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Expert said pressed distort evidence { June 25 2003 }

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June 25, 2003
Expert Said to Tell Legislators He Was Pressed to Distort Some Evidence

WASHINGTON, June 24 A top State Department expert on chemical and biological weapons told Congressional committees in closed-door hearings last week that he had been pressed to tailor his analysis on Iraq and other matters to conform with the Bush administration's views, several Congressional officials said today.

The officials described what they said was a dramatic moment at a House Intelligence Committee hearing last week when the weapons expert came forward to tell Congress he had felt such pressure.

By speaking out, they said, the senior intelligence expert, identified by several officials as Christian Westermann, became the first member of the intelligence community on active service to make this sort of admission to members of Congress.

The House Intelligence Committee was examining questions concerning the Bush administration's handling of prewar reports on evidence that Iraq had illegal weapons and ties to terrorist groups.

Mr. Westermann, officials said, is an analyst in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, a small but important office at the State Department that is intended to provide the secretary of state with intelligence analysis independent of the C.I.A. and other agencies.

Mr. Westermann told lawmakers last week that while he felt pressure, he never actually changed the wording of any of his intelligence reports.

He did not immediately provide lawmakers with details about his complaints, and it remains uncertain the degree to which his concerns related to Iraq or other regional issues.

Administration officials said his most specific complaints concerned issues related to intelligence on Cuba, and he has not yet provided similar specific complaints about the handling of intelligence on Iraq.

Mr. Westermann, who is in his mid-40's, has worked as a State Department expert on unconventional weapons for the last several years and is viewed within the department as a careful and respected analyst of intelligence.

An administration official said he had served previously as a Navy officer and had not worked for the C.I.A. or other intelligence agencies.

Mr. Westermann's decision to speak out has caused a stir inside the House and Senate intelligence committees, even though he did not go into details and indicated he was not comfortable doing so in front of the large group of officials around him in the House hearing. But he said he was prepared to discuss the matter further.

In a second hearing last week with the Senate Intelligence Committee, he made it clear that he had felt pressure from John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, that originally dated to a clash the two had over Mr. Bolton's public assertions last year that Cuba had a biological weapons program. Mr. Westermann argued those assertions were not supported by sufficient intelligence.

Mr. Bolton declined to comment on the matter. Mr. Westermann also declined to comment.

The State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said tonight, "We don't comment on closed hearings, but I can tell you that the secretary and deputy secretary have full confidence in John Bolton."

A number of analysts at the C.I.A. and other agencies have privately complained over the past few months that they felt pressure from administration officials to write reports that they believe overstated evidence that Iraq had illegal weapons programs and terrorist links.

Mr. Westermann was one of a large group of officials from several intelligence agencies who had been summoned to appear at the opening session of the House intelligence panel's review on Iraq last week.

Addressing the group, Representative Silvestro Reyes, a Texas Democrat, asked whether any of them had felt political pressure in the development of their intelligence reports, which are supposed to be objective. All of the intelligence officials remained silent except for Mr. Westermann. Staff members from the House and Senate committees have begun to pursue the matter in greater detail with him, Congressional officials said.

Representative Jane Harman, a California Democrat and a ranking member on the House panel, declined to discuss the matter.

A spokesman for Mr. Reyes, Kira Maas, said, "The congressman does not comment on closed hearing information."

The failure of the United States to find evidence of Iraq's weapons programs or its links to Al Qaeda has raised questions about whether the administration overstated the threat posed by Baghdad as it made the case for going to war. Both the House and Senate intelligence committees have begun investigations into the matter, and the C.I.A. has begun an internal review of its prewar intelligence reports.

Pressure to politicize intelligence is often subtle and extremely difficult to corroborate or quantify. A number of analysts have said that the pressure they felt came in the form of intensive questioning from senior administration officials, particularly about reports that concluded that there was little evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

A number of analysts have suggested that they felt less direct pressure on reports concerning the status of Iraq's unconventional weapons, but were angered that senior Bush administration officials selectively disclosed classified intelligence reports that supported the worst-case scenario concerning Iraq's weapons programs, making it seem as if there was an imminent threat to the United States.

The analysts believe that in some cases, White House and Pentagon officials made public statements about Iraq's weapons based on intelligence that was far from definitive.

An administration official said that Mr. Westermann had clashed repeatedly with Mr. Bolton.

A State Department official sympathetic to Mr. Bolton's views said of Mr. Westermann, "He doesn't have anything that he can point to, and he doesn't have anything more recent than Cuba." That official added, "We're in a period where people are looking for particular evidence of intelligence being altered, and he's talking about mood swings."

But other administration officials said there had been ongoing tensions between the two since the Cuban issue first came up, to the point that Mr. Bolton has unsuccessfully sought to have Mr. Westermann reassigned.

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