Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are vowing increased scrutiny of national intelligence estimates if Charles “Chas” W. Freeman Jr. oversees their production.
In a letter sent Monday to Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, seven Republican senators - led by the panel’s vice chairman, Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican - said the appointment of Mr. Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), “sends the wrong message.”
“Given our concerns about Mr. Freeman´s lack of experience and uncertainty about his objectivity, we intend to devote even more oversight scrutiny to the activities of the NIC under his leadership,” the senators wrote. The letter was made available to The Washington Times.
Mr. Blair’s appointment of Mr. Freeman has sparked the first political battle involving President Obama’s intelligence community.
Defenders of the nomination include more than a dozen career diplomats who wrote the Wall Street Journal last week to praise Mr. Freeman’s temperament and experience as a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, senior envoy to China and high-level Pentagon official.
Those who oppose the nomination cite Mr. Freeman’s financial ties to Saudi Arabia and China, past criticism of Israel and comments that appear to defend Chinese repression of human rights.
As The Times reported last week, Mr. Freeman served until February on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC). In a private e-mail distribution, Mr. Freeman also criticized the Chinese government for not cracking down sooner on the nonviolent demonstrations 20 years ago at Tiananmen Square.
Sensing bipartisan worries from Congress, Mr. Freeman started meeting Friday with some lawmakers, including Mr. Bond, and has more meetings planned this week, congressional aides said.
The aides said that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has started to answer some questions about Mr. Freeman. For example, they said, the director’s office stated that Mr. Freeman’s comments about Tiananmen were reported out of context. As for his role advising CNOOC, Mr. Freeman earned $10,000 and attended meetings once a year, the aides said, and he recused himself from matters pertaining to CNOOC’s development of a gas field in Iran.
Mr. Blair likely will be pressed about Mr. Freeman on Tuesday when he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
On Monday, two leading China human rights advocates, Xiaorong Li and Perry Link, sent members of that panel a letter expressing concern about Mr. Freeman and a copy of a letter from 87 rights activists sent Friday to Mr. Obama.
Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, spoke with Mr. Blair on Monday to oppose the appointment. He said he would be sending Mr. Blair a pair of socks made by Tiananmen protesters in a Beijing prison that Mr. Wolf visited in 1991. He also will send Mr. Blair a videotape of two women from a Darfur refugee camp describing how they were raped by Sudanese forces.
“I elaborated a little more on why having visited Darfur and having seen what the Chinese have done, and CNOOC has done, how the oil money has helped fund [Sudanese President] Omar Bashir to kill innocent people,” Mr. Wolf said.