Foreign ties of nominee questioned

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An independent inspector general will look into the foreign financial ties of Chas W. Freeman Jr., the Obama administration’s pick to serve as chairman of the group that prepares the U.S. intelligence community’s most sensitive assessments, according to three congressional aides.

The director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, last Thursday named Mr. Freeman, a veteran former diplomat, to the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council, known inside the government as the NIC. In that job, Mr. Freeman will have access to some of America’s most closely guarded secrets and be charged with overseeing the drafting of the consensus view of all 16 intelligence agencies.

His selection was praised by some who noted his articulateness and experience as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a senior envoy to China and other nations. But it sparked concerns among some members of Congress from both parties, who asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s inspector general, Edward McGuire, to investigate Mr. Freeman’s potential conflicts of interest.

Mr. Freeman has not submitted the financial disclosure forms required of all candidates for senior public positions, according to the general counsel’s office of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Nor did Mr. Blair seek the White House’s approval before he announced the appointment of Mr. Freeman, said Mr. Blair’s spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi.

“The director did not seek the White House’s approval,” Ms. Morigi said. “In addition to his formal background security investigation, we expect that the White House will undertake the typical vetting associated with senior administration assignments.”

Among the areas likely to be scrutinized in the vetting process are Mr. Freeman’s position on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC). The Chinese government and other state-owned companies own a majority stake in the concern, which has invested in Sudan and other countries sometimes at odds with the United States, including Iran.

Mr. Freeman is also president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. He also has chaired Projects International, a consulting firm that has worked with foreign companies and governments.

Lindsay Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York who sits on the House Appropriations Committee’s select intelligence oversight panel that funds the classified budgets for the intelligence community, said her boss had been in touch with Mr. McGuire, who was appointed by the first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte.

“Congressman Israel spoke with DNI inspector McGuire. The inspector said he would look into the matter. And the congressman is pleased with his response.” Two other congressional aides also said the inspector general would start his inquiries soon.

Ms. Morigi said only that Mr. McGuire was “reviewing the letter.”

The ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said the questions arising from Mr. Freeman’s past associations and business relationships should disqualify him from the NIC post.

“What kind of vetting process did Blair go through on this?” he asked. He added that the disclosures about Mr. Freeman’s relationships “may give Blair an out now. If he is on the board of these kinds of companies, it may provide a rather easy out to disqualify him.”

Chinese connection

Topping the list of concerns will be Mr. Freeman’s links to CNOOC. He joined the board of international advisers for the Chinese concern in March 2004, one year before the company made an unsuccessful bid to purchase the American energy company Unocal. Since then, CNOOC has been a source of worry for lawmakers from both parties as well as the Treasury Department as it looks to discourage oil field investment in Iran.

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