By Sebastian Rotella
In early 2002, as the Bush administration hunted for Osama bin Laden, pressed its war in Afghanistan and set its sights on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, John Bolton saw another looming threat: that Cuba was secretly developing biological weapons.
Bolton, who was then the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control issues, included a warning about the Cuban threat in a draft of a speech and sent it around the department for the necessary clearance. A biological warfare analyst wrote back that Bolton’s proposed comments overstated what U.S. intelligence agencies really knew about the matter, and, as routinely happens, suggested some small changes.
The analyst was summoned to Bolton’s office. “He got very red in the face, and shaking his finger at me, and explained to me that I was acting way beyond my position,” the analyst, Christian Westermann, recalled later during a Senate inquiry. Bolton then demanded that Westermann’s supervisor remove him permanently from the biological weapons portfolio, thundering that “he wasn’t going to be told what he could say by a mid-level munchkin.”
Last week, President Donald Trump named Bolton to be his new national security adviser, a job that would arguably make him the government’s most important arbiter of competing views on foreign policy and a key judge of what intelligence information reaches the president on the most serious threats to national security.
The nomination — which does not require Senate confirmation — has drawn attention mainly for Bolton’s combative bureaucratic style and the hawkish views he has espoused in three Republican administrations and as a Fox News analyst. Among other ideas, Bolton has advocated overthrowing the Islamic government of Iran, bombing that country’s nuclear facilities, and (just last month) taking preemptive military action against North Korea.
But many foreign policy experts, including some who worked closely with him, argue that the more significant issue for Bolton’s new role may be his history as a consumer of intelligence that does not conform to his views, and the lengths to which he has sometimes gone to try to suppress analyses that he sees as wrong or misinformed.
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