Intelligence officials block Syria report


WASHINGTON - The CIA and other agencies blocked an administration plan to deliver sharp new warnings this week about Syria's efforts to develop unconventional weapons, according to U.S. officials.

The agencies raised strong objections to testimony that John R. Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, had planned to present to Congress on Tuesday.

The hearing was postponed, and congressional officials and other government officials said one reason was the dispute over Bolton's plan to say in a classified portion of his testimony that Syria's development of chemical and biological weapons had progressed to the point that they posed a threat to stability in the Middle East.

The dispute is the latest between intelligence agencies and the administration over issues of unconventional weapons.

Government officials said they had no doubt that the separate controversy surrounding President Bush's use of disputed intelligence about Iraq's suspected nuclear weapons program had caused the intelligence agencies to be particularly rigorous in scrutinizing the testimony that Bolton had prepared about Syria.

A call to Bolton's office was referred to the State Department press office. A spokeswoman, Brooke Summers, said Bolton's testimony was postponed because he "had to attend a White House meeting at the time that he was scheduled to attend the subcommittee meeting."

She said the hearing was likely to be held in September.

Another State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bolton had decided to postpone his testimony, not just because of the White House meeting but because there was not time to resolve the interagency disagreements over his draft statement.

A CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, declined to comment on his agency's role in the matter. The CIA's objections to the testimony, first reported yesterday by Knight Ridder newspapers, were informally spelled out in a memorandum that exceeded 35 pages, one official said.

A second government official said the assertions in Bolton's prepared testimony went well beyond what the United States had previously said about Syria's weapons programs. That official said the extent of objections from the intelligence agencies meant that "there wasn't time to move it along."

In the past year, Bolton has been among the administration officials who have been most publicly critical of Syria, identifying its government as among those whose pursuit of chemical and biological weapons made them international threats.

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