WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama cited a lack of progress on missile defense and arms control among the reasons for canceling a summit with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that had been scheduled for early September.

Russia’s granting of temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower, also was a factor, the White House said in an Aug. 7 press release.  

Missile defense has long been a source of tension between Washington and Moscow and has been at the center of White House efforts to “reset” relations with Russia. That, in turn, has added to tensions between the White House and Capitol Hill over concerns about the sharing of sensitive missile defense data.

Though those concerns have long been voiced by congressional Republicans, they appear to have gained some traction in the Democrat-controlled Senate Appropriations and Armed Services committees. In marking up their 2014 defense spending and authorization bills this summer, the committees included specific language about Russia.

“The committee is concerned with the potential security risks associated with sharing sensitive U.S. missile defense data and technology with the Russian federation,” the report accompanying the Senate version of the defense appropriation bill reads. “The Committee recognizes existing law restricts the sharing of sensitive and classified ballistic missile defense information with the Russian Federation. … The Committee expects the administration to continue to adhere to current law.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, in the report accompanying its version of the 2014 defense authorization bill, said, “The United States should pursue ballistic missile defense cooperation with Russia on both a bilateral basis and a multilateral basis with its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.” But the report also added that “the United States should not provide Russia with sensitive missile defense information that would in any way compromise United States national security, including ‘hit-to-kill’ technology and interceptor telemetry.” 

In the House, the effort to protect missile defense data has been championed by Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a member of the House’s Armed Services Committee. Brooks  authored an amendment to the House version of the 2014 defense authorization bill intended to prevent the U.S. missile defense program “from being irresponsibly used as a bargaining tool,” he said.

Congressional Republicans have long accused Obama of seeking to appease Russia on missile defense, starting with the president’s decision to abandon the previous administration’s plan to extend the U.S. territorial shield to Europe. These suspicions were inflamed last October when Obama, in an aside with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that was caught on microphone, said he would have “more flexibility” on missile defense after the election in November.

In May, during a hearing of  the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, Brooks asked Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, “Have you had any discussions about whether any classified information should become declassified with respect to our missile defense technology in Russia?”

Syring said, “There has been a discussion on the capability of the current missiles we’re building and — and the velocity at burnout.” 

On the U.S. side, those discussions were led by senior officials including James Miller, undersecretary of defense for policy, Syring said. But Syring stressed, “I have not been asked to declassify anything in terms of disclosing information to Russia.”

Brooks apparently was not mollified. In a May 9 press release, he said Syring’s comment’s were confirmation “that the Administration is actively discussing the declassification of our life-saving missile defense technology” and that it “further affirms the importance of enacting legislation to prevent our critical weapons technology from falling into unreliable hands.” 

In his amendment, Brooks reinforced the need for discretion to “prevent hit-to-kill technology from being given to the Russian Federation.”



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Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...