The Senate Foreign Relations Committee April 19 delayed a vote on John R. Bolton’s nomination as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations. The holdup came after a series of hearings, press reports, and interviews by committee aides raised questions about Bolton, currently the Department of State’s top arms control official. In particular, doubts surfaced about Bolton’s temperament and his treatment of U.S intelligence officials and State Department career diplomats who questioned the facts behind some of his controversial policy judgments.
Panel chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) had hoped to send Bolton’s nomination to the floor on a 10-8 party-line vote. But Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) sided with Democrats in urging a delay in the vote. Unable to muscle the nomination through with a majority, Lugar delayed a vote until early May, and a new vote is now set for May 12.
In the meantime, Lugar and his Democratic counterpart Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware have agreed that aides will conduct formal interviews with as many as two dozen people, including former top CIA and State Department officials. In addition, the committee has prepared a list of about 20 additional written questions for Bolton, who has already undergone a full day of testimony and two rounds of written questions. The panel has also submitted requests for relevant emails and telephone logs.
Bolton’s fate is unclear. Bush administration officials from the president on down have continued to push for the nomination. And Senate rules do not require the panel to approve the nomination by a majority. However, it would be politically risky for the nomination to be taken up on the Senate floor without such backing.
The delay came after Democrats indicated that they had new and damaging revelations about Bolton who has served as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security since 2001. Voinovich, who was absent from the first series of hearings, said he needed more time to study the matter. “I’ve heard enough that I don’t feel comfortable voting for Mr. Bolton,” Voinovich said.
Two other Republicans on the committee, Sens. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), second in seniority, and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), expressed misgivings about Bolton as well and indicated they might not vote for him in committee or on the Senate floor.
Even if Bolton’s nomination is approved by the committee, he may face a fight on the Senate floor. Democrats have raised the prospect of a filibuster to block the confirmation. Republicans would likely need 60 votes to break such a filibuster, and there are only 55 Republican senators. With Bolton’s nomination delayed, the committee has also not acted on the less controversial nomination of former Bush National Security Council aide Robert Joseph as his successor.
The delay followed staff interviews and two days of committee hearings in which Democrats devoted the most attention to Bolton’s temperament and the sometimes stormy relations between Bolton’s office and intelligence and other career officials who disagreed with him. Less attention was paid to Bolton’s controversial views on the United Nations (see ACT, April 2005) and the value of international law, as well as a raft of policy positions he has staked out in his current position.
In an April 20 interview with CNN, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained about the Democratic attacks. “The president deserves to have the person at the UN that he thinks best to carry out this job,” Rice said. “I think we make a mistake when suddenly comments about management style become part of the confirmation process.”
President George W. Bush himself weighed in April 21, blaming partisan politics for the delay in Bolton’s confirmation. “John’s distinguished career and service to our nation demonstrates that he is the right man at the right time for this important assignment,” Bush said. “I urge the Senate to put aside politics and confirm John Bolton to the United Nations.”
Still, the panel hearings have shed new light on the relationship between some policymakers and intelligence officials involving arms control and nonproliferation issues in the months surrounding the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
During the hearings, some Democrats attempted to draw a clear link between intelligence failures in Iraq in which the intelligence community was said not to exercise sufficient skepticism about its judgments and how Bolton and members of his staff had dealt with some intelligence analysts. Bolton was accused of pressuring analysts to reach preordained conclusions and retaliating against those analysts who argued that those judgments could not be supported by the information available to them.
“After all this country has been through with Iraq and faulty intelligence,” said Biden, “if it’s true, that’s not the approach we should be rewarding.”
The Bush administration justified the invasion of Iraq on intelligence assessments that concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was pursuing nuclear weapons. However, no such weapons stockpiles have since been found.
Democrats placed particular focus during the hearings and in related staff questioning on Bolton’s relationship with the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which in investigations following the invasion of Iraq has been judged to have provided the most accurate assessments of that country’s pre-war weapons stockpiles. These investigations only lightly touched on the question of whether administration officials exaggerated or misused this intelligence or pressured analysts to come to what turned out to be faulty judgments.
However, Republicans, such as Lugar, downplayed the incidents as isolated management faults by Bolton, rather than a broader administration campaign to quash intelligence that dissented from its policy views.
“I appreciate an important argument is being made, namely the Iraqi failure of intelligence and whether this activity by Mr. Bolton, a while back, shows some manifestations of something that was very, very serious: Iraq,” said Lugar. But, he said, “I am not impressed with the gravity that is being suggested” in the questioning of Bolton. Lugar has predicted that the panel will ultimately approve Bolton’s nomination.
Senators devoted considerable time to how Bolton treated Christian Westermann, INR’s senior chemical and biological weapons analyst, after a dispute between the two over language Bolton and his aides wanted to use in a speech alleging Cuban biological weapons efforts. The speech was eventually delivered at the conservative nonprofit Heritage Foundation in May 2002.
Because the speech drew on classified intelligence information, it had to be cleared by Westermann and other members of the intelligence community in order to ensure its accuracy and protect classified intelligence sources and methods.
In his testimony, Bolton portrayed the dispute as one involving the process Westermann had used to propose alternative language.
But Westermann’s superiors, both in public testimony and in testimony to committee aides, said that the analyst did not violate established procedures. Rather, they said he had been imprudent in expressing his views to the rest of the intelligence community in a way that did not give sufficient deference to someone of higher rank.
They added, however, that Bolton had overreacted in a way that they feared might have a chilling effect on other analysts. They said Bolton had shouted and waved his finger at Westermann and for several months thereafter had sought to force him out of his job in meetings with them.
