The FY 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act repeals the requirement for “721 Reports” — officially known as the biannual Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions.

This is a terrible decision.  Most transparent administration in history, my ass. Barack Obama should not be held to a lesser standard than George W. Bush.  At some point, historians will realize that Obama is actually a lot worse than Bush on many national-security issues relating to transparency and civil liberties.

I know, cognitive dissonance. Bush is also a sensitive, introspective painter.  Life is weird like that.

Here is the language of the repeal, followed by the justification provided by the intelligence community, and some choice comments of my own:

SEC. 310. REPEAL OF CERTAIN REPORTING REQUIREMENTS.

(a) REPEAL OF REPORTING REQUIREMENTS.—

(1) ACQUISITION OF TECHNOLOGY RELATING TO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND ADVANCED CONVENTIONAL MUNITIONS.—

Section 721 of the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (50 U.S.C. 2366) is repealed.

The justification from the Intelligence Community is, well, less than compelling:

Justification: This reporting requirement should be repealed because it is 15 years old and the Intelligence Community routinely provides finished intelligence products, regular Congressional Notifications, and briefings on this topic. This approach ensures that significant developments are brought to the timely attention of Congress, rather than waiting for an annual report. Furthermore, this topic is addressed in the Annual Threat Assessment hearing.

Let’s go through these terrible arguments.

“This reporting requirement should be repealed because it is 15 years old…”  

Gee, we wouldn’t want consistent reporting requirements over time.  That might make them useful!  Seriously, one of the real advantages of the 721 report is that one can compare past reports for shifts in language.  We’ve been able to spot signs that Iran sold ballistic missiles to Syria, track Syria’s growing interest in nuclear weapons, and observe declining concerns about Iran’s chemical weapons stockpile.  That’s just off the top of my head.

“… and the Intelligence Community routinely provides finished intelligence products, regular Congressional Notifications, and briefings on this topic.”

In addition to the limitations of ad hoc reporting, the reason that Congress is provided with an unclassified report is to permit an open debate. The public at large does not have access to finished intelligence products, regular Congressional Notifications, and briefings. The public has a stake in this.  Congress is not the Executive Branch.  The electorate has a legitimate interest in ensuring that Congressional debates are open to public scrutiny, which we get to exercise every other year.

This approach ensures that significant developments are brought to the timely attention of Congress, rather than waiting for an annual report.

“Ensures” is an interesting word.  Ad hoc reporting can complement annual reports, but members of Congress ought to know by now that replacing regular reporting with ad hoc reporting confers significant discretion on the Executive Branch to determine what information to share, and what to withhold.

Furthermore, this topic is addressed in the Annual Threat Assessment hearing.

This one makes me crazy.  DNI Clapper’s statement contains about two pages in 2013 on WMD Threats.  The 721 report is usually about 6 or 7 pages (excluding the front matter at the beginning).  To say that “this topic is addressed” does not tell you that the IC addresses it in the same depth or manner. Second, why is this a choice?  The annual threat assessment addresses all issues.  Does that mean we should eliminate all additional reporting requirements?  No, that’s preposterous because this is a preposterous argument.

The bottom line is that the 721 report has been one of the best products that the intelligence community produces for outside analysts, who have been able to use it keep abreast of any number of proliferation-related issues.

I will miss it.