By Greg Miller
U.S. spy agencies might have been eager to celebrate their success this holiday season, following the death of Osama bin Laden, new indications that sanctions and sabotage are working against Iran, and the passage of another year without a major terrorist attack on the United States.
But with budget cuts looming, party plans are being pared back for the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA.
Both agencies have for years been known — at least among elites in the insular world of espionage — for throwing lavish year-end events.
Under then-director Leon E. Panetta last year, the CIA brought in shipments of California wine, and served fried oysters, grilled shrimp and quesadillas. His predecessor, Michael V. Hayden, made sure there were musicians playing Irish music while stations set up inside the agency’s cavernous headquarters hallway served drinks and hors d’oeuvres.
At the CIA and DNI, hundreds of guests filed through receiving lines to meet the agencies’ directors. Senior White House officials, lawmakers and journalists all mingled with officials from Washington’s clandestine world.
But the CIA and DNI both acknowledged this week that the events this time around will be smaller, cheaper and off-limits to the press. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the holiday austerity reflects the nation’s financial condition.
“Scaling back our holiday celebrations is just another small example of our commitment to making sure that we continue to make wise fiscal decisions across the board,” Clapper said in a prepared statement.
The measures come at a time when the Obama administration is also probably eager to avoid any appearance of opulence amid the sour economy and soaring national debt.
Indeed, the party savings are probably more meaningful symbolically than financially. A U.S. official said the annual DNI party typically cost about $50,000, or roughly the cost of a single Hellfire missile, and a fraction of the $54 billion spy budget this year.