Carl Ford, then head of INR, called Bolton a “bully” and a “serial abuser” during the Foreign Relations Committee hearing on April 12, accusing him of intimidating someone “five or six levels down in the bureaucracy.”
“I have never seen anything quite like Mr. Bolton,” Ford said. “He abuses his authority with little people.”
The Heritage speech also caused a row with Fulton Armstrong, another member of the intelligence community, according to hearing testimony, interviews with committee aides, and media accounts.
After Bolton’s speech, Armstrong, the National Intelligence Council’s (NIC) senior analyst for Cuba, complained to Senate aides and other agency officials that he had not been given the opportunity to vet it. The National Intelligence Council is the intelligence community’s center for midterm and long-term strategic analyses, charged with taking the lead in preparing crucial national intelligence estimates that represent consensus intelligence views.
National intelligence officers such as Armstrong are often required to approve most speeches that contain intelligence information on a country they cover. But it is not clear if they have to approve such speeches if they focus primarily on proliferation issues or if approval from the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) is deemed sufficient.
Bolton, angered by Armstrong’s complaints, acknowledged that he had pushed to have him reassigned as well. The New York Times reported April 16 that Armstrong’s job was saved, in part, by the intervention of then-CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin.
In its new round of questioning the panel plans to look closely at Bolton’s back-and-forth with intelligence analysts over remarks he gave and planned to give on Syria that went beyond other public claims, The New York Times reported. Bolton only touched lightly on the subject in his earlier testimony. For example, Bolton told the House International Relations Committee in June 2003 that American officials were “looking at Syria’s nuclear program with growing concern and continue to monitor it for any signs of nuclear weapons intent.” Two months earlier, a CIA report said only, “In principle, broader access to Russian expertise provides opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons.”
The Times also reported that in July 2003, intelligence officials from several agencies raised objections to proposed Congressional testimony by Bolton on Syria. The objections from the CIA came in the form of a 35-page memorandum.
Foreign Relations Committee aides plan to interview McLaughlin and Alan Foley, the former head of WINPAC. They also plan to talk to Thomas Hubbard, the former U.S Ambassador to South Korea and former Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf.
In several press interviews, Hubbard has said that Bolton has misled the committee about his views on a confrontational speech that Bolton delivered on North Korea in July 2003. The speech came just days before the launch of six-party talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear-weapons programs. In the speech, Bolton called Kim Jong-Il a “tyrannical dictator,” termed life in North Korea a “hellish nightmare,” and condemned the idea of negotiating with Pyongyang, saying that “giving into [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il’s extortionist demands would only encourage him and…other would-be tyrants around the world.” (See ACT, September 2003)
In his testimony, Bolton told the Foreign Relations panel that the speech had been cleared by relevant officials and that Hubbard had personally thanked him for it.
But in press interviews, Hubbard said that he had contacted the committee to let them know that he had opposed the overall thrust of the speech and thanked Bolton only for making some specific minor changes to it that he had requested. In addition, Time described a memo it said it had obtained about an April interview Hubbard conducted with Republican committee aides. In it, Hubbard was quoted as saying he “strongly disagreed with the tone of the speech, especially at the sensitive time in the negotiating process, and asked Mr. Bolton to tone it down. He did not.”
The panel also plans to talk to State Department officials about clashes between them and Bolton.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Wolf claimed that Bolton had sought to transfer an official under Wolf’s authority whom he perceived was not sufficiently deferential.
The Washington Post also quoted anonymous current and former officials April 18 saying that Bolton refused to forward to his superiors during his tenure some information that ran counter to his views on such subjects as appropriate U.S. strategies to deal with Iran’s nuclear threat.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), ranking member on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, is seeking details of requests Bolton made to the National Security Agency to reveal the identity of U.S. officials whose calls had been monitored. Normally, such officials remain anonymous, although high-level officials such as Bolton are entitled to make such requests. A spokesperson for Foreign Relations Committee member Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) told reporters that Bolton has made 10 such requests over four years. Democrats want to know Bolton’s motivation in seeking to disclose the identity of those involved in the conversations.
Some State officials have told Arms Control Today that Bolton’s support for consolidation of the department’s arms control and nonproliferation bureaus (see ACT, March 2005) was in part aimed at thwarting those who had opposed his policy views.
Intelligence Back Channel
Beyond these quarrels, the testimony to committee aides also pointed to a previously unpublicized private link between the CIA and Bolton’s office. That link bypassed INR, which is charged with handling liaison duties with other members of the intelligence community, and was a source of frustration to members of the INR bureau who felt that policymakers were not receiving accurate intelligence.
At the center of this back channel was Frederick Fleitz, Bolton’s chief of staff. Fleitz is a CIA officer on loan to Bolton from WINPAC but who still regularly reports to officials at Langley.
In the Westermann dispute, part of the conflict between the analyst and Bolton’s office centered around Fleitz’s attempt to use CIA intelligence on Cuba that had not been vetted by INR and with which INR and several other intelligence agencies disagreed.
The New York Times reported April 24 that, in a Feb. 12, 2002, e-mail to Bolton, Fleitz mocked Westermann’s insistence that Bolton stick to the existing consensus assessment among intelligence analysts, as “already cleared (wimpy) language on Cuba.”
“I explained to Christian that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data, and the [intelligence community] should do as we asked and sanitize my language as long as sources and methods are not compromised,” Fleitz wrote to Bolton. Fleitz said of Westermann, “He strongly disagrees with us.”
Bolton and Fleitz were also involved in another similar incident, according to testimony from Neil Silver, director of the bureau’s Office of Analysis for Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Issues.
Silver told committee staff members that Fleitz had also expressed anger when INR had attached a page of its own different analysis to a WINPAC analysis on “China’s commitment to proliferation.”