In the president’s signing statement issued Saturday in passing into law the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill, Mr. Obama said restrictions aimed at protecting top-secret technical data on U.S. Standard Missile-3 velocity burnout parameters might impinge on his constitutional foreign policy authority.
As first disclosed in this space several weeks ago, U.S. officials are planning to provide Moscow with the SM-3 data, despite reservations from security officials who say that doing so could compromise the effectiveness of the system by allowing Russian weapons technicians to counter the missile. The weapons are considered some of the most effective high-speed interceptors in the U.S. missile defense arsenal.
Officials from the State Department and Missile Defense Agency have discussed the idea of providing the SM-3 data to the Russians as part of the so-far fruitless missile-defense talks with Moscow, headed in part of by Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, who defense officials say is a critic of U.S. missile defenses.
Their thinking is that if the Russians know the technical data, it will help allay Moscow’s fears that the planned missile defenses in Europe would be used against Russian ICBMs. Officials said current SM-3s are not fast enough to catch long-range Russian missiles, but a future variant may have some anti-ICBM capabilities.
Ms. Tauscher has repeatedly denied that her talks with the Russians are secret. However, the administration has provided almost no briefings about the talks to Congress, which prompted critics of the talks to include language in the new defense spending law limiting data-sharing.
Section 1227 of the defense law prohibits spending any funds that would be used to give Russian officials access to sensitive missile-defense technology, as part of a cooperation agreement without first sendingCongress a report identifying the specific secrets, how they would be used and steps to protect the data from compromise.
The certification also must show whether Russia is providing equal access to its missile defense technologies, which are mainly nuclear-tipped anti-missile interceptors.
Mr. Obama said in the signing statement that he would treat the legal restrictions as “non-binding.”
“While my administration intends to keep the Congress fully informed of the status of U.S. efforts to cooperate with the Russian Federation on ballistic missile defense, my administration will also interpret and implement section 1244 in a manner that does not interfere with the president’s constitutional authority to conduct foreign affairs and avoids the undue disclosure of sensitive diplomatic communications,” Mr. Obama said, incorrectly identifying the section of the law containing the restrictions.