Bolton The Fixer
June 09, 2005
John Prados is a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. He is author of Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (The New Press).
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 Bustani’s 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 this situation.
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