Tuesday, June 07, 2005

WSJ falsely claimed Democratic senators joined Bolton in exaggerating Syria weapons threat

WSJ falsely claimed Democratic senators joined Bolton in exaggerating Syria weapons threat

In an effort to defend John R. Bolton from charges that he overstated the threat of Syria's weapons of mass destruction, a June 6 Wall Street Journal editorial claimed that his Democratic critics in the Senate endorsed the same claims as Bolton when they voted for 2003 legislation on Syria. But the 2003 Syria Accountability Act quoted language about Syria's weapons programs that the intelligence community had officially vetted and released to the public, while Bolton, President Bush's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, planned to make allegations in 2003 congressional testimony that went beyond what the intelligence community supported, according to The New York Times.

The Journal attacked Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT), both critics of Bolton who claimed he intended to exaggerate the threat posed by Syria's weapons programs:

As it happens, Messrs. Dodd and Biden both voted in favor of the 2003 Syrian [sic] Accountability Act. That law explicitly cites an unclassified CIA report that Syria "already holds a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin but apparently is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. ..." The law also notes that "Syria also is developing an offensive [biological weapons] capability." We guess this means our Democratic friends are also guilty of overstating the evidence on Syria.

In fact, though the full text of Bolton's controversial draft statement on Syria is not publicly available, news reports indicate that his claims went considerably beyond what the intelligence community supported. The 2003 Syria Accountability Act quoted an unclassified CIA report stating that Syria had chemical agents and was probably developing offensive biological weapons capabilities. By contrast, "The C.I.A. specifically rejected an assertion in a classified section of Mr. Bolton's prepared testimony saying Syria had a biological and chemical weapons program that threatened regional security in the Middle East," the Times reported on April 29, citing intelligence officials' testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Bolton's planned testimony provoked resistance from Robert L. Hutchings, then-director of the National Intelligence Council (NIC). The NIC drafts National Intelligence Estimates, which "contain the coordinated judgments of the Intelligence Community" and that the NIC calls the "most authoritative written judgments concerning national security issues." Hutchings "directed his staff in 2003 to strongly resist assertions that John R. Bolton sought to make about Syria's weapons programs," the Times reported.

A May 10 Times article quoted Hutchings saying that in his approach to Syria, Bolton "took isolated facts and made much more of them to build a case than I thought the intelligence warranted," and engaged in "a sort of cherry-picking of little factoids and little isolated bits that were drawn out to present the starkest-possible case."