Report: Feds Sharing Less Info on Hotspot WMDs With Congress

Debris from a long-range ballistic missile fired by North Korea in December 2012 is displayed at a naval base of South Korea's Second Fleet Command. The U.S. government has decreased how much unclassified information it publishes on weapons of mass destruction-related concerns, a congressional report says.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
April 22, 2014, 10:11 a.m.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment lately is shar­ing less in­form­a­tion with Con­gress about weapons-of-mass-de­struc­tion pro­lif­er­a­tion con­cerns, a new Cap­it­ol Hill study finds.

“The num­ber of un­clas­si­fied re­ports to Con­gress on WMD-re­lated is­sues has de­creased con­sid­er­ably in re­cent years,” con­cludes an April 16 re­port by the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice, the in­tern­al re­search arm of the le­gis­lat­ive branch.

Con­gress re­quires that the gov­ern­ment re­port on the nuc­le­ar and mis­sile pro­grams of Ir­an, North Korea and Syr­ia. Mem­bers of se­lect House and Sen­ate pan­els — such as the in­tel­li­gence and armed-ser­vices com­mit­tees, as well as the ap­pro­pri­ations sub­pan­els on de­fense — have ac­cess to some clas­si­fied find­ings on weapons of mass de­struc­tion-re­lated top­ics.

Law­makers not on those pan­els can re­quest closed-door brief­ings from ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on spe­cif­ic con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to Steven Af­ter­good, who dir­ects the Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ic­an Sci­ent­ists’ Pro­ject on Gov­ern­ment Secrecy.

But Con­gress ac­tu­ally has moved to re­duce re­port­ing re­quire­ments on un­con­ven­tion­al weapon con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to the CRS re­port. Un­der the fisc­al 2013 In­tel­li­gence Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act, a man­date for the in­tel­li­gence com­munity to provide a yearly un­clas­si­fied re­port on the “Ac­quis­i­tion of Tech­no­logy Re­lat­ing to Weapons of Mass De­struc­tion and Ad­vanced Con­ven­tion­al Mu­ni­tions” was lif­ted.

The re­port did not of­fer spe­cif­ics on the num­ber of clas­si­fied and un­clas­si­fied re­ports and brief­ings giv­en to Con­gress over the years.

“There is an an­nu­al threat brief­ing from the [dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence] be­fore the House and Sen­ate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, but if you look for oth­er open hear­ings on the sub­ject, they’re not there,” Af­ter­good said. “There used to be more.”

The long­time trans­par­ency ad­voc­ate said that in the past, there were also more “ques­tions for the re­cord” — writ­ten in­quir­ies by law­makers that drew of­fi­cials’ re­sponses — view­able by the pub­lic.

“Those also seem to have van­ished,” Af­ter­good said. “So there is just less out there and the pub­lic has less in­form­a­tion at its dis­pos­al.”

John Isaacs, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, said law­makers’ ac­cess to of­fi­cial as­sess­ments on WMD mat­ters could help them make in­formed de­cisions in votes on pro­lif­er­a­tion-re­lated is­sues, such as sanc­tions bills, mil­it­ary- and in­tel­li­gence-spend­ing pro­pos­als, and an­nu­al de­fense-au­thor­iz­a­tion le­gis­la­tion.

Still, Isaacs said provid­ing law­makers with more in­form­a­tion would of­fer no guar­an­tee they would make reasoned vot­ing de­cisions.

“Con­gress should get more facts [about weapons of mass de­struc­tion], but that wouldn’t ne­ces­sar­ily say much,” he said. “Mem­bers of Con­gress with or without com­plete in­form­a­tion … tend to vote on ideo­logy and not facts.”

For Af­ter­good, the is­sue is also a mat­ter of pub­lic aware­ness about pro­lif­er­a­tion, an is­sue he says has “a re­duced pro­file” due to the de­crease in un­clas­si­fied re­ports and hear­ings.

The CRS re­port sug­gests that Con­gress “con­sider re­quir­ing ad­di­tion­al re­port­ing from the ex­ec­ut­ive branch on WMD pro­lif­er­a­tion.”

“Con­gress has it in its power to change the situ­ation,” Af­ter­good said. “They can say, as they did in the past, we want an un­clas­si­fied [hear­ing and re­port]. It’s a de­cision that’s in their hands.”

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