BY JONATHAN S. LANDAY AND NANCY SAN MARTIN
| Miami Herald
Disagreement over Cuba’s biological warfare capabilities and allegations that inappropriate pressure was applied to intelligence officers could jeopardize confirmation of President Bush’s nominee for ambassador to the U.N.
Congressional investigators are probing a new allegation that President Bush’s choice for U.N. ambassador once visited CIA headquarters to demand the removal of a top intelligence analyst who disagreed with him on Cuba’s biological warfare capabilities.
Current and former senior U.S. intelligence officials denounced the alleged visit by Under Secretary of State John Bolton. They said it risked undermining the objectivity of intelligence judgments.
The impartiality of U.S. intelligence judgments remains a highly charged issue because of assertions by some lawmakers that analysts were pressured to produce assessments on Iraq that supported Bush’s case for war but turned out to be wrong. Several inquiries have rejected those claims of political pressure.
In preparation for Bolton’s confirmation hearing on Monday, Republican and Democratic congressional investigators are looking into charges that he tried to penalize the analyst for disputing comments about Cuba’s biological warfare capability in a 2002 speech by Bolton.
Bolton alleged Havana had a limited ‘‘offensive biological warfare research and development effort’’—an allegation Cuba has consistently denied.
The analyst, who was the Latin America expert on the National Intelligence Council, cannot be identified because he is now in an undercover position. The council produces long-range strategic forecasts and assessments of the most critical national security issues for the president and top policymakers.
The inquiry into Bolton’s actions was confirmed by U.S. officials who requested anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.
A telephone call to Bolton’s office for comment went unanswered.
One congressional official sympathetic to Bolton said, “As we’ve looked at it, we haven’t found anything that violates the norms of behavior when it comes to these kinds of things.’‘
A former senior diplomat in an interview with The Herald said that he tried to get the analyst removed from his position and discussed the matter with Bolton but did not know if Bolton also tried to take action against the analyst.
Otto Reich, former assistant secretary of state for Western hemisphere affairs, said he went to CIA headquarters in 2002 to hand deliver a letter calling for the replacement of the senior analyst.
‘‘The letter was a last resort,’’ he said.
‘‘The [analyst’s] information was bad, not just on Cuba, but on Latin America, too,’’ said Reich. “He was wrong on Haiti, Colombia and Venezuela.’‘
The congressional investigators were told that Reich and Bolton demanded that the national intelligence officer be removed from his position during separate visits they made to CIA headquarters in 2002, the U.S. officials said.
But, they said, the then-acting chairman of the NIC, Stuart Cohen, and top CIA officials rebuffed Bolton and Reich, and the analyst was promoted.