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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Middle East
2:42 am
Wed October 22, 2014

Turkey's Call For Buffer Along Border Could Drag U.S. Into Syria

Originally published on Wed October 22, 2014 5:32 am

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

Middle East
3:11 pm
Wed October 15, 2014

Critics Say 'Inherent Resolve' Mission Against ISIS Is Underwhelming

Originally published on Wed October 15, 2014 4:54 pm

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

National Security
2:03 pm
Tue October 14, 2014

What's Holding Up Release Of The CIA 'Torture Report'?

Originally published on Tue October 14, 2014 4:41 pm

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

Law
2:58 am
Mon October 6, 2014

Legal Questions Raised About U.S. Military Operation In Syria

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 10:32 am

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

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The U.S. is carrying out two types of military action in Syria. One is airstrikes, and the other is training and arming 5,000 moderate Syrian rebels.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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National Security
5:56 am
Sun September 28, 2014

Some Democrats At Odds Over Obama's Claim To Airstrike Authority

Originally published on Sun September 28, 2014 1:21 pm

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

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National Security
3:58 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Why Did Congress Kick The Can On Funding Islamic State Mission?

President Obama signs H.J. Res 124, which includes appropriations to train and arm moderate Syrian rebels. For now, the effort will be paid for from an account meant to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
Evan Vucci AP

President Obama now has the approval he sought from Congress to train and arm trusted Syrian rebel forces.

What he didn't get from Congress was the money to pay for the mission.

Lawmakers — who've skipped town for the campaign trail — also didn't approve any new money to pay for the broader air campaign against the group that calls itself the Islamic State.

So where will the money come from?

For a while, at least, combat in Iraq and Syria will probably be paid for from a special account meant to wind down the war in Afghanistan.

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Around the Nation
3:13 pm
Tue September 9, 2014

McCaskill Criticizes Programs That Supply Military Equipment To Police

Originally published on Tue September 9, 2014 4:00 pm

Federal programs that give or pay for military-grade equipment for local police departments are coming under new scrutiny from the Senate Homeland Security panel. An oversight hearing on Tuesday was the first Congressional response to last month's turmoil in Ferguson, Mo. It was called for by Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who has criticized the "militarization" of Ferguson's police force.

Governing
1:31 am
Tue September 9, 2014

Following Ferguson, Senate Weighs Use Of Military-Grade Equipment

Police fire tear gas from an armored personnel carrier on Aug. 18 in Ferguson, Mo. The U.S. Senate is holding a hearing on the use of military-grade equipment by local police departments.
Jeff Roberson AP

Originally published on Fri September 12, 2014 2:47 pm

Last month, scenes from Ferguson, Mo., showed police in military-style armored vehicles pointing assault rifles at protesters.

Now, the first congressional hearing in response to those events is being held. It's looking specifically at Washington, D.C.'s hand in militarizing local law enforcement, through federal programs that equipped thousands of police and sheriff's departments with gear made for warfare.

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Law
2:35 pm
Tue September 2, 2014

Should Local Police Get The Military's Extra Armored Trucks?

Page County, Va., Sheriff John Thomas received an MRAP for his department in May. "Is it overkill? Yeah, it is. I mean, for our use, it's more armor than we need. But it's free," he says.
David Welna NPR

Originally published on Wed September 3, 2014 4:17 pm

Mine-resistant, ambush-protected troop carriers, known as MRAPs, were built to withstand bomb blasts. They can weigh nearly 20 tons, and many U.S. troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are alive today because of them. But many of the vehicles are now considered military surplus, so thanks to a congressionally mandated Pentagon program, they're finding their way to hundreds of police and sheriff's departments.

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Law
2:09 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

Drawing On Pentagon Surplus, Police Now Wield Weapons Of War

Originally published on Mon August 18, 2014 8:28 am

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

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It's All Politics
6:34 am
Sat August 2, 2014

As Congress Breaks, Inaction Remains Most Notable Action

Members of the House of Representatives leave after a procedural vote on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, as Republicans reshaped legislation to deal with the border crisis, a day after Congress was supposed to go into its August recess.
J. Scott Applewhite AP

Originally published on Mon August 25, 2014 9:48 am

Congress begins a five-week summer recess Saturday after a somewhat tumultuous exit.

