The announcement last week that the Obama administration would turn over the job of preparing National Intelligence Estimates to a man whom Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and Hamas surely consider an agent of influence calls to mind an old axiom about Charles “Chas” Freeman’s new line of work — “Garbage in, garbage out.”
The expression captures an immutable reality. The quality of the output of intelligence collection and analysis is only as good the inputs.
So, if you have a spymaster who unwittingly relies on double agents feeding the CIA enemy disinformation rather than accurate intelligence, conclusions drawn from such data will be erroneous, possibly dangerously so.
Similarly, if the chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) - the organization responsible for producing the National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) that are supposed to reflect the best insights of the intelligence community as a whole and that usually guide U.S. government security decision-making - has a well-established and anti- American policy agenda, he will likely try to discount or exclude insights from NIEs that conflict with his biases. Such a politicization of intelligence would have far-reaching implications for American interests and security.
Could this happen? In fact, it did in 2007 under the Bush administration. In December of that year, the National Intelligence Council - then under the leadership of another product of the State Department, Thomas Fingar - produced an NIE that declared “with high confidence” that the Iranian mullahs had halted their nuclear weapons program in 2003. An unclassified summary of that estimate was made public with much fanfare, and with a transparent political purpose: To deny President Bush grounds for attacking Iran so as to prevent the regime there from getting the bomb.
At the time, many intelligence and defense experts challenged the Iran NIE’s much-ballyhooed conclusion as preposterous and misleading. It was even belied by findings elsewhere in the estimate. Today, however, no sentient being thinks this National Intelligence Estimate’s principal finding was accurate.
Indeed, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, declared in recent days that the mullahs now have enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon and are working to do so. Maybe that development would have occurred in the absence of a flawed NIE. Given Tehran’s announced ambition to “wipe Israel off the map” and bring about “a world without America,” though, it was entirely predictable once such a skewed estimate was publicly released with the desired effect.
Unfortunately, the December 2007 NIE may look like the gold standard compared with what we can expect from a NIC process run by Chas Freeman. Like his boss, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and CIA Director Leon Panetta, Mr. Freeman has long been a consumer of intelligence, but not a professional in the spy business. In fact, in the course of a long career in the Foreign Service, Mr. Freeman served in capacities - notably as ambassador to Saudi Arabia and as the No. 2 man in Embassy Beijing - where the job often is seen as representing the host government to his own, rather than the other way around.
Worse yet, in the years since he left government service, Mr. Freeman has repeatedly espoused policy views that are profoundly troubling in their own right and that should simply be disqualifying for the position of objective arbiter of the most sensitive national intelligence assessments.
For example, Mr. Freeman has viewed the Middle East through the prism of one of Foggy Bottom’s most successful Arabists. He justifies Arab enmity towards us on the grounds that we are associated with Israel. He decries the liberation of Iraq for having “catalyzed anarchy, sectarian violence, terrorism, and civil war in that country.” He makes excuses for “democratically elected” Hamas and urges its embrace by the United States.
Worse yet, through his organization, the Middle East Policy Council, he has been a paid shill for Saudi Arabia - from whence millions of dollars have flowed to pay for Mr. Freeman’s excuse-making for the Saudis. Mr. Freeman has also served on the board of the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), a notorious state-owned arm of Chinese colonialism in Africa and Asia - a vantage point from which he could and did flak for Communist China.
Then, as is made clear in a paper by Clare Lopez about what Tehran calls “the Iran Lobby” in America released by the Center for Security Policy last week (http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/p17907.xml), Mr. Freeman has been a frequent apologist for Iran, as well. Like others who make up that “lobby,” Mr. Freeman has repeatedly and in numerous forums parroted the mullahs’ party line, insisting that the United States must engage diplomatically with Iran, not attack it.
It strains credulity that a man with such pronounced - and anti-American - policy views can serve effectively, let alone objectively, as the arbiter of National Intelligence Estimates. Perhaps they are not really his views and that he was simply what amounted to a paid lobbyist for deeply problematic causes and countries. The evidence suggests that he is what he appears to be: an aggressive partisan in the service of many of America’s most dangerous actual or potential adversaries.
Either way, it is malfeasance to entrust the National Intelligence Council to him. It speaks volumes about Barack Obama’s judgment and policy proclivities that he would even consider such an appointment.