Published on Saturday, May 7, 2005 by the New York Times
Ex-C.I.A. Official Says Bolton Interfered
by Douglas Jehl
WASHINGTON - John R. Bolton's effort in 2002 to oust a top Central Intelligence Agency analyst from his post in a dispute over Cuba represented a troubling breach of the line between policy makers and intelligence, the agency's former deputy director has told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to a transcript of the exchange.
The ex-official, John E. McLaughlin, who spent 32 years in the C.I.A., said the episode was "the only time I had ever heard of such a request" from a policy maker, that a C.I.A. officer or analyst be transferred.
The analyst, Fulton Armstrong, was the national intelligence officer for Latin America and had clashed with Mr. Bolton's office about a speech that Mr. Armstrong thought overstated the extent of Cuba's weapons programs.
"It's perfectly all right for a policy maker to express disagreement with an N.I.O. or an analyst, and it's perfectly all right for them to challenge such an individual vigorously, challenge their work vigorously," Mr. McLaughlin told the committee on April 29, according to an unedited transcript. "But I think it's different to then request, because of the disagreement, that the person be transferred. And - unless there is malfeasance involved here, and in this case, I had a high regard for the individual's work - therefore, I had a strong negative reaction to the suggestion about moving him."
Mr. Bolton's request that Mr. Armstrong be transferred was one of at least four such episodes being reviewed by the committee, which will recommend to the full Senate whether Mr. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations should be confirmed.
The fact that Mr. McLaughlin intervened to block Mr. Bolton's request has been reported, but Mr. McLaughlin has declined interview requests about the matter. His comments to the committee, as detailed in a transcript made available by a Congressional official, went beyond what other former intelligence officials have said about the episode.
Mr. Bolton has acknowledged that he sought to have Mr. Armstrong transferred because he had "lost confidence" in him. But Mr. Armstrong did not report to Mr. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control. Mr. McLaughlin, who at the time was deputy director of central intelligence, has told the committee that he "reacted strongly" in telling Mr. Armstrong's supervisor to disregard Mr. Bolton's request.
"Well, we're not going to do that, absolutely not," Mr. McLaughlin said he had told the supervisor, Stuart Cohen. "No way. End of story, or words to that effect. I remember having a very strong reaction to it."
Mr. McLaughlin said he had learned about the request from Mr. Cohen, then the acting chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and had told him that Mr. Bolton and another senior Bush administration official, Otto Reich, had "serious disagreements" with Mr. Armstrong's work and that they wanted to have Mr. Armstrong "reassigned or moved" from his post.
Mr. McLaughlin served for more than four years as deputy director of central intelligence before retiring in November. He has a reputation for being cautious, and some Congressional officials said they were surprised by the strength of the sentiments he expressed about Mr. Bolton.
Another of the episodes involved a State Department lawyer, who told the committee in a separate interview that Mr. Bolton and his aides had told her that she was "off the case" in a legal matter involving Mr. Bolton's office. The State Department legal adviser, William H. Taft IV, later refused Mr. Bolton's request that she be removed, the committee has been told.
The committee has not yet made public its transcripts of the interview with Mr. McLaughlin, which was conducted on April 29, or with the State Department lawyer, which was conducted on Tuesday. But unedited transcripts of the interviews were provided by a Congressional official who opposes Mr. Bolton's nomination, as part of the Democratic-led effort to defeat his selection.
With the vote scheduled for next Thursday, the committee staff was rushing on Friday to complete the last of about 30 interviews conducted in the past 10 days and to review thousands of pages of documents provided by the State Department in response to the panel's requests.
Some of those documents were delivered Friday, but it remains unclear whether the State Department will provide information beyond the requests endorsed by the panel's Republican majority.
Democrats on the panel are seeking information about a long-running dispute between Mr. Bolton and intelligence officials over assessments about Syria and its weapons program. But Republicans have declined to endorse the request, and the State Department has indicated that it feels obligated to respond only to requests from Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, the panel's chairman.
The committee had planned to end its inquiry on Friday. But as of 6 p.m., neither that panel nor the Senate Intelligence Committee had received information sought by Democrats about requests that Mr. Bolton had made to the National Security Agency for identifying information about American officials mentioned in intercepted communications.
Among those interviewed on Friday were Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin L. Powell when he was secretary of state. Mr. Wilkerson said after his testimony that he had told the committee that he had not been speaking as a proxy for Mr. Powell, who is known to have separately expressed some reservations about Mr. Bolton's nomination. But Mr. Wilkerson said he believed that he regarded Mr. Bolton as "an extremely poor leader" and "not an effective diplomat."
Also interviewed were Mr. Reich, a close ally and supporter of Mr. Bolton who served as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs; and Robert L. Hutchings, the former chairman of the National Intelligence Council.
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