04/10/2012 11:22 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Think Again: John Bolton and the Problem with On-the-One-Hand Objectivity

In a front-page story in Sunday's New York Times dealing with the specter of corrupted pre-Iraq invasion intelligence and its potential influence on the debate over whether the United States or Israel should attack Iran, star national security reporter James Risen offers the following quote from one of his sources:

"The intelligence analysts I've dealt with have always been willing to engage in debates on their conclusions, but there is top-down pressure to make the assessments come out a certain way," said John R. Bolton, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former ambassador to the United Nations in the Bush administration.

John Bolton is a particularly curious choice as a quotable source given that, as Risen himself notes much later, Bolton is among the "conservative critics" who have "blasted C.I.A. officials, saying that the intelligence community was freelancing and trying to influence the political debate, and to make up for its shortcomings on Iraq by now trying to stop a war with Iran." Risen also notes that Bolton dismissed as "famously distorted" a 2007 National Intelligence Assessment casting doubt on alarmist assessments of the Iranian program and even demanded a congressional investigation into why neoconservatives did not get the kind of result they wanted.

The irony in Risen's choice of Bolton as a source is as thick as it is painful. Think back to 2002. Bolton was the director of former President George W. Bush's arms control agency at the time, and according to one of his deputies speaking to the Associated Press in June 2005, it was Bolton himself who "orchestrated the firing of the head of a global arms-control agency in 2002." His victim was Jose Bustani, a Brazilian diplomat who was trying at the time to send chemical weapons inspectors into Baghdad. The former deputy told the Associated Press that Bolton did not want that to happen because "it might help defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and thereby undermine a U.S. rationale for war."

Bolton also played a key role in undermining honest intelligence during the infamous "yellowcake" episode, in which war hawks inside the Bush administration sought to undermine the honest reporting of U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson -- sent by the CIA at the behest of former Vice President Dick Cheney's office to Niger to investigate reports of a transfer of uranium from that nation's government to the Iraqis.

The fact that President Bush so famously misled the country in his State of the Union address with "16 words" about the phony nuclear transfer of this uranium was the product of a confluence of events -- one of them being Bolton's role in passing along intelligence data that had already been discredited by Wilson's report. Bolton's principal aide and chief enforcer, according to ex-CIA man turned antiwar activist Ray McGovern, was an agency analyst on loan named Frederick Fleitz. In McGovern's view, this made Bolton's "behavior in trying to cook intelligence to the recipe of high policy even more inexcusable. CIA analysts, particularly those on detail to policy departments, have no business playing the enforcer of policy judgments, have no business conjuring up 'intelligence around the policy.'"

Bolton can hardly be said to have learned the error of his ways. For instance, according to a recent report in the Jerusalem Post, Bolton advised Tory delegates in Britain to press for a "pre-emptive strike" on Iran. After everything that has gone wrong in Iraq, the trillions of dollars wasted, the millions of refugees displaced, and hundreds of thousands of people killed -- all based on lies, deception, and intellectual error -- Bolton went on television in England to argue that the U.S. invasion of Iraq proved that the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein was a model for the "policy of regime change," which he proposes that the United States repeat in Iran.

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