Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Sequestration Could Give Ammunition to Spies, Officials Warn

Image by File404/

The main discussion about sequestration weakening national security has centered on cuts to the military, but government and industry officials are warning that the cuts could have another unforeseen threat: foreign spying.

In a Buzzfeed article published Wednesday, Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and several officials with knowledge of security clearance procedures expressed worry that cuts of about 20 percent to federal workers’ pay could give ammunition to foreign spies on the hunt for classified information.

Their worry is that sequestration cuts could leave some furloughed workers scrounging for money and willing to pass off information in exchange for cash.

"When I was in the Air Force, we had a few espionage cases. Every time we had an espionage case, it was somebody who got involved because their life had fallen apart," Graham told Buzzfeed.

Although that is speculation at this point – there is no known instance since sequestration took effect March 1 – officials acknowledge the furloughs give spies abroad a wider field of potential recruits.

In an interview with Government Executive on Thursday, former CIA Director James Woolsey said the concerns are legitimate.

“It’s not good to put people who are custodians of classified information and so forth into a situation of pressure,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey resigned in 1994 in response to accusations that he botched the handling of Aldrich Ames, a CIA officer who was found guilty of feeding information to Russian spies. The Ames case is regarded as the worst in CIA history – he handed over troves of critical information to enemy spies, including the names of U.S. agents.

Although most workers who make it through the vetting process are “straight shooters,” it’s inevitable that a weak person gets in every so often, Woolsey said. However, he stressed diminishing support for the military is a far greater threat.

About 4.8 million U.S. citizens held security clearance in 2011, according to a study conducted by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and cited by Buzzfeed.

According to a private sector official who connects government agencies with potential employees, most clearance are for the lowest classification known as “confidential,” which gives access to sensitive information in secure “clean” facilities. While American spies also have access, many such clearances are for IT workers, managers and engineers.

“From a security standpoint, that means that there are millions of Americans with knowledge of what may seem like mundane information — say, the time a truck driver is to report for duty on a particular day — but which could be critical to agents looking to hijack sensitive chemicals, attack an installation, or simply track movements of government officials,” the article says.

Reach Reporter Ian Kullgren at or 202-326-2143. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. 

Image by File404/

Ian Kullgren is a staff reporter for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire. Prior to his current role, he covered the 2012 election in his home state of Michigan, where he followed the Republican primary race in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District for MLive Media Group. He was also a member of the Michigan capitol press corps for Michigan State University's State News, covering Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the state legislature and the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.