BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence services were seeking to influence political policy-making with their assessment Iran had halted its nuclear arms program in 2003, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said.
Der Spiegel magazine quoted Bolton Saturday as saying the aim of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), contradicting his and President George W. Bush's own oft-stated position, was not to provide the latest intelligence on Iran.
"This is politics disguised as intelligence," Bolton was quoted as saying in an article appearing in next week's edition.
Bolton described the NIE, released Monday, as a "quasi-putsch" by the agencies, Der Spiegel said.
The NIE said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program four years ago but was continuing to develop the technical means that could be applied to producing weapons. This contradicted the oft-stated position of President Bush that Iran is actively trying to develop an atomic weapon.
In Washington, a senior official at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, defended the NIE and said intelligence agencies were confident in their analysis.
"National Intelligence Estimates contain the coordinated judgments of the intelligence community regarding the likely course of future events and the implications for U.S. policy," said Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr.
"The task of the intelligence community is to produce objective, ground truth analysis," he said in a statement. "We feel confident in our analytic tradecraft and resulting analysis in this estimate."
The hawkish Bolton has long criticized Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for refusing to declare that there was hard evidence Tehran was trying to develop nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei said the new NIE "somewhat vindicated" Iran, which has always denied allegations it was secretly trying to build atom bombs.
Earlier this year Bolton said: "Regime change or the use of force are the only available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons capability, if they want it."
U.S. intelligence has shouldered much of the blame for the Bush administration's unfounded allegations that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had revived his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs, the official justification for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; additional reporting by Deborah Charles in Washington; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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