Bolton fight crucial for U.S. intelligence service

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111522926730622.jpg’, ”, ‘Proposed U.N. Ambassador John Bolton’);

The battle over the nomination of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations is being cast as a political fracas and somewhat of an entertainment spectacle. But Ray McGovern, who spent 27 years as a CIA analyst, says it is far more than that. McGovern said it is crucial to the survival of honest and accurate intelligence.

McGovern said: “The Bush administration strongly resists the notion that the intelligence on Iraq, for example, was cooked to the White House recipe. And with the president’s party controlling both houses of Congress and the president appointing his own ‘independent’ commission to investigate, Bush and Cheney have until now been able to prevent any meaningful look into the issue of politicization of intelligence.”

He said that for intelligence analysts to properly do their job, they must be aware of what is happening at the policy level, but be protected from pressures to conform intelligence to policy. That way, McGovern said, intelligence can be based on facts, not on fantasy as we saw with the issue of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Back in February 2002, John Bolton, then Under Secretary of State, tried to get intelligence clearance for his own analysis about Cuba’s possible pursuit of biological weapons and the likelihood it might share such weapons with outlaw states.

The problem was that Bolton’s analysis went far beyond what the intelligence information would support. Some in the State Department and other agencies would not allow Bolton to present his views as those of the intelligence community. This made Bolton so angry, he gave Christian Westermann, of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, a scorching tongue-lashing and then asked the Bureau’s bosses to fire Westermann, according to McGovern.

On Feb. 12, 2002, Bolton’s principal aide, Frederick Fleitz, after an argument with Westermann, sent Bolton an e-mail that stated: “I explained to Christian that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data, and the I.C. [intelligence community] should do as we asked.” He added that Westermann strongly disagreed.

“Were it not for the numbing experience of the past four years,” McGovern said, “we intelligence professionals, practicing and retired, would be astonished at the claim that how to interpret intelligence data is a ‘political judgment.’”

With the nomination of Robert Gates, a protege of former CIA director William Casey, many bright and experienced analysts left the agency rather than indulge in cooking intelligence. Several others remained and were only too willing to slant the intelligence as the White House desired. McGovern commented: “the cancer of politicization spreads quickly, runs deep, and–as we have seen on Iraq–can bring catastrophe.”

He said that is why the stakes are so high with Bolton’s nomination. We now have a cadre of inexperienced, pliable analysts, and recent intelligence debacles can be traced directly to them. McGovern added that honest intelligence analysts in the agency have never been more demoralized than they are now. If Bolton wins confirmation, he said, there will be a hemorrhage of more honest analysts at a time when they are badly needed.

McGovern said the White House is not concerned. With more docile analysts on board, he said, Bolton and others will be free to use “political judgment” to interpret intelligence, and there will be no second guessing by any honest experts. It will be easier, McGovern said, to produce the desired evidence of nuclear weapons in Iran.

But there was a surprise for the administration when Sen. George Voinovich, (R-Ohio), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, decided he could not support the Republican position in favor of confirming Bolton. That action stopped the nomination from going forward until further information about Bolton can be evaluated.

McGovern said Vice President Dick Cheney, who is Bolton’s mentor, wasted no time in attacking Voinovich, running radio announcements in Ohio stating Voinovich had “stabbed the president and the Republicans right in the back.”

A reporter asked Voinovich why he wanted more time to examine the charges against Bolton. His reply: “My conscience got me” (

From the May 4-10, 2005 issue

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