David Welna

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.

Having previously covered Congress over a 13-year period starting in 2001, Welna reported extensively on matters related to national security. He covered the debates on Capitol Hill over authorizing the use of military force prior to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the expansion of government surveillance practices arising from Congress' approval of the USA Patriot Act. Welna also reported on congressional probes into the use of torture by U.S. officials interrogating terrorism suspects. He also traveled with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to Afghanistan on the Pentagon chief's first overseas trip in that post.

In mid-1998, after 15 years of reporting from abroad for NPR, Welna joined NPR's Chicago bureau. During that posting, he reported on a wide range of issues: changes in Midwestern agriculture that threaten the survival of small farms, the personal impact of foreign conflicts and economic crises in the heartland, and efforts to improve public education. His background in Latin America informed his coverage of the saga of Elian Gonzalez both in Miami and Cuba.

Welna first filed stories for NPR as a freelancer in 1982, based in Buenos Aires. From there, and subsequently from Rio de Janeiro, he covered events throughout South America. In 1995, Welna became the chief of NPR's Mexico bureau.

Additionally, he has reported for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Financial Times, and The Times of London. Welna's photography has appeared in Esquire, The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Covering a wide range of stories in Latin America, Welna chronicled the wrenching 1985 trial of Argentina's former military leaders who presided over the disappearance of tens of thousands of suspected dissidents. In Brazil, he visited a town in Sao Paulo state called Americana where former slaveholders from America relocated after the Civil War. Welna covered the 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the mass exodus of Cubans who fled the island on rafts in 1994, the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, and the U.S. intervention in Haiti to restore Jean Bertrand Aristide to Haiti's presidency.

Welna was honored with the 2011 Everett McKinley Dirksen Award for Distinguished Reporting of Congress, given by the National Press Foundation. In 1995, he was awarded an Overseas Press Club award for his coverage of Haiti. During that same year he was chosen by the Latin American Studies Association to receive their annual award for distinguished coverage of Latin America. Welna was awarded a 1997 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. In 2002, Welna was elected by his colleagues to a two-year term as a member of the Executive Committee of the Congressional Radio-Television Correspondents' Galleries.

A native of Minnesota, Welna graduated magna cum laude from Carleton College in Northfield, MN, with a Bachelor of Arts degree and distinction in Latin American Studies. He was subsequently a Thomas J. Watson Foundation fellow. He speaks fluent Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

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8:12am

Sun July 27, 2014
It's All Politics

Time Running Short For Congress To Agree On Border Bill

Originally published on Sun July 27, 2014 11:26 am

Immigrants run to jump on a train in Ixtepec, Mexico, during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border. President Obama wants nearly $4 billion in emergency funds to deal with the tens of thousands of children from Central America who've been crossing the border.
Eduardo Verdugo AP

Congress is set to disband later this week for a summer break stretching past Labor Day. That leaves lawmakers only a few more days to act on an urgent request from President Obama.

The president wants nearly $4 billion in emergency funds to deal with the tens of thousands of children from Central America who've been illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. The GOP-led House may act on just a fraction of that request, setting up a clash with the Democratic-led Senate.

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7:39am

Thu July 24, 2014
U.S.

Advocates Say Military Dogs Aren't Pets — They're Veterans

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 3:43 pm

Zzarr, a Dutch shepherd, with K-9 handler U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Arriaga (partly hidden), in 2011.
Romeo Gacad AFP/Getty Images

It's dog days on Capitol Hill — or, more precisely, dogs have had their day there.

Five in particular — all war dog veterans. The canines joined their human advocates at a Capitol Hill briefing Wednesday, "Military Dogs Take the Hill," to spotlight an effort to require that all military working dogs be retired to the U.S.

Congress passed a law last year saying the military may bring back its working dogs to the U.S. to be reunited with their handlers, but it does not say they must be brought back.

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4:45am

Wed July 23, 2014
National Security

The Challenge Of Keeping Tabs On The NSA's Secretive Work

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 7:51 am

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (center), accompanied by FBI Director Robert Mueller (left) and CIA Director John Brennan, testifies on Capitol Hill on March 12, 2013. When questioned, Clapper said the NSA did not collect data on Americans. He later acknowledged his response was "clearly erroneous."
Susan Walsh AP

Here's a question with no easy answer: How do you hold the nation's spy agencies accountable — when they control the secrets?

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden apparently thought the answer was to blow the lid off some of the NSA's highly classified programs. He took documents and shared them with journalists.

But what about Congress? It's supposed to oversee the NSA — and other spy agencies. For the committees charged with that task, it hasn't been easy keeping tabs on the secretive world of federal surveillance.

