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CIA: Assessment of Syria's WMD exaggerated

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  • MEW
    Posted on Tue, Jul. 15, 2003 CIA: Assessment of Syria s WMD exaggerated By WARREN P. STROBEL and JONATHAN S. LANDAY Knight Ridder Newspapers
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 17, 2003
      Posted on Tue, Jul. 15, 2003

      CIA: Assessment of Syria's WMD exaggerated
      By WARREN P. STROBEL and JONATHAN S. LANDAY
      Knight Ridder Newspapers
      http://www.philly.com/mld/philly/6310763.htm







      WASHINGTON - In a new dispute over interpreting intelligence data, the CIA
      and other agencies objected vigorously to a Bush administration assessment of
      the threat of Syria's weapons of mass destruction that was to be presented
      Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

      After the objections, the planned testimony by Undersecretary of State
      John R. Bolton, a leading administration hawk, was delayed until September.

      U.S. officials told Knight Ridder that Bolton was prepared to tell members
      of a House of Representatives International Relations subcommittee that Syria's
      development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons had progressed to such a
      point that they posed a threat to stability in the region.

      The CIA and other intelligence agencies said that assessment was
      exaggerated.

      Syria has come under increasing U.S. pressure during and after the Iraq
      war for allegedly giving refuge to members of Saddam Hussein's regime, allowing
      foreign fighters to cross into Iraq to attack U.S. troops and for backing
      Palestinian militant groups that were conducting terrorist strikes on Israel.
      After Saddam's government fell, some Bush aides hinted that the government of
      Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus might be the next U.S. target.

      The objections by the intelligence community come as the Bush
      administration is defending itself over complaints that it embellished
      intelligence secrets to justify the war against Iraq.

      Bolton's planned remarks caused a "revolt" among intelligence experts who
      thought they inflated the progress Syria has made in its weapons programs, said
      a U.S. official who isn't from the CIA, but was involved in the dispute.

      He and other officials who provided similar accounts spoke only on the
      condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity and because they
      aren't authorized government spokesmen.

      The CIA's objections and comments alone ran to 35 to 40 pages, the
      official said.

      Officials declined to provide more details of the disputes over the
      testimony, some of which was secret and scheduled to be delivered in closed
      session. The House panel is considering a bill that would toughen trade and
      diplomatic sanctions against Syria, which is on the U.S. list of
      terrorist-sponsoring nations.

      Officials provided conflicting explanations of why the hearing was
      canceled.

      A Bolton aide said it was because of a scheduling conflict - Bolton was
      called to a White House meeting Tuesday afternoon - and that the hearing had
      been reset for September. Others said it was because the bitter dispute couldn't
      be immediately resolved.

      A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the issue.

      But other officials in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill said the
      White House Office of Management and Budget, which coordinates government
      officials' public statements, wouldn't give final approval to the planned
      testimony.

      The conflict appears to illustrate how battles over prewar intelligence on
      Iraq have spread to other issues and have heightened sensitivity among Bush
      aides about public descriptions of threats to the United States.

      The White House acknowledged last week that it shouldn't have included in
      President Bush's January State of the Union address a dramatic contention that
      Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was trying to buy uranium for nuclear weapons in
      Africa. Other administration claims about Iraq's banned weapons program and
      alleged ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network are now in question.

      Several officials said another reason for the cancellation of Bolton's
      testimony was that he might have been subjected to sharp questioning about Iraq
      intelligence, a controversy the White House is trying to lay to rest.

      There is more attention to "dotting I's and crossing T's," said a State
      Department official, adding that Bolton's draft statement was the subject of
      "extensive edits."

      Bolton set off a controversy in May 2002 when he asserted in a speech that
      Cuba has a biological warfare program. A State Department intelligence expert,
      Christian Westermann, recently told a closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee
      hearing that available intelligence data don't support that assertion, U.S.
      officials have said.

      The first U.S. official said that after months of complaining about
      pressure to skew their analyses, rank-and-file intelligence officials "have
      become emboldened" by the recent public debate over Iraq.

      "People are fed up," he said.

      Another official confirmed that the CIA had "a good deal of concern" over
      the classified portion of Bolton's testimony.

      In speeches and congressional testimony over the past year, Bolton has
      identified Syria among a handful of countries whose alleged pursuit of
      biological and chemical weapons makes them threats to international stability.
      His assessments attached more gravity to the danger that Syria poses than did a
      declassified U.S. intelligence assessment that covered the first six months of
      2002.

      In testimony in June before the House International Relations Committee,
      Bolton said U.S. officials are "looking at Syria's nuclear program with growing
      concern and continue to monitor it for any signs of nuclear weapons intent."

      A CIA report submitted to Congress in April contained more cautionary
      language. Noting that Syria and Russia have reached preliminary agreement on
      civilian nuclear cooperation, the CIA report said only, "In principal, broader
      access to Russian expertise provides opportunities for Syria to expand its
      indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons."

      In his June testimony, Bolton asserted that U.S. officials "know that
      Syria is pursuing the development of biological weapons." The CIA report said
      only that it's "highly probable that Syria is also continuing to develop an
      offensive BW (biological weapons) capability."

      Finally, Bolton told the congressional committee that "North Korean
      entities have been involved in aiding Syria's ballistic missile development."
      The CIA reported that Syria was trying to build Scud-C ballistic missiles
      "probably with North Korean assistance."

      CIA Director George Tenet, in an annual worldwide assessment of threats
      against the United States that he presented to Congress in February, referred to
      Syria by name only once, and that was in connection with its support for
      Palestinian extremist groups.




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