- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

An independent inspector general will examine links between Charles W. “Chas” Freeman Jr. and Saudi Arabia for potential conflicts of interest, according to a letter obtained Thursday by The Washington Times.

Mr. Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who was appointed a week ago by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair to chair the National Intelligence Council, has drawn fire from some Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

In a letter Thursday to 12 members of Congress, Edward Maguire, inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), said he would look into Mr. Freeman’s “past and current relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and “report back to Congress on any potential conflicts of interest.”

“We are examining the matters you have raised and will respond upon completion,” he wrote.

Those matters include “personal financial disclosures and the list of all contributors to the Middle East Policy Council across all years that Ambassador Freeman drew a salary from the foundation.”

Mr. Freeman heads the council, a Washington educational institute that has received at least $1 million from Saudi Arabia. The Times reported Wednesday that 11 anonymous donors gave the council $2.7 million in 2006.


Foreign ties of nominee questioned

The queries suggest a dicey vetting process for Mr. Freeman, who would supervise the preparation of sensitive intelligence assessments. According to the ODNI, he was named before the intelligence community had completed the investigations into his security clearances and without the prior knowledge of President Obama.

However, an intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the vetting process was “nearly complete.”

Blair spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said the “security clearance process includes a thorough background investigation that examines the employee’s life history, character, trustworthiness, reliability and judgment. The investigation also examines whether the individual could have conflicting allegiances or whether there is a potential for coercion.”

Ms. Morigi said Mr. Freeman had 30 days after starting the job to file a financial disclosure report.

“Each individual hired for a senior position at ODNI is required to work with ODNI ethics officials to determine any conflicts of interest arising from prior employment or financial holdings and to take appropriate steps to resolve such conflicts,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Ambassador Freeman will comply with all procedures and recommendations.”

Ms. Morigi defended the choice of Mr. Freeman, noting that he “has a 30-year history of representing the United States’ national security interests as a diplomat and former assistant secretary of defense. In that capacity, he held high-level clearances where he faithfully and accurately represented the national interests and goals of the United States, not the interests of the various countries and cultures he understands.”

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent reported Thursday that Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a high-profile Democrat from New York, called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel last week to complain about Mr. Freeman.

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