Recently declassified e-mail messages provide new details of the bruising battle that John Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, waged with analysts at the State Department and the CIA in 2002 as he sought to deliver a speech reflecting a hard-line view of Cuba and its possible efforts to acquire biological weapons.
The messages, provided to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are surfacing during a firestorm over Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the UN. Democrats and some Republicans have raised concerns about Bolton's temperament and tactics, and have called particular attention to his harsh treatment of intelligence analysts, suggesting that it may have amounted to political interference.
The declassified e-mail messages suggest animosity between Bolton and his staff on the one hand, and intelligence analysts on the other, at levels even greater than have emerged from recent public testimony by Bolton and others. A congressional official provided some of the messages to The New York Times, saying they should be made available to the public because they had been declassified.
None of the dozens of messages reviewed by The New York Times were from Bolton. But the correspondence, spanning a period from February to September 2002, included e-mail sent to Bolton by his principal assistant, Frederick Fleitz, as well as extensive exchanges between Fleitz and Christian Westermann, the State Department's top expert on biological weapons who clashed sharply with Bolton over Cuba.
The messages included a Sept. 25, 2002, note in which Thomas Fingar, the No. 2 official in the State Department intelligence branch, decried what he said had been the toll inflicted on Westermann by Bolton and Fleitz.
"I am dismayed and disgusted that unwarranted personal attacks are affecting you in this way," Fingar said in a message sent to Westermann.
Two days earlier, in another message, Westermann wrote to Fingar to say that "personal attacks, harassment and impugning of my integrity" by Bolton and Fleitz were "now affecting my work, my health and dedication to public service."
The correspondence provided to the Senate committee also includes a Feb. 12 message sent to Bolton by Fleitz, who disparages what he calls the "already cleared [wimpy] language on Cuba" that Westermann had recommended be used by Bolton in his planned speech. It made clear that Westermann had proposed language that reiterated existing, consensus assessments by US intelligence agencies, rather than the stronger assertions that Bolton had been pressing to make about possible efforts by Cuba to obtain biological weapons, which Bolton contended were borne out by some highly classified intelligence reports.
"I explained to Christian that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data, and the I.C. should do as we asked and sanitize my language as long as sources and methods are not compromised," Fleitz wrote to Bolton, referring to the intelligence community. Fleitz said of Westermann, "He strongly disagrees with us."
The e-mail messages also make clear that Westermann and others within the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research, known as INR, were not the only intelligence officials to resist Bolton's request, and that objections also came from the National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and others.