Tomorrow the administration will receive a letter co-signed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Ranking Member Joseph Biden requesting that the 10 NSA intercept transcripts requested by John Bolton during his tenure as Under Secretary of State be made available to Senators and cleared senior Committee staff.
This is a very important step because if the administration fails to comply, it is now not only defying Senator Chris Dodd who has been trying to get a response on these transcripts for weeks, it is defiance of Chairman Lugar.
There are two theories as to why the NSA transcripts have not been provided yet. The first is that there are complicated protocols and precedence issues involved with the NSA providing these materials. I do not have evidence just yet of the case, but I have heard that there is in fact a precedent of the NSA providing intercept material to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in another circumstance. These kinds of intercepts are among America’s most secret kind of secrets — and this request for a rather large number of intercepts is significant. There may also be genuine concerns about protecting sources and methods of intelligence collection — and not having certain kinds of information leak out that could conceivably endanger national security.
The second is that this is a smoke screen that the State Department and Condoleeza Rice and others are manipulating to drag out the process of getting vital information on Bolton’s interest in the various U.S. officials named in the transcripts.
Sources tell TWN that the State Department has not signed off on NSA providing the transcripts and that the issue involved is not only resolving the logistics of making the transcripts available — but also working with State collaboratively so as not to inadvertently harm various diplomatic agendas or people mentioned.
The bottom line is that Dodd and others have worked for a very long time to get into the transcripts — and the administration has hid behind drag-their-feet protocol matters. NSA also had the audacity to claim that they would provide information only to the Senate Intelligence Committee. I’m sure that as miffed as Senator Lugar was with some Members of his Committee that the Bolton matter was dragged out an extra three weeks, such a response from the NSA and State Department would be equally irritating, if not more.
TWN has also learned that the Senate Democrats on the Committee are prepared to accept alternative presentations of material from the NSA.
If full transcripts prove to be too cumbersome or complicated to make available, TWN has been assured that the Democratic Members on the Committee would be willing to accept a digested version of the material which includes three parts:
1. the names of U.S. officials that appear in the transcripts and requested by Bolton
2. the dates of each reqested transcript
3. a digest of what policy issues or matters the transcript was about
The transcripts are important. Lugar is now tying up with Biden.
There is a great deal of speculation as to what is mentioned in the transcripts and which individuals will make the cut of those Bolton was essentially checking up on (or spying on) with his weekend reads of these super secret intel reports. The speculation and commentary range from Bill Richardson on some North Korea matters to Joe Biden on some Iran efforts…to Jack Pritchard on North Korea…and even Richard Armitage.
I have heard through an indirect source, someone close to a former very senior level officer at the State Department, that the intercepts will most likely not provide a “slam-dunk” against Bolton in showing some very clear pattern of interest in sabotaging his colleagues — but they will show a pattern of serious lapses in judgment and some serious ethical lapses when it comes to his perception of his role as a staff member assigned to follow the instructions of the Secretary of State.
What is fundamental is that the Senators, on both sides of the aisle, and their chief aides see the material Bolton saw.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cannot proceed in good conscience on this vote without access to that information.
And though this is a delicate process and Richard Lugar cannot be accused of being anti-Bolton in this process, Lugar himself just raised the stakes a lot by agreeing to assign his name to the demand that the administration stop stone-walling on these intercepts.
There will be more stories tomorrow on Bolton. . .and in case you missed them, here are two pieces on Bolton that ran on today’s New York Times op-ed page — one by Tom Friedman and the other by Maureen Dowd.
There were other articles in the New York Times, Washington Post, and just about everywhere. Even Brit Hume is giving the Bolton matter a lot of air time, though he’s on the other side of the battle.
One of our goals when this effort began was to turn Bolton into a household name, to get as many people as possible thinking about what was desirable and not when it came to representing this nation in the United Nations.
Maybe “household name” is overdone — but Bolton’s getting close.
— Steve Clemons