Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Thousands of Intel executives denied vaccine risk dismissal

WASHINGTON — Thousands of intelligence officers could soon face dismissal for failing to comply with the US government’s vaccine mandate, prompting some Republican lawmakers to worry about furloughing staff from agencies critical to national security.

Many intelligence agencies did not have at least 20% of their staff vaccinated by the end of October, said Utah Republican US Representative Chris Stewart, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

CIA Director William Burns publicly disclosed last week that 97% of agency officials have been vaccinated. The National Reconnaissance Office, which operates US spy satellites, has vaccinated more than 90% of its staff.

But Stewart said some agencies in the 18-member intelligence community did not have vaccinations for up to 40% of their workforce. He cited information that the administration has provided to the committee but not publicly released. He declined to identify the agencies because full information on vaccination rates was classified.

While many will be vaccinated for civilian workers before the administration’s November 22 deadline, resistance to the mandate could leave key agencies responsible for national security without some personnel. Intelligence officers are particularly difficult to replace because of the highly specialized tasks they perform and the difficulties of completing security clearance checks.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined several requests to provide statistics for the intelligence community. The office also would not specify what contingency plans are in place in case officers are fired for not following the mandate.

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines declined to disclose what percentage of staff were vaccinated at a hearing last week, but added, “We’re not anticipating that this will be an issue for the mission.”

The vaccination rates provided by Stewart are higher than for most of the general US population. About 70% of American adults are fully vaccinated and 80% have received at least one dose of the vaccine. The intelligence community has an estimated 100,000 employees.

Stewart called on the administration to approve more exemptions for people on medical, religious and other grounds, and to delay any termination of intelligence officers.

“My question is, what is the impact on national security if we do this?” Stewart said. “You’re potentially firing thousands of people in a single day. And it’s not like you put ads on Craigslist and have people apply by Thursday.”

House Intelligence Committee Democrats say they are confident the immunization mandate will pose no problem to the intelligence community. Colorado Democrat Representative Jason Crowe said the agencies were doing “very well” and that getting vaccinated was a sign of an employee’s readiness.

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