John R. Bolton -- who is seeking confirmation as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations -- often blocked then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and, on one occasion, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, from receiving information vital to U.S. strategies on Iran, according to current and former officials who have worked with Bolton.
In some cases, career officials found back channels to Powell or his deputy, Richard L. Armitage, who encouraged assistant secretaries to bring information directly to him. In other cases, the information was delayed for weeks or simply did not get through. The officials, who would discuss the incidents only on the condition of anonymity because some continue to deal with Bolton on other issues, cited a dozen examples of memos or information that Bolton refused to forward during his four years as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.
Two officials described a memo that had been prepared for Powell at the end of October 2003, ahead of a critical international meeting on Iran, informing him that the United States was losing support for efforts to have the U.N. Security Council investigate Iran's nuclear program. Bolton allegedly argued that it would be premature to throw in the towel. "When Armitage's staff asked for information about what other countries were thinking, Bolton said that information couldn't be collected," according to one official with firsthand knowledge of the exchange.
Intra-agency tensions are common in Washington, and as the undersecretary of state in charge of nuclear issues, Bolton had a lot of latitude to decide what needed to go to the secretary. But career officials said they often felt that his decisions, and policy views, left the department's top diplomat uninformed and fed the long-running struggles inside the agency.
Bolton's time at the State Department under Rice has been brief. But authoritative officials said Bolton let her go on her first European trip without knowing about the growing opposition there to Bolton's campaign to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear agency. "She went off without knowing the details of what everybody else was saying about how they were not going to join the campaign," according to a senior official. Bolton has been trying to replace Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who is perceived by some within the Bush administration as too soft on Iran.
Publicly, Rice has staunchly defended Bolton's credentials and urged the Senate to quickly confirm him. But privately, officials said, she has kept him out of key discussions on Iran since taking over in January.
Bolton's staff spent the weekend answering dozens of follow-up queries from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is conducting his confirmation hearings. Nominees traditionally refrain from responding to questions outside that process, and the State Department has not directly commented on allegations and testimony in recent weeks from former officials who characterized Bolton as a bully who has sought the removal of intelligence analysts who challenged him on facts and evidence related to weapons of mass destruction.
Bolton's supporters argue that his blunt style and hard-line views make him ideally suited to serve U.S. interests at the United Nations. His opponents argue that Bolton's demeanor and disdain for the United Nations will make it difficult for the White House to achieve its goals there.
Democrats on the foreign relations panel blocked a vote on Bolton last week and are hoping that new information might persuade Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.) or others to vote against him.
A vote is scheduled for tomorrow, and Republicans on the committee indicated yesterday that they will support him. But they also expressed deep concern over the charges against Bolton in recent weeks.
Testimony last Tuesday by former State Department intelligence chief Carl W. Ford Jr. had left several of them shaken after he described Bolton as a "serial abuser" who picked on junior officers who dared to challenge him. Chafee had said that Ford's testimony was strong but that it did not show a pattern.
But, yesterday, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said the allegations were beginning to pile up.
"If there's nothing more that comes out, I will vote for Bolton," Hagel told CNN's "Late Edition." But Hagel also said that he was "troubled with more and more allegations, revelations, coming about his style, his method of operation," including charges that Bolton had intimidated a member of Hagel's staff who had worked briefly under Bolton at the State Department's Nonproliferation Bureau.
In February 2003, Bolton reportedly accused the young career official, Rexon Ryu, of concealing information and of insubordination when he failed to produce a copy of a cable he had written about the work of U.N. inspectors in Iraq. Ryu's immediate superiors investigated the charge and found it baseless. But Bolton wanted Ryu removed from his duties, officials said.
Just weeks before the incident, Ryu had been among a small number of State Department officials who accompanied Powell to CIA headquarters to review the presentation Powell would give to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq's alleged weapons programs. Officials said Ryu had been instrumental in getting the most controversial allegations out of Powell's speech.
Much of the debate about Bolton has centered on his management style, his staunch criticisms of the United Nations and his hard-line approaches on Iran and North Korea.
But testimony gathered by the Senate panel in preparation for Bolton's confirmation hearings has also detailed a private channel to the CIA and how he sought to stifle career analysts from voicing dissent about the intelligence he was receiving. Bolton's chief of staff, Frederick Fleitz, is on loan to Bolton from the CIA's Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center, known as WINPAC. Fleitz told Senate staff members during an April 7 interview that he goes back to the agency's headquarters from time to time and reports to supervisors there and to Bolton.
Neil Silver, who directs the Office for Strategic Proliferation and Military Affairs at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told Senate staff members earlier this month that his office was surprised when a CIA analysis on "China's commitment to proliferation" showed up for Bolton in 2002 without a request filed through his office. Silver assumed that Fleitz had heard about the analysis through associates at the CIA because its conclusions had not been agreed to within the intelligence community. Silver's office, which is supposed to provide policymakers with a complete picture of intelligence that could affect directives, attached an alternative view for Bolton to see.
That decision brought immediate complaints from Fleitz, who told Silver that it was "unprofessional" to circulate the dissent.
Thomas Fingar, who runs the State Department's intelligence bureau, which is the official liaison between the department and the rest of the intelligence community, told the Senate committee on April 8 that Fleitz had asked that a clearance request for controversial intelligence on Cuba be made through WINPAC.
Often those requests go through the National Intelligence Council (NIC), but it became public during last week's hearings that Bolton had clashed with the council officer in charge of Latin America.
Bolton came up against resistance from Fingar's bureau and, later, from the national intelligence officer on Latin America over a speech he gave in May 2002 suggesting that Cuba had a biological weapons program.
The former national intelligence officer told the committee that he received an abusive e-mail from Fleitz after he had raised objections with the Senate staff about the Cuba speech. The former officer and his boss then, Stuart Cohen, who ran the NIC in 2002, said Bolton tried to get the officer removed from his job after the incident.
Ford, who ran the State Department's intelligence bureau before Fingar, also said that Bolton had sought the removal of Christian Westermann, the bureau analyst who had also challenged the ambiguous intelligence Bolton wanted to make public about Cuba.
When Westermann shared his dissenting view about the intelligence, he was ordered to Bolton's office and berated, Ford and Westermann said. Ford and Silver said Bolton wanted Westermann removed from his job at the intelligence bureau. Bolton denied that he tried to have anyone fired but said that the national intelligence officer and Westermann had acted inappropriately.