As the Bush administration pushes to secure confirmation by the United States
Senate of John R. Bolton in his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations,
controversy continues to simmer--over failure to provide materials requested by
the Foreign Relations Committee, over Bolton's efforts to have intelligence officers
fired for their views, over his arrogant management style.
But the truly important issue remains the one few have focused upon: Bolton's
role in making sure that the 'intelligence and facts were being fixed around the
policy,' as British intelligence chief Sir Richard Dearlove told Tony Blair at
a July 2002 meeting of the British Cabinet. Contrary to the mainstream narrative,
Bolton's was no private war with U.S. intelligence. Rather, his actions were crucial
in creating the highly charged atmosphere in which the CIA and other U.S. intelligence
agencies bit the bullet, ignored the gaps in their data and told Bush, Cheney,
and the rest of the warhawks what they wanted to hear.
To a considerable extent, Bolton was one of Bush's primary fixers.
The heart of the matter lies in the months before the Iraq war. The evidence
shows that Bolton at the State Department acted in parallel with the Office
of Vice President Richard Cheney at the White House and with the Office of Special
Plans at the Pentagon--the unit created by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Douglas J. Feith. The combination of their efforts had a chilling effect on
the U.S. intelligence community, particularly that unit of the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) that would be responsible for actually crafting the top level report,
called a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), on Iraq.
Cheney focused directly on the Iraq intelligence, the allegation that Saddam
Hussein's regime was busily producing weapons of mass destruction. The vice
president actively participated, visiting CIA headquarters to press analysts
on their data, pushing back when CIA brought him Iraq items in the President's
Daily Brief reports, and sending his chief of staff I. Lewis Libby out to CIA
to underline Cheney's demands. Not surprisingly, many sources have reported
that Cheney's office cooperated closely with both John Bolton at State and Douglas
Feith at the Pentagon. When things potentially useful in buttressing the White
House position appeared, Cheney specifically followed up on them. This is exactly
what happened with the (false) allegation that Saddam was seeking uranium ore
in Niger, an intelligence story that came to a head in March 2002.
The Pentagon piece in this ensemble had built up speed by precisely that time.
Soon after 9/11, Douglas Feith convinced Donald Rumsfeld to back his initiative
for a special intelligence staff. Cutting through the palaver about how that
unit was intended merely to find bits of data overlooked in conventional intelligence
reporting, in fact the staff explicitly crafted a frontal attack on CIA's terrorism
data, rearranging it so as to maximize the impression there existed some alliance
between Saddam and Osama bin Laden. That exercise came to a head at a meeting
at CIA headquarters in August 2002.
Which brings us to John Bolton. Over the months culminating in July 2002 Bolton
tried to have two different analysts fired for refusing to accede to intelligence
claims he wanted to make in behalf of the administration. A State Department
analyst, Christian Westerman, became the target in February. That amounted to
more than an in-house fight because the analyst was known throughout the intelligence
community (read CIA) and his troubles became known as well. In fact, Bolton
made sure of it: his chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, a CIA officer on detail
from the Weapons Intelligence Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC) Center
at the agency, kept his home office informed at every step along the way.
It would be WINPAC chief Alan Foley who, one month later, had to deal with
the report from Ambassador Joseph Wilson that there was nothing to the Niger
uranium claims. The debrief of Wilson's trip to Niger, the Senate Intelligence
Committee report on Iraq tells us, was held within CIA headquarters and not
briefed to Vice President Cheney. Instead Cheney was told (on March 5, 2002)
simply that the agency which had originally put out the uranium allegation had
no new information.
That month also, according to the British newspaper The Guardian , John Bolton
went public with a campaign to fire an international civil servant, U.N. official
Jose Bustani, who ran the unit responsible for enforcement of the global treaty
banning chemical weapons. Washington was displeased with U.N. inspection initiatives
in the United States, but the immediate issue in March 2002 was Bustani's attempt
to bring Iraq into the treaty framework and send inspectors to establish whether
Saddam had chemical weapons. Bolton flew to Europe and demanded that Bustani
resign. A U.S. position paper attacked Bustani's management style and in April,
having failed to secure Bustanis dismissal by his governing board, the United
States called an unprecedented meeting of all treaty members where it secured
a vote to fire the official. More than a year later the administrative tribunal
that oversees the U.N. system ruled the U.S. allegations 'vague' and the dismissal
'unlawful.' From Bolton's perspective the danger with Bustani was that his inspectors
would find no chemical weapons in Iraq. That time he was successful.
Equally telling is Bolton's next maneuver, which began when CIA's National
Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Latin America disagreed with Bolton's claims
about Cuba in a May 2002 speech. Bolton not only took umbrage, he recruited
allies to demand the NIO be reassigned. Bolton's office drafted a letter the
allies could separately send the CIA making this demand, then, in late July,
within a few days of the British prime minister's being told that Washington
was 'fixing' its intelligence, Bolton instead carried his demand directly to
the NIO's boss, Stuart Cohen, then acting chairman of the National Intelligence
Council, which supervises the NIEs. Ultimately it would go as high as John McLaughlin,
the deputy director of central intelligence. As before, Bolton's staff chief
kept WINPAC in the picture on the efforts to get an analyst--this time a senior
CIA estimator-- fired.
At his meeting with Tony Blair on June 7, George Bush first went on the record
regarding Sir Richard Dearlove's observation about 'fixed' intelligence. 'There's
nothing farther from the truth,' Bush said. But consider--what was the state
of play on September 11, 2002, when Congress asked the CIA for an NIE on Iraq
and then-CIA director George Tenet ordered Cohen's Council to create the report?
Stuart Cohen at the National Intelligence Council had to know that Tenet considered
the Iraq charges a 'slam dunk.' Cohen had been the direct recipient of a demand
that he fire a subordinate for displeasing a consumer of CIA intelligence, and
a witness of the Pentagon's attacks on CIA's reporting about Iraqi connections
to Bin Laden. Tenet knew the terrorism position had come under attack. Both
knew that Vice President Cheney would be hyperactive on an Iraqi intelligence
issue. The WINPAC, responsible for what became the NIE's outlandish claims on
Iraqi nuclear weapons and aluminum tubes for uranium enrichment, knew that a
Cheney associate, John Bolton, stood ready to demand blood on the floor if the
intelligence did not come out the way he wanted it. Bolton's actual portfolio
specifically covered proliferation and arms control. Bolton had actually gotten
a U.N. official fired in an Iraq matter.
It is no longer possible to argue that the Iraqi intelligence estimates of
2002 were not affected by politicization. And John Bolton helped create the
chilling climate in which that Iraq NIE had to be written. This was no mere
intelligence failure. Sir Richard Dearlove had that exactly right, at the time.
The intelligence was fixed and Bolton was a prime fixer.
Bush said the accountability moment has passed. In fact, accountability has
yet to be enforced. A good place to begin might be with the man who Boltonized