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HPSCI Starts Arms Export Studies

As industry and some members of Congress push hard for changes to the arms export regime, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence wants careful studies done of just what vulnerabilities the US faces from both its arms imports and its arms exports.

In what could become a landmark study in the episodic battle over the International Traffic in Arms Regulation and the State Department that enforces it, the HPSCI's 2010 intelligence report "requires the DNI" to tell it, its Senate counterpart and the foreign affairs committees about "the threat to national security posed by foreign government attempts to acquire sensitive technology and the effectiveness of ITAR in mitigating that threat."

After more than a decade of reporting on the ITAR I can tell you that this has always been the weakest part of the debate over arms controls -- does ITAR work. The State Department always says that it's trying to be transparent and to do a better job. Industry usually says the State Department is a pain, works too slowly and spends way too much time, effort and treasure trying to control things that don't need controlling. Worst of all, ITAR has done much to help foreign competitors become stronger as the US tries unsuccessfully to stop other countries from getting their hands on the best military technology. The most dramatic statistics about this concern the commercial space business. Since the 1999 decision to place commercial space systems under the State Department's purview, US dominance of commercial space dropped dramatically, from an average of 83 percent to less than 50 percent.

The committee is clearly aware of this, noting that "Government and industry assert that the State Department has managed ITAR in such a way so as to encourage non-U.S. companies to develop a collaborative research and development environment that has allowed the indigenous production of banned technologies, which defeats the premise of ITAR and causes a significant loss of market share in key industries for U.S. corporations." The

In a clear sign that DigitalGlobe and GeoEye have made their views known. the report notes that "Commercial imagery providers have suggested that the U.S. Government has imposed on them significant legal restrictions. These providers are concerned that U.S. restrictions on the sale of commercial imagery are beginning to inhibit their growth and their competitiveness in foreign markets, especially as foreign imagery satellites improve and foreign reliance on U.S. systems diminishes."

At the same time as the committee looks at the ITAR, it has also commissioned a broader study on "global supply chain vulnerabilities." The committee wants to know whether globalization has left the country vulnerable "to defense and intelligence systems due to counterfeit components that may be defective or deliberately manipulated by a foreign government or a criminal organization." This sounds a lot like the concerns first voiced by John Hamre when he was deputy defense secretary and worried about the computer chips in America's black boxes. In an interesting twist, the committee has told the National Counterintelligence Executive to consider "the adequacy of the mechanisms to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the global supply chain that pose a risk to defense and intelligence systems due to counterfeit components that may be defective or deliberately manipulated by a foreign government or a criminal organization."

If these studies are to be of much utility to either of the many sides in this long arms control debate, they must contain at least unclassified executive summaries. If both reports are classified, no one will be very satisfied.

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