Obama's Arms Team

Article excerpt


Obama's arms team

State Department sources say former Clinton administration arms-control official Robert J. Einhorn is the leading candidate to be named undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, the key anti-weapons-proliferation policymaker in the next administration.

The Obama transition team also has picked former State Department arms-control official and current intelligence analyst Vann H. Van Diepen to get Mr. Einhorn's old job as assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, the well-placed sources told Inside the Ring.

Mr. Einhorn, currently with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and part of the Obama State Department transition team, clashed with Republicans in Congress during the Clinton administration on nonproliferation policies and has opposed the Bush administration's policies.

In testimony to the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Mr. Einhorn in 2003 criticized the Bush administration's approach of imposing numerous economic sanctions on China for its arms sales to rogue states, saying the Clinton-era policy of sharing intelligence with China on arms sales and engaging in talks was more effective.

Critics of the Clinton policy said it led to compromises of intelligence gathering that enabled China to mask future arms sales and technology transfers.

Mr. Van Diepen is currently the national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and proliferation in the National Intelligence Council, the analysis arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

According to both intelligence and policy officials, Mr. Van Diepen was the key author of the controversial National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that was partially made public in December 2007 and stated that Iran halted its nuclear-weapons program in 2003.

Since then, senior intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, have backed away from the NIE conclusion that Iran halted its nuclear-arms program in 2003.

According to one Bush administration security official, Mr. Van Diepen told a group of arms experts earlier this year that the key definition used by analysts in drawing the conclusion that Tehran's nuclear program had stopped was the Iranian definition of a nuclear program, not the standard U.S. government definition. As a result, the NIE came to the conclusion that weapons development was halted by Iran, while other weapons-related aspects continued.

A former intelligence official who worked with Mr. Van Diepen but asked not to be identified said he also was known at the State Department for opposing tough sanctions on China and Russia forarms sales and transfers to rogue states.

Mr. Van Diepen, who spent 14 years as a State Department arms-control official, told the former official that in blocking sanctions - some required under U.S. law - we don't hunt on the game preserve - meaning sanctions were off-limits for certain countries, such as China and Russia.

Transition spokesman Nick Shapiro had no comment.

Mr. Einhorn also declined to comment and said in an e-mail that no decisions have been made yet on nominations for the two posts. Mr. Van Diepen and a DNI spokesman did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

Pentagon prep for gays

President-elect Barack Obama's defense team has not yet begun the process of lifting the military's ban on open gays, as promised during the presidential campaign.

However, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports that the Bush Pentagon has been discussing the issue informally for years. This is because the gay rights lobby has continued to press over the past decade to remove the prohibition, after President Clinton in 1993 lost a battle with the military to remove it and signed a different policy into law. …