Ex-officials report clashes with Bolton

U.N. nominee pressed dispute on Syria, they say


WASHINGTON - John R. Bolton clashed repeatedly with U.S. intelligence officials in 2002 and 2003 as he sought to deliver warnings about Syrian efforts to acquire unconventional weapons that the CIA and other experts rejected as exaggerated, former intelligence officials said.

Ultimately, they said, most of what Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, stated publicly about Syria hewed to the limits on which the CIA and other agencies had insisted. But they said that the prolonged, heated disputes over Bolton's proposed remarks were unusual within government, and that they reflected what one former senior official called a pattern in which Bolton sought to push his public assertions beyond the views endorsed by intelligence agencies.

The episodes involving Syria are being reviewed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as part of its inquiries related to Bolton's nomination to become ambassador to the United Nations. Some of the former intelligence officials said they had discussed the issue with the committee, while declassified e-mail messages from 2002 provided by the State Department allude to one previously unknown episode.

One newly declassified message, dated April 30, 2002, and sent by a senior intelligence official, dismissed as "a stretch" language about a possible Syrian nuclear program that had been spelled out in a draft speech circulated by Bolton's aides for approval. In the speech itself, delivered five days later, Bolton made no reference to a Syrian nuclear program.

Until now, Senate Democrats opposing the nomination have focused mostly on a 2002 dispute in which Bolton has acknowledged seeking the transfer of two intelligence officials with whom he had differed.

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