Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Is it a lie before it's told?
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.

Thanks to Talking Points Memo for the link.