Foreign ties of nominee questioned

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Fritz W. Ermarth, who served as chairman of the NIC between 1988 and 1993, said, “Mr. Freeman’s political and business associations will be or should be vetted and then reviewed in a polygraph examination for potential hazards to security.”

He said the “political correctness” of Mr. Freeman’s past associations “will not be and should not be at issue from a security point of view. But they are legitimate issues for argument and discussion from a political point of view, where the question is not just the orientation of Mr. Freeman, but the orientation of the administration.”

Henry Rowen, who chaired the council from 1981 to 1983, said, “There are all kinds of perception issues here.”

He added, “He is on the board of CNOOC. I don’t think it should matter or that alone disqualifies him. Of course this is legitimate to look at, you have to look at the whole record. It has to be looked at, but I don’t see anything to disqualify him.”

Robert Hutchings, who headed the NIC from 2003 to 2005, said the same criteria that apply to other senior U.S. administration officials should apply to Mr. Freeman. “If he recuses himself [on issues where there might be a conflict of interest] or places his assets in a blind trust, so there is no question of him benefiting - so long as he can play by these rules, it should be a fine choice,” Mr. Hutchings said.

Currently diplomat-in-residence at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, Mr. Hutchings said Mr. Freeman’s business expertise could be an asset in his new post. As NIC chairman, Mr. Hutchings said, he hired two national intelligence officers, dealing with international real estate and software, who had business backgrounds.

Talking points

Herb Meyer, a deputy chairman of the NIC during the Reagan administration, said business connections with China and Saudi Arabia were a concern, but he was more worried about Mr. Freeman’s views.

“What concerns me more is what he has said and written. What matters here is his judgment and that seems to be the point that everyone is skating away from,” Mr. Meyer said. “Can you imagine if I had stood up and explained away Tiananmen Square? He does not have the intellectual fire power to sort through the intelligence and reach a plausible conclusion.”

Mr. Meyer was referring to a 2006 e-mail attributed to Mr. Freeman saying China was justified in cracking down on students protesting at Tiananmen Square in 1989 and should have acted sooner to suppress the civil disobedience.

The Washington Times could not corroborate that the e-mail that was reportedly sent by Mr. Freeman to members of the China Security Listserv, a private group of policy analysts. But it tracks with other public statements from Mr. Freeman, such as his characterization in an April 25 speech to the National War College Alumni Association that described Tibetan protests last year as a “race riot.” Mr. Freeman did not respond to requests for comment.

Other China analysts praised Mr. Freeman, who is said to speak Mandarin Chinese better than almost anyone else in the Foreign Service and who interpreted for President Nixon on his groundbreaking trip to China in 1972.

David Lampton, director of the China Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, said, “We’re lucky to have a person of this caliber. He’s an excellent mind in general and has long experience in the area of the world I know best.”

The Washington advocacy director of Human Rights Watch said, however, that Mr. Freeman’s nomination sends the wrong message.

“A capacity to make moral distinctions may not be a prerequisite for being a good intelligence analyst,” Tom Malinowski said. “But for such a high-profile appointment, it would still be wise for President Obama to weigh the message sent by choosing someone who has so consistently defended and worked for the clenched fists the president so eloquently challenged in his inaugural address.”

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