- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama’s designee as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Charles Freeman, who has worrisome links to foreign governments, lacks both the background and temperament to be effective in his job.

Given the nature and importance of this position, we would prefer to see a long-serving senior member of the intelligence community with no public profile or record of policy preferences, someone who could serve as an impartial, honest broker in the intelligence process. By contrast, Freeman emerged from the diplomatic community, translated his public service into private sector advantage, and is an outspoken, even confrontational advocate for controversial policies. Freeman seems an odd choice for an administration that came to office demanding an end to the politicization of intelligence.

Freeman’s private sector activities are now subjects of an Inspector General’s investigation, as reported exclusively in The Washington Times. The potential for conflicts of interest are too great to ignore.

Freeman has substantial financial ties to Saudi Arabia and China, two countries of critical concern to U.S. national security, and whose interests are frequently at variance with our own. His foreign dealings developed from relationships he nurtured while serving as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and in several diplomatic posts in China.

Freeman is not the first person to parlay the high-level access he attained through public service into private gain; but while it is important for senior intelligence officials to understand these strategically important countries, it is another matter to have been financially wedded to them. With his long-running and lucrative financial ties to foreign governments, Freeman would never get through the security clearance process if he were not an appointee, but merely was someone seeking regular employment in the intelligence community.

Freeman has a strong public record of controversial policy views, most notably his deep-seated bias against Israel, his blame-the-victim belief that U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to causing the 9/11 attacks, and his tepid description of the violent Chinese crackdown on pro-freedom demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989 as “overly cautious.”

These unorthodox views are notably in agreement with those of Freeman’s authoritarian patrons. Also, as reported by our own Eli Lake, Freeman is a board member of the China National Offshore Oil Conglomerate (CNOOC), an organization mentioned during the presidential campaign when Team Obama attacked McCain chief strategist Charlie Black’s work merely as a CNOOC lobbyist. This is hypocrisy we can believe in.

As chairman of the NIC, Freeman would be the chief editor of periodic National Intelligence Estimates on critical national security questions, compiled from the views of the 16 intelligence agencies. The NIEs are traditionally businesslike and classified, but have recently been transformed into public political fodder. A single strategically placed sentence, even one choice word, can short-circuit government policy and generate a media firestorm.

One example is the December 2007 NIE on Iranian Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, authored by previous NIC Director Thomas Fingar