Saturday, May 07, 2005

Bolton criticized by former intelligence official and Powell's chief of staff


Bolton criticized by former intelligence official and Powell's chief of staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — John R. Bolton, nominated to be U.N. ambassador, vastly overrated the military might of Syria and Cuba and had to be talked into toning down his assessments, a former senior intelligence official told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff Friday.

Robert L. Hutchings, who was responsible for coordinating American intelligence assessments in 2003, told the committee staff he felt Bolton was intent on drawing conclusions in public speeches that were "politicized" and exceeded U.S. intelligence on both countries, said a committee source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In another interview, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, questioned Bolton's leadership skills and disputed the view that the undersecretary of state was brilliant, committee sources told The Associated Press.

Wilkerson told committee aides that Powell — who has not endorsed Bolton for the U.N. job — would "go down to the bowels of the building" to try to boost the morale of analysts who had clashed with Bolton. Bolton has been accused of berating subordinates who disagreed with his views.

Melody Townsel, a Dallas public relations consultant who called Bolton "pathological" in a letter to the committee last month, softened her criticism in an April 26 interview with the committee.

A transcript of her interview, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, described Bolton as pounding on her Moscow hotel door 11 years ago when they both worked for private companies.

"No matter where I went in this hotel, if he saw me (he) began to approach me rapidly," she told the committee. "If I saw him in the breakfast bar, he would make a beeline for me."

Previously, she said Bolton had chased her through the hotel's halls. But now, Townsel said "chasing may not be the best word" although "I definitely felt chased."

A former CIA official, John E. McLaughlin, told the committee last week that Bolton's efforts to have a top CIA analyst removed from his post because of a disagreement with Bolton was the only time he had ever heard of such a request coming from a policy-maker in his 32 years with the spy agency, The New York Times reported.

Bolton and the analyst were at odds over a Bolton speech the analyst thought overstated the extent of weapons programs in Cuba. "I had a strong negative reaction to the suggestion about moving him," McLaughlin told the committee, according to a transcript obtained by the Times.

Otto Reich, a former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, told the committee Friday that he — not Bolton — had tried to get the CIA analyst transferred. He said Pentagon, CIA and State Department officials agreed the analyst's work was substandard.

The interviews coincided with the State Department's delivery of what one official said was a voluminous batch of documents sought by committee Democrats, who hope to kill Bolton's nomination.

The panel's senior Democrat, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, warned this week that if the department failed to provide the requested material he might try to delay a committee vote on Bolton set for next Thursday.

Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said the department was "cooperating fully" with the committee, but did not say if the Democrats would get everything they wanted.

Affirming that he had called Bolton as an "abysmal choice" for the U.N. post, Wilkerson said Bolton went so far in his speeches that he was ordered to clear them with him or the office of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

The former Powell aide said Bolton was too aggressive in pushing sanctions against Chinese companies for spreading weapons technology and "overstepped the bounds" in the way he tried to block a third term for Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.