WSJ editorial offered bogus defense of John Bolton

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

An April 11 Wall Street Journal editorial attacked Democrats for "reviving long-discredited accusations against" John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, by selectively quoting from Senate hearings and reports on intelligence in order to defend Bolton.

The Journal explained that the two "principal charges" against Bolton, who is currently undersecretary of state for arms control, against charges that he tried to present an alarmist assessment of Cuba's biological weapons (BW) program and then punish an intelligence analyst who disputed his assessments, are that he "distorted intelligence information in a public speech in which he warned of a possible biological weapons effort in Cuba" and that he "intimidated intelligence officials" who expressed doubts about his claims about Cuba. But in fact, the allegation that Bolton "distorted intelligence" does not refer to his "public speech"; rather, the charges were that an early draft of his speech, circulated internally, contained unsubstantiated claims, and that Bolton tried to retaliate against the intelligence analyst who successfully altered the speech before the final draft to accurately reflect the intelligence community's view of Cuba's BW capability.

On the first charge, the Journal announced that "[i]f they had done their homework, the critics would know" that that one of Bolton's accusers, former assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research Carl Ford, used "nearly identical words" to describe Cuba's BW capability in congressional testimony two months before Bolton's speech. "If Mr. Bolton skewed the government's position on Cuba's germ-warfare effort, then Mr. Ford did too," the Journal declared.

In fact, the speech Bolton actually delivered to the conservative Heritage Foundation on May 6, 2002, was crucially different from what he proposed in the initial draft. Bolton's critics acknowledge that Bolton's final, approved language accurately represented what the intelligence community believed about Cuba because an analyst altered Bolton's text to conform to the intelligence community's accepted description of Cuba's BW capability. But in his initial draft, Bolton labeled Cuba's BW capabilities a "program," rather than an "effort," which intelligence considered a crucial distinction.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's July 2004 report on prewar intelligence on Iraq addressed the initial problems in Bolton's Heritage speech:

The [State Department intelligence] analyst said he made most of the changes to the speech because he was attempting to make the speech unclassified, not because he believed it was factually incorrect. He said that the only portion of the original speech language relating to Cuba's BW [BW] program that differed from IC [intelligence community] judgments was the use of the word "program" in the sentence, "Cuba has a developmental, offensive biological warfare program." The analyst said the IC used the term "effort" rather than "program."

Similarly, Ford himself testified at a June 5, 2002, hearing of the Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, and Narcotics Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- convened primarily to address Bolton's Heritage speech -- that the intelligence community's assessment of Cuba's BW capability is properly characterized as an "effort," rather than a "program." Ford fielded questions from Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT):

FORD: The only thing that we would say differently is that I don't think that we would have to footnote to emphasize that it was an effort, not a program which I&R [Intelligence & Research] did, and I think that the rest of the community now feels as strongly as we do that the evidence will support that there is a limited BW offensive development program -- effort -- but not a program. And so that the community's view has been refined. ...

DODD: I'm told by your staff that each word is selected very carefully and debated rather extensively.

FORD: True.

DODD: Because each word is terribly important.

FORD: That's correct.

The Journal quoted a subsequent portion of Ford's testimony to prove that Ford himself did not disagree with Bolton's draft speech, but the Journal omitted a third exchange from the hearing in which Ford admitted that he was not personally aware of the details surrounding the alterations to Bolton's speech. The Journal stated:

Connecticut Democrat Christopher Dodd -- one of Mr. Bolton's fiercest critics -- asked Mr. Ford: "Did you have any disagreements with the draft [Heritage] speech?" Mr. Ford replied, "On the intelligence side, we did not. We approved it. It was the language we had provided." We trust Mr. Dodd will recall this exchange when he questions Mr. Bolton today.

But later in the same testimony, when Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked if it was correct that the initial draft of the speech referred to Cuba's BW "program," Ford responded, "No, sir," but immediately conceded that "the history has been told to me. I didn't live it, so I can only give you my version of it." And indeed, the Senate intelligence report contradicts Ford's secondhand account of the first draft of Bolton's speech, as noted above.

On the second charge -- that Bolton intimidated intelligence analysts who disputed his claim about Cuba -- the Senate intelligence report documents that Bolton allegedly lashed out at the intelligence analyst who altered his speech. But the Journal selectively quoted the report to claim falsely that this report "specifically clears" Bolton. The Journal noted the Senate report's finding that Bolton had "berated" the analyst, but ignored the report's additional finding that Bolton subsequently tried to have him removed. The Journal presented the fact that the analyst kept his job as "evidence" that Bolton had not engaged in intimidation. In fact, the report specifically noted that Bolton attempted to arrange the removal of the intelligence analyst who altered his Heritage draft; the analyst apparently kept his job despite Bolton's best efforts. Here's what the Journal stated:

Moreover, the Senate report specifically clears Mr. Bolton of charges relating to the Heritage speech. It quotes an unnamed analyst who said that Mr. Bolton "berated" him when he made changes to a draft of the speech. But he also said "he was not removed from his portfolio and that he did not suffer any negative effects professionally."

Here's the full relevant passage from the Senate Intelligence Committee report:

The analyst said that the Under Secretary [Bolton] had obtained a copy of his e-mail to the CIA [concerning changes to Bolton's Heritage draft] and called him in to the Under Secretary's office. The analyst said the Under Secretary "berated him," accused him of countermanding an Under Secretary and of trying to rewrite the Under Secretary's speech. The analyst said that six months after the incident, when his new office director met with the Under Secretary, the Under Secretary asked to have the analyst removed from his current worldwide chemical and biological weapons portfolio. The analyst said he was not removed from his portfolio and did not suffer any negative effects professionally, however, he was instructed by his supervisors to limit his contact with the Under Secretary's office.

Posted In
Government, Nominations & Appointments
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.