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U.S.: Intelligence Failings Cloud Hearings On Key Posts

  • Robert McMahon --> John Bolton Intelligence failures in advance of the war in Iraq have resounded again this week in hearings for two key nominees of U.S. President George W. Bush. Democrats in the U.S. Senate committee overseeing the nomination of the ambassador to the United Nations have spent two days questioning whether nominee John Bolton sought to manipulate intelligence during his term as an arms control official. And a separate committee sought assurances from John Negroponte that as the new national intelligence director he would provide an objective voice to policymakers following lapses on Iraq.

Washington, 13 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- John Bolton’s nomination as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has emerged as the most contentious choice of the second Bush administration to fill a high-level post.

But it is not Bolton’s harsh criticism of the United Nations that has generated the most controversy. Democrats on the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee spent most of 11 April and yesterday exploring charges that Bolton tried to pressure intelligence analysts while serving as the State Department’s top nonproliferation official.

Democratic senators said those charges raised fresh concerns about Washington’s credibility. They cited the faulty intelligence used by the White House to justify the war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Senator Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the committee, said Bolton could complicate efforts to rally UN support in the event new information emerges about the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

“This is the very man who may have to take the case to the world on [North] Korea and on Iran based upon intelligence," Biden said. "This appointment, I believe, Mr. Chairman, is not in the interest of the United States of America.”

Democrats reiterated their opposition to Bolton after listening to testimony yesterday from Carl Ford, the former head of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Ford said Bolton had shaken the unit three years ago by berating an analyst who delayed a speech because it overstated information on Cuba's weapons.

Ford said he shared Bolton’s conservative views but considered his management style unprofessional.

“If you want to make him your personal adviser, if you want to make him our expert within the government on the United Nations and Cuban [biological weapons], be my guest," Ford said. "Just simply my advice, my opinion is, don’t give him any responsibility for controlling people.”

Bolton has testified that he did not attempt to pressure the analyst but had lost trust in him and sought to reassign him. The analyst remained at his post. Republican senators say the incident appears isolated and that the focus should be on Bolton’s fitness to lead efforts on UN reform.

Senator Richard Lugar, the committee chairman, said Bolton had the confidence of the president and secretary of state. He believed they would supervise his comments at the UN.

“In the event that Secretary Bolton is confirmed as our UN ambassador and he does make statements at the UN, I have confidence they will be the statements of the president of United States, they will not be [Bolton’s] or his attitude of the moment,” Lugar said.

Republicans hold a majority on the committee and are expected to recommend Bolton’s nomination to the full Senate later this week.

In a separate hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee, John Negroponte faced questions about his ability to function as the president’s top intelligence adviser. Negroponte, the first ambassador in post-Saddam Iraq, will lead the 15 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

The chairman of the committee, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, urged Negroponte to be tough.

“Even with the intelligence failures of 9/11 and Iraq WMD hanging over us, and the staggering willful inability to share information associated with those failures, achieving a free flow of intelligence information has still proved very, very elusive,” Roberts said.

Carl Levin, a Democratic senator, pointed to newly declassified information showing that the U.S. intelligence community had cast doubt on reports of a meeting in Prague between an Iraqi agent and one of the 11 September bombers.

But top U.S. officials continued to claim with certainty the meeting took place. Intelligence officials, Levin said, must be prepared to give policymakers hard truths.

“Ambassador, we need a director of national intelligence who will tell the president what a president may not want to hear but what he needs to hear," Levin said. "We have too often seen heads of the intelligence community exaggerate or misrepresent or misstate intelligence to support the policy preferences of the White House.”

Negroponte said he was committed to delivering what is known in Washington parlance as “truth to power:”

"In the past four years, our homeland has been attacked and we have miscalculated the arsenal, if not the intent, of a dangerous adversary," Negroponte said. "Our intelligence effort has to generate better results. That is my mandate, plain and simple."

Negroponte is expected to be confirmed by the Senate panel soon and then by the full Senate.