Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair has been calling members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to urge them to support ratification of what the Obama administration is calling the New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The original treaty was signed in 1991 and expired in December.
Mr. Blair’s lobbying of the senators has raised concerns in the Senate that he may have undermined the traditionally nonpartisan veneer of senior intelligence officials, especially when it comes to critical judgments about whether arms control treaties can be properly monitored for violations.
“Why is Denny Blair lobbying for the treaty?” said one well-placed Republican aide.
Additionally, the effort to garner Senate support for ratification — a two-thirds majority is needed — is being carried out before completion of a major U.S. intelligence estimate by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on whether the treaty’s verification provisions are adequate.
DNI spokesman Mike Birmingham said: “The only conversations the DNI has had with members of Congress related to the START treaty are discussions about the intelligence community’s role in treaty monitoring. It is not accurate to suggest he would advocate for any position.”
Verification is needed to determine whether the Russians are cheating, and Moscow has a long history of violating arms agreements with the United States, which is documented regularly in State Department reports that mostly have been kept from public or Senate view.
The NIC is the key intelligence analysis unit under Mr. Blair’s office, and its national intelligence estimates have come under criticism after the 2007 estimate that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, despite recent evidence to the contrary.
The New START is a centerpiece of President Obama’s national security policy and, if ratified, would cut U.S. and Russian warhead arsenals to 1,550 and strategic missiles and bombers to between 700 and 800.
The treaty is facing tough scrutiny by Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, over concerns about verification provisions, many of which are contained in secret annexes to the treaty.
Administration officials initially said they hoped the treaty could be ratified this year. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week that ratification might not occur until early next year.
Many Senate Republicans also have expressed reservations in letters to the president about supporting a treaty that cuts U.S. nuclear forces unless it is accompanied by a robust administration program, with adequate funding, to modernize aging nuclear weapons and related infrastructure.
Iran report shortfalls
Several House Republicans are not happy with the Pentagon’s report to Congress on the Iranian military and want the Defense Department to provide more details on Iran’s regional goals, missile development, armed forces funding and strategies.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the report confirms Tehran’s aggressive support for terrorism around the world, highlights its efforts to hide a covert nuclear arms program and offers new details on weapons such as ballistic and cruise missiles.