Rich Lowry misstated intelligence distortion charges against Bolton


In an August 3 syndicated column, National Review editor Rich Lowry downplayed criticisms of recently appointed United Nations ambassador John R. Bolton and misstated allegations that Bolton distorted intelligence on Cuban weapons capabilities. Lowry suggested that Bolton, after drafting statements on Cuban weapons that went beyond what the intelligence supported, simply acquiesced to the intelligence community's "consensus view." In fact, Bolton did not quietly defer to the intelligence community regarding the Cuba speech but instead "berated" the analyst who corrected it and reportedly tried to have him removed from his position -- a detail Lowry omitted.

In his column, Lowry dismissed accusations that Bolton distorted intelligence on Cuba:

Then the cry went up that Mr. Bolton distorted intelligence in public statements. That charge was based on internal disputes -- a healthy thing, since intelligence is almost always uncertain and debatable -- about how to interpret intelligence about Syrian and Cuban weapons programs. Mr. Bolton eventually went with the intelligence agencies' consensus view. This might be the first time a nominee has been opposed for things he didn't say, but at one point might possibly have thought about saying before he decided not to.

In claiming that Bolton "eventually went with the intelligence agencies' consensus view " and simply "decided not to" make inflated claims about Cuban weapons capabilities, Lowry downplayed Bolton's actual response to the intelligence community.

In 2002, then-undersecretary of state for arms control Bolton drafted a speech to be given to the conservative Heritage Foundation characterizing Cuba's biological weapons capabilities as a "program," rather than an "effort," which the intelligence community considered an important distinction. When a State Department analyst corrected this language in the draft, Bolton -- rather than accepting the "intelligence agencies' consensus view" -- reportedly lashed out at the analyst and tried to have him removed from his position. The Senate Intelligence Committee's July 2004 report on prewar intelligence on Iraq noted that Bolton "berated" the analyst and that "[t]he 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."

Bolton's handling of this situation was significant to his nomination process, as a number of senators -- both Democratic and Republican -- voiced concern over the intimidation tactics Bolton reportedly employed. A June 8 Los Angeles Times article reported that Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) "agreed with Democrats' portrayal of Bolton as a heavy-handed manager who intimidated intelligence analysts." A May 13 Washington Post article quoted Voinovich to that effect: "Bolton 'is the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be,' Voinovich said in a blistering speech that surprised even Democrats with its ferocity. 'I have come to the determination that the United States can do better than John Bolton,' he said, adding that he thought Bolton's behavior at the State Department would get him fired in the private sector." Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), who signaled he would vote to approve Bolton's nomination, nevertheless said of Bolton: "[A]ny intimidation of intelligence analysts is wrong. And I'm apprehensive that by promoting John Bolton, we're signaling an endorsement of that intimidation."

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