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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National Security
3:22 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

U.S. Military Charges Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl With Desertion

Originally published on Thu March 26, 2015 5:43 am

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Bowe Bergdahl was charged today by the U.S. military. He's the U.S. Army sergeant who was captured in Afghanistan and held by the Taliban for nearly five years. Here's Army Colonel Daniel King announcing the charges.

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Middle East
7:50 am
Sat March 14, 2015

Syrian Rebels Will Face ISIS, But The U.S. May Not Have Their Backs

Fighters from the Free Syrian Army and the Kurdish People's Protection Units battle ISIS militants in Kobani, Syria, in November. U.S. officials haven't said whether they will defend the forces if they are attacked by Bashar al-Assad.
Jake Simkin AP

Originally published on Sat March 14, 2015 3:20 pm

The U.S. air war in Iraq and Syria against the self-proclaimed Islamic State is now in its eighth month.

American officials say dropping bombs won't be enough to defeat that group; it will also require fighting on the ground. So the U.S. is trying to put together a ground force in Syria by training and equipping thousands of Syrians.

One big question is what the U.S. will do if these Syrian rebel forces get attacked by the regime of Bashar Assad — and so far, the U.S. doesn't have an answer.

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The Two-Way
7:22 pm
Fri March 6, 2015

Report: Recent Guantanamo Releases Less Likely To Reengage In Terrorism

Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 7:28 pm

New numbers are out on what U.S. officials consider "terrorist or insurgent activities" by former Guantanamo captives after their release.

At first glance, there appears to be a slight increase in confirmed cases compared to six months ago.

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National Security
5:14 pm
Thu February 26, 2015

Families Of Sept. 11 Victims Watch Guantanamo Hearings With Mixed Feelings

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are periodically flown down to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to witness court proceedings against five men accused of plotting the attacks. For the witnesses of the most recent court session, the experience raised questions about justice, humanity and the ethics of the death penalty.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 7:42 pm

Thad Rasmussen, 36, lost his mother, Rhonda, in the Sept. 11 attacks; she died at the Pentagon. This month, he sat in a courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and looked at five men accused of planning those attacks.

"It was very difficult to see them as humans," he says.

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National Security
4:27 am
Thu February 26, 2015

'No End In Sight' For Sept. 11 Proceedings At Guantanamo Bay

The legal case of the alleged Sept. 11 terrorists is slowly grinding its way through a war court at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 11:27 am

This Sunday marks a dozen years since Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured in Pakistan — and seven years since Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann announced formal charges against him, alleging Mohammed was the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Ever since, the United States has been working to try him and four other men on death penalty charges at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Now, one of the biggest cases in U.S. history may also become the longest running. And it could be years before what's being called the "forever trial" even reaches the trial stage.

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National Security
2:58 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

The Strange World Of Guantanamo Bay's War Court

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 5:14 pm

From the tent city it's set up in, to a judge banning defense lawyers from mentioning a former CIA interpreter's having appeared before all of them, the war court in Guantanamo Bay borders on surreal. FBI infiltrations and hidden microphones — and a pile of evidence that remains classified — have hobbled the effort to try five Sept. 11 defendants who face death penalties should guilty verdicts ever be reached.

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National Security
1:58 am
Wed February 25, 2015

'Torture Report' Reshapes Conversation In Guantanamo Courtroom

Defense attorneys for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are now allowed to introduce details regarding their clients' interrogations after the so-called "torture report" was released by the Senate Intelligence Committee late last year.
Joe Raedle Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 5:12 pm

For years in the military courtroom at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, there's been a subject no one could talk about: torture.

Now that's changed.

This latest chapter began when the military commission at Guantanamo held a hearing earlier this month in the case of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks — a case that's been stuck for nearly three years in pre-trial wrangling.

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National Security
2:35 pm
Wed February 11, 2015

Gitmo Translator's Past At CIA Throws Wrench In Sept. 11 Trial

Originally published on Wed February 11, 2015 4:27 pm

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National Security
2:48 pm
Mon February 9, 2015

Gitmo Trial For Sept. 11 Suspects Resumes — Then Abruptly Halted

Originally published on Mon February 9, 2015 4:27 pm

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Politics
2:37 pm
Wed February 4, 2015

Secretary Of Defense Nominee Appears Headed For Easy Confirmation

Originally published on Wed February 4, 2015 5:33 pm

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Politics
2:18 pm
Mon January 12, 2015

Feinstein Proposal Would Lock In Anti-Torture Measures

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 1:09 pm

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Politics
2:04 am
Fri November 28, 2014

Pentagon Expected To Release More Detainees From Guantanamo

A view of the the U.S. Naval Station base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. President Obama promised during his first days in office to close the U.S. prison there but it still houses detainees.
Suzette Laboy AP

Originally published on Fri November 28, 2014 5:16 am

The U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is far from being closed — something President Obama promised to do in the first days of his administration. But people are being released.

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National Security
12:29 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

The CIA Wants To Delete Old Email; Critics Say 'Not So Fast'

Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan takes questions after addressing the Council on Foreign Relations on March 11. The CIA has proposed deleting the email of almost all employees after they leave the agency. But some critics are saying a larger portion of the email should be preserved.
Chip Somodevilla Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 20, 2014 4:32 pm

It's a question we've all wrestled with: Which emails should be saved and which ones should be deleted?

The Central Intelligence Agency thinks it's found the answer, at least as far as its thousands of employees and contractors are concerned: Sooner or later, the spy agency would destroy every email except those in the accounts of its top 22 officials.

It's now up to the National Archives — the ultimate repository of all the records preserved by federal agencies — to sign off on the CIA's proposal.

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It's All Politics
5:28 pm
Wed November 19, 2014

Senate 'Torture Report' Findings Expected This Year

A detainee is escorted in March 2002 by two Army military police at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The detainee was being led to the Joint Interrogation Facility to be interviewed by government investigators.
Peter Muhly AFP/Getty Images

An executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's two-year-old "torture report" will be made public before Democrats relinquish control of the Senate to Republicans in January — but don't look for its release until sometime after Thanksgiving. That's according to Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is chairwoman of the intelligence panel.

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World
2:42 pm
Wed November 12, 2014

NATO Warns Of Russian Movements In Eastern Ukraine

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/.

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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.

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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

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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/.

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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

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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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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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