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Jan. 19, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

A senior House Republican is questioning the Obama administration’s plan to seek an arms agreement for space based on concerns that the pact could restrict U.S. military and intelligence operations.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday announced plans to join the European Union and other space-faring nations in seeking a rules-of-the-road agreement for space designed to increase transparency for operations and to avoid damaging collisions between satellites and debris.

The initiative was first reported by The Washington Times.

Rep. Mike Turner, Ohio Republican, said in response to the announcement that the EU-based code-of-conduct could have far-reaching consequences and that the end goals are “murky.”

“I’m deeply concerned that while the administration claims the code is nonbinding, analysis provided to the [House Armed Services Committee] by the Joint [Chiefs of] Staff makes clear that impacts on military operations in space will be anything but,” he said in a statement.

“The same impacts could very well apply to our intelligence community. In addition, American commercial space superiority along with billions of dollars in investments and thousands of jobs could be at risk under the draft code.”

Mr. Turner said the potential limits on U.S. space operations call into question whether President Obama has the authority to circumvent the congressional treaty-making approval process through a “code-of-conduct-type arms-control arrangement.”

“If the president thinks an arrangement like the code of conduct is in the interest of the United States, I urge him to work with the Congress to determine what it is he’s trying to accomplish and then seek congressional approval on the merits,” Mr. Turner said.

Mrs. Clinton, in the announcement, said the space environment is “at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors.”

“Ensuring the stability, safety, and security of our space systems is of vital interest to the United States and the global community,” she said.

“Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”

To try to deal with the problem, the U.S. government will join the EU and others in seeking an “International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities,” she said. The goal will be to maintain safety, stability and security in space through guidelines on “the responsible use of space.”

She said the U.S. government would not join a code that “in any way constrains our national security-related activities in space or our ability to protect the United States and our allies.”

“We are, however, committed to working together to reverse the troubling trends that are damaging our space environment and to preserve the limitless benefits and promise of space for future generations,” Mrs. Clinton said.

China fired a ground-based anti-satellite missile into space in January 2007, destroying a weather satellite and causing tens of thousands of pieces of debris to threaten orbiting spacecraft. A U.S. and Russian satellite collision in 2009 also has been mentioned as a reason for seeking space operations guidelines.

U.S. intelligence agencies are closely watching Saudi Arabia for signs that the oil-rich kingdom will seek to develop nuclear weapons, amid tensions in the region centered on Iran’s nuclear program.

One key warning sign was the cooperation agreement signed Sunday in Riyadh by China and Saudi Arabia.

According to the Saudi Jidda News, the agreement will seek joint development of “atomic energy for peaceful purposes, which will help to meet the kingdom’s rising demand for energy and cut its growing dependence on depleting resources.”

The agreement was signed by King Abdullah and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and followed earlier public remarks by a senior Saudi prince who said the country should develop nuclear weapons to counter rival Iran’s nuclear arms.

Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said Dec. 5 that “our efforts and those of the world have failed to convince Israel to abandon its weapons of mass destruction, as well as Iran. … Therefore it is our duty toward our nation and people to consider all possible options, including the possession of these weapons.”

The administration’s argument against Iran’s reason for developing nuclear energy — that Tehran has enough oil to produce electrical power for a century — also would apply to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia holds some of the largest oil reserves in the world and is China’s main supplier of crude oil.

Saudi Arabia last year held talks with the Obama administration on U.S. nuclear cooperation and reached a deal for nuclear development with South Korea in November.

However, the Chinese deal has raised concerns because of China’s past role as an arms proliferator. China supplied Pakistan with nuclear-weapon design information during the 1980s. That technology was discovered in Libya in 2003 after Tripoli decided to give up its covert nuclear program.

China in the 1980s supplied Saudi Arabia with 36 DF-3 medium-range ballistic missiles that, although not equipped with nuclear warheads, are considered nuclear-capable systems.

One U.S. official said of the China-Saudi nuclear deal: “There’s no reason at this time to be concerned that this deal is anything other than what they say it is.”

A court filing in the unauthorized disclosure case of former CIA official Jeffrey Sterling confirms a published report that the CIA in 1998 ran a covert operation to provide false technical information to the Iranians.

A Jan. 13 brief by the Justice Department in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit states that in November 1998 Mr. Sterling was assigned to work on a CIA program designed to “impede Iran’s efforts to acquire or develop nuclear weapons.” The program was not further identified but was detailed in New York Times reporter James Risen’s book, “State of War.”

According to the book, the program was code-named Operation Merlin. It involved using a Russian scientist-defector in 2000 to supply Iran with doctored technical plans for a TBA 480 high-voltage block, called a firing set, for a Russian-design nuclear weapon. The program would have set back the Iranian nuclear program through use of false technical data

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