members.

"It will be gradual and almost invisible until, of course, we have an intelligence failure," he added during Thursday's committee hearing on emerging national security threats. 

During Thursday's hearing, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) put the intelligence chief's argument in much starker terms. 

"We won't know what we've missed until something blows up?" King asked Clapper on sequestration's impact on intelligence. 

In response, Clapper replied quickly: "Yes, sir." 

As head of the U.S. intelligence community, Clapper shepherded nearly $4 billion in cuts to intelligence coffers in the past seven months to meet the community's share of the reductions under the White House's sequestration plan. 

Budget cuts under sequestration were triggered when talks between congressional Republicans and Democrats on a debt reduction plan fizzled late last year. 

Republicans' unwillingness to budge on concessions for tax increases and Democrats standing firm on blocking further cuts to social welfare programs sealed sequestration's fate. 

Clapper drew comparisons between the sequestration-driven spending cuts and the national security drawdown under the Clinton administration. 

"Looking back ... I often wonder whether we failed to fully appreciate the onslaught of terrorism," as a result of those reductions during the 1990s. 

That blind spot was quickly erased after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but Clapper noted the intelligence community could slip back into complacency under sequestration.

"I fear I've seen this movie before," he added.