The Republican-led House stuck around an extra day trying to overcome conservative opposition to an emergency spending bill dealing with the surge of under-age immigrants from Central America. While that chamber finally eked out a bill last night, it's likely going nowhere. The Senate had already left town after Republicans there blocked a similar funding effort.

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National Security
3:03 am
Fri August 1, 2014

Inquiry Shows CIA Spied On Senate Panel That Was Investigating The Agency

Originally published on Fri August 1, 2014 5:14 am

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

National Security
2:15 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

CIA Director Apologizes For Meddling In Senate Computers

Originally published on Thu July 31, 2014 6:07 pm

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

Politics
4:33 am
Thu July 31, 2014

With Congress Set To Adjourn, Border Crisis Remains Unresolved

Originally published on Thu July 31, 2014 6:12 am

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

Politics
2:09 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Leahy Aims To Patch Loopholes With A Revamp Of NSA's Data Collection

Originally published on Tue July 29, 2014 5:31 pm

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

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Health
5:35 am
Tue July 29, 2014

A Compromise Deal On Overhauling The VA, But Will It Pass?

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

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

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It's All Politics
6:12 am
Sun July 27, 2014

Time Running Short For Congress To Agree On Border Bill

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

Originally published on Sun July 27, 2014 9:26 am

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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U.S.
5:39 am
Thu July 24, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 1:43 pm

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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National Security
2:45 am
Wed July 23, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Wed July 23, 2014 5:51 am

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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National Security
2:45 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Before Snowden: The Whistleblowers Who Tried To Lift The Veil

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

Originally published on Tue July 22, 2014 11:13 am

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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Religion
3:01 am
Thu July 10, 2014

FBI, NSA Spied On American Muslims, Report Says

Originally published on Thu July 10, 2014 5:19 pm

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

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National Security
2:06 pm
Wed July 2, 2014

Bipartisan Board OKs NSA Surveillance Program, With Suggestions

Originally published on Wed July 2, 2014 5:20 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

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Politics
3:45 pm
Sun June 22, 2014

Congress Keeping Close Watch On Obama's Plans In Iraq

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

Originally published on Sun June 22, 2014 4:25 pm

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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Iraq
4:43 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

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

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

Originally published on Tue June 17, 2014 6:33 pm

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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National Security
3:16 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

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

Originally published on Wed June 11, 2014 4:24 pm

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

Politics
3:10 am
Thu June 5, 2014

Senators Get Background Briefing On Sgt. Bergdahl's Release

Originally published on Thu June 5, 2014 10:40 am

With criticism mounting on Capitol Hill of a prisoner swap that traded 5 jailed Taliban leaders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, some military, intelligence and diplomatic officials briefed senators.

Politics
4:20 am
Wed June 4, 2014

Congress Furious At White House Over Prisoner Swap

Originally published on Wed June 4, 2014 6:32 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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Politics
2:26 pm
Fri May 23, 2014

House-Approved USA Freedom Bill Disappoints Original Supporters

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 4:04 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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Politics
3:03 am
Fri May 23, 2014

House Passes Measure Reining In Government Surveillance

Originally published on Fri May 23, 2014 5:52 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One year ago, President Obama called to reshape the fight against terrorism and for more privacy protections as the government intercepts new types of information. Just days later, the extent of data collection by the NSA would be revealed by Edward Snowden. Yesterday, the House passed legislation reining in government surveillance.

NPR's David Welna reports.

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Politics
3:22 am
Wed May 21, 2014

House To Vote On Fate Of A-10 Warthogs

Originally published on Wed May 28, 2014 11:26 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Congress ordered big savings in defense spending. Now, Congress is moving to block those savings. What follows is a classic story of how federal budgeting works.

MONTAGNE: The Pentagon faces budget restraints. Lawmakers favor cuts in general, but objected when the cuts became specific. When the Defense Department said it doesn't need some old weapons, lawmakers disagreed.

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