Thousands of U.S intelligence officers could soon face firings for refusing President Joe Biden’s government COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the Associated Press reported Friday.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, recently warned that as much as 20 percent of the U.S. intelligence community remains unvaccinated as of late October. This figure comes just ahead of Biden’s November 22 deadline for civilian government workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last week, CIA director William Burns testified that 97 percent of the CIA’s officers had been vaccinated. The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), in charge of U.S. spy satellites, recently put their workforce vaccination rate at 90 percent.
While the CIA and NRO estimated their vaccination rates were in the 90s percent range, Stewart warned other agencies in the 18-member U.S. intelligence community have seen as much as 40 percent of their workforces unvaccinated. Stewart reportedly derived that assessment from information shared by the Biden administration, but not yet released to the public. Stewart declined to provide exact vaccination percentages of individual intelligence agencies, as that information remains classified.
While intelligence agencies will likely see an increase in vaccination rates as they approach the November 22 deadline, those who remain unvaccinated could be dismissed. Widespread dismissals could then leave those very same intelligence agencies understaffed.
A large-scale loss of intelligence community staff could have a particularly negative impact as those intelligence officers could be difficult to replace due to their highly specialized skillsets and the rigorous processes to obtain security clearances.
Stewart questioned what the impact on national security will be with mass dismissals over the vaccine mandates.
“You’re potentially firing thousands of people on the same day,” Stewart said. “And it’s not like you put an ad on Craigslist and have people apply by Thursday.”
In a hearing last week, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines, indicated she believes that impacts on the intelligence community from the vaccine mandates wouldn’t cause disruptions to their overall missions.
Haines declined to provide percentages of the intelligence community that remain unvaccinated but said “we are not anticipating that it is going to be an issue for mission.”
While Haines gave her assurances that the vaccine mandates won’t affect the intelligence community’s capacity to carry out their mission, Stewart called for the Biden administration to approve more vaccine exemptions for intelligence officers and delay any firings.
Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) shared similar concerns as Stewart and said the question of vaccination rates among the intelligence agencies “affects all of you and us globally.”
Other lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee argued the vaccine mandates would be good proof of the intelligence community’s readiness.
“If somebody is not willing to do what’s necessary to protect their own health and the health of their unit, that actually calls into question their ability to effectively do the job,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) said.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has also argued that vaccinations for federal employees are an urgent measure to respond to COVID-19.
“We need to be using every tool at our disposal to save lives and protect mission readiness,” Warner said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.