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5:25am

Tue July 22, 2014
National Security

Before Snowden: The Whistleblowers Who Tried To Lift The Veil

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 1:13 pm

Over the last dozen years, whistleblowers at the National Security Agency have had a rough track record, facing FBI raids and lawsuits.
NSA Reuters/Landov

Bill Binney worked at the National Security Agency nearly three decades as one of its leading crypto-mathematicians. He then became one of its leading whistleblowers.

Now 70 and on crutches, both legs lost to diabetes, Binney recalls the July morning seven years ago when a dozen gun-wielding FBI agents burst through the front door of his home, at the end of a cul-de-sac a 10-minute drive from NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.

"I first knew that they were in there when they were pointing a gun at me as I was coming out of the shower," Binney says.

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5:01am

Thu July 10, 2014
Religion

FBI, NSA Spied On American Muslims, Report Says

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 7:19 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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4:34pm

Wed July 2, 2014
National Security

Bipartisan Board OKs NSA Surveillance Program, With Suggestions

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 7:20 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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5:45pm

Sun June 22, 2014
Politics

Congress Keeping Close Watch On Obama's Plans In Iraq

Originally published on Sun June 22, 2014 6:25 pm

President Obama pauses while speaking about the situation in Iraq on Thursday. Obama said the U.S. will send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq and set up joint operation centers.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

After bowing out of Iraq when the last American forces left two and a half years ago, the U.S. military is back.

Up to 300 military advisers started arriving there this weekend. President Obama said he sent them to help Iraq's military confront the Sunni militants who've overrun much of northern Iraq. He said Thursday that U.S. would not take on another combat role in Iraq, but he didn't rule out all types of military support.

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6:13pm

Tue June 17, 2014
Iraq

What, Exactly, Are U.S. Interests In Iraq's Turmoil?

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 8:33 pm

Iraqi Shiite tribesmen show their enthusiasm Tuesday for joining Iraqi security forces in the fight against Islamist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities.
Haidar Hamdani AFP/Getty Images

As the U.S. steers warships closer to Iraq and beefs up its embassy's security in Baghdad with nearly 300 troops, a nagging question has resurfaced.

What compelling interests does Washington still have in a nation where all U.S. forces were pulled out 2 1/2 years ago?

Three days after Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, President Obama paused on the White House lawn and issued a warning.

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5:16pm

Wed June 11, 2014
National Security

Defending Bergdahl Deal, Hagel Faces Critics On Both Sides Of Aisle

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 6:24 pm

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, defending the prisoner swap that freed Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

6:34pm

Sun June 8, 2014
National Security

If The NSA Can't Keep Call Records, Should Phone Companies Do It?

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., questioned whether phone companies would retain calling data.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Perhaps the most controversial spying program revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden was the agency's hoarding of Americans' phone records.

Congress wants to change that program.

The House has passed legislation that would end the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' calling data and let phone companies hold the records instead.

As a Senate panel found last week, that proposal could run into trouble.

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4:43pm

Fri May 23, 2014
Politics

House-Approved USA Freedom Bill Disappoints Original Supporters

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 6:04 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH: We're going to consider now changing perceptions toward fighting terrorism. President Obama has suggested that eventually the war on terror must end and that the nation must think about the tools used to fight it. Here he is speaking a year ago today at the National Defense University.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: From our use of drones to the tension of terror suspects, the decisions that we are making now will define the type of nation and world that we leave to our children.

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6:22pm

Wed May 14, 2014
It's All Politics

Feinstein Wants CIA To Speed 'Torture Report' Release

Originally published on Wed May 14, 2014 7:22 pm

Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters in April. She tells NPR she's "not particularly" comfortable with the CIA vetting the "Torture Report."
Molly Riley AP

It's been well over a month since the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 11 to 3 to declassify and make public the executive summary and findings of its "Torture Report."

But it's not likely that will actually happen anytime soon.

The reason? The CIA — the very agency skewered in the 6,200-page report for its interrogation and detention of more than 100 terrorism suspects from 2001 through 2008 — has been given the job of deciding what to leave in and what to take out of the summary and findings.

And the CIA seems to be in no great rush to finish that job.

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4:31pm

Fri May 9, 2014
Politics

Faced With Pentagon Budget Cuts, Congress Finesses The Numbers

Originally published on Fri May 9, 2014 8:45 pm

The Pentagon's congressionally-imposed budget cuts ran into a powerful opponent this week: Congress itself. The House Armed Services Committee rejected $5 billion worth of proposed cuts in order to preserve items cherished by individual lawmakers.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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11:31am

Sat May 3, 2014
Europe

Sanctions Put Pentagon's Business Deals With Russia Up For Debate

Originally published on Tue May 6, 2014 9:39 am

An Mi-17 helicopter used by the Afghan air force sits on Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan in May 2013. The Pentagon purchases the Russian-made helicopters for the Afghan air force, but recent sanctions may put that deal in jeopardy.
Kristin M. Hall AP

Washington has imposed a number of economic sanctions on Russia in retaliation for that country's push into Ukraine.

Getting European allies to do the same has not always been easy, since many of those nations trade with Russia and fear getting hurt themselves.

But the Europeans are not the only ones balking: The Pentagon also buys Russian military hardware.

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4:04pm

Thu May 1, 2014
News

In Sex Assault Report, Pentagon Sees Progress — And A Long Way To Go

Originally published on Thu May 1, 2014 8:32 pm

The Pentagon issued a study on sexual assaults in the military, reports of which have jumped 50 percent in the past year. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says this is a positive sign that more victims trust the system.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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10:57am

Wed April 30, 2014
National Security

What's The NSA Doing Now? Training More Cyberwarriors

Originally published on Wed April 30, 2014 6:18 pm

Col. Sam Kinch, of the Delaware Air National Guard, is leader of the Linux team of the NSA's red cell. He's looking at a Web page featuring a photo of Justin Bieber — confirmation that his team has successfully hacked into a U.S. Naval Academy network.
David Welna NPR

The U.S. needs more cyberwarriors, and it needs them fast, according to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He plans to more than triple the size of the Pentagon's Cyber Command over the next two years.

But where will they come from? These are not the kind of skills you can teach in basic training.

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4:33pm

Tue April 8, 2014
News

An Angry Hearing On The Hill For 'Cockamamie' Twitter-like Network

Originally published on Wed April 9, 2014 5:24 am

Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy was incensed that he only learned about the creation of a Twitter-like network in Cuba through press accounts. He had the chance Tuesday to vent his frustration when USAID administrator Rajiv Shah appeared before Leahy's committee.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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4:12pm

Thu March 27, 2014
News

With $1B In Aid For Ukraine, Congress Puts Money Where Its Mouth Is

Originally published on Thu March 27, 2014 7:03 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The House and the Senate both voted overwhelmingly today for aid to Ukraine and sanctions for Russia's annexation of Crimea. The bipartisan response to the crisis follows weeks of partisan wrangling. Differences between the two bills still have to be ironed out. NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol.

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4:16pm

Tue March 25, 2014
News

Out Of White House And Congress, Two Proposals To Change NSA Practices

Originally published on Tue March 25, 2014 7:28 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Public outrage over NSA surveillance programs that collect data about Americans is forcing some big change. Documents revealing the security agency's methods have been trickling out in the press for months, thanks to leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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1:22pm

Sat March 15, 2014
National Security

Senate-CIA Clash Goes Behind Closed Doors

Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks with reporters after alleging that the CIA broke federal law by secretly removing sensitive documents from computers used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the panel tasked with congressional oversight of the CIA.
Win McNamee Getty Images

The dust is still settling on Capitol Hill after California Democrat Dianne Feinstein fired a verbal bazooka at the Central Intelligence Agency Tuesday morning from the Senate floor.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman — normally a stalwart of Washington's spooks — essentially accused the spy agency of illegally and unconstitutionally spying on its congressional overseers.

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4:35pm

Wed March 5, 2014
National Security

Hagel's On The Hill, Pushing For A Slimmer Military

Originally published on Wed March 5, 2014 8:42 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. We begin this hour on Capitol Hill, where the secretary of Defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs were grilled today by lawmakers. The Pentagon leaders appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to defend the proposed cuts in military spending. The cuts are outlined in budget President Obama sent to Congress yesterday.

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5:33pm

Tue February 11, 2014
Politics

House Passes 'Clean' Debt Limit Bill

Originally published on Tue February 11, 2014 8:00 pm

A woman looks at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 31 in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin AP

Tuesday saw a rarity in Congress these days: a "clean" bill.

The House passed one to raise the debt limit, a move that avoids a possible default later this month.

In the past, House Republicans have used this debate to extract concessions from President Obama and congressional Democrats.

But not this time. House Republicans demanded nothing in return. The House passed the no-strings-attached debt hike Tuesday evening — though just 28 Republicans voted with the Democratic minority to pass the extension, 221 votes to 201 votes.

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1:28pm

Tue February 11, 2014
Politics

House Sets Vote On Raising Debt Limit

House leaders have had weeks to come up with a plan to deal with the nation's debt limit. Now, the day before they want to leave town for a break, it appears they've essentially decided to throw in the towel. They plan to put a bill on the House floor raising the debt ceiling for a year without any conditions attached.

5:05am

Fri February 7, 2014
Politics

GOP Still Looking At Pieces Of Debt Limit 'Puzzle'

Originally published on Fri February 7, 2014 3:40 pm

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Today at the stroke of noon in Washington D. C. the U.S. Treasury statutory authority to borrow money will expire.

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5:46pm

Fri January 31, 2014
It's All Politics

After 3-Day Retreat, GOP Battle Plan Still Only An Outline

Originally published on Fri January 31, 2014 8:19 pm

Speaker of the House John Boehner (right) speaks during the leadership press conference at the House Republican Issues Conference in Cambridge, Md., on Thursday. Friday's press conference, on the last day of the retreat, was canceled.
JIm Watson AFP/Getty Images

House Republicans headed back to Washington on Friday from a resort along the frozen waters of the Chesapeake Bay. They were there for a three-day retreat aimed at mapping out a legislative strategy for this midterm election year.

One of the most pressing issues they face is the need next month for Congress to raise the nation's debt limit. GOP lawmakers seem leery of another debt ceiling showdown, and their leaders are pushing to act on immigration this year.

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5:30pm

Tue January 28, 2014
Politics

House GOP Leaders Begin To Move On Immigration

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 6:55 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Another priority of the president's that's likely to come up tonight is an immigration overhaul. The Senate last year passed a comprehensive bipartisan bill that promise eventual citizenship for millions currently in the country without legal status. While House leaders don't appear ready to go that far, they do seem ready to start a conversation.

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3:33am

Fri January 24, 2014
It's All Politics

8 Republicans And A Nunn Battle For Georgia's Open Senate Seat

Originally published on Fri January 24, 2014 1:12 pm

The race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat started to take shape Monday as Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, announced plans to run for her father's old seat, joining a crowded field of Republican contenders.
Kevin Wolf AP

Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss won't be seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate this year, and his decision to bow out has eight other Republicans, including three congressmen, scrambling for his seat.

Democrats, meanwhile, have their hopes pinned on the daughter of a well-known and widely admired former senator. It's turned a Senate race Republicans hoped would be a cakewalk into something far less predictable.

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3:05am

Wed January 15, 2014
Politics

'Pretty Good' Budget Deal Looks Good Enough To Avoid Shutdown

Originally published on Wed January 15, 2014 9:01 am

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., speaks on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. A massive $1.1 trillion spending bill, aimed at funding the government until October, is getting generally positive reviews, including from House Republicans eager to avoid another shutdown crisis with elections looming.
Susan Walsh AP

For the first time in years, the House of Representatives is expected to approve a massive new spending bill Wednesday that keeps federal agencies operating until a new fiscal year starts in October.

The so-called "omnibus" package of all 12 annual spending bills is a compromise; it has more money in it than what Congressional Republicans wanted, but less than what President Obama had asked for. There is some disappointment with the measure on both sides of the aisle, but this time nobody is talking about forcing another government shutdown.

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11:46am

Sat January 11, 2014
Politics

The War Over Poverty: A Deep Divide On How To Help

Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 6:51 pm

Homeless women sit amid their belongings in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday. Democrats and Republicans say income inequality is a problem, but they disagree over a solution.
Frederic J. Brown AFP/Getty Images

All this week, Majority Leader Harry Reid declared over and over on the Senate floor that there's a downside to the recovering economy.

"It's true," he said. "The rich are getting a lot richer, and the poor are getting poorer."

That observation may not be surprising, coming from a Democrat. Less expected, perhaps, is a similar lament made the same day by the Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

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7:06pm

Wed January 8, 2014
Politics

McCain Lays Al-Qaida Surge In Iraq At Obama's Feet

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 10:29 pm

Gunmen patrol during clashes with Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, on Jan. 5, 2014. Al-Qaida has been battling to take back both Ramadi and Fallujah in Anbar province in Iraq.
AP

Forces allied with al-Qaida are battling to retake two major cities in Iraq's Sunni-dominated Anbar province: Ramadi, the capital of the province, and Fallujah, the city where U.S. troops prevailed after fighting two major battles.

There have been no American forces in Iraq since 2011, when President Obama ordered the last troops to leave. Now the man who lost the presidential race to Obama five years ago is pointing a finger at the president for al-Qaida's resurgence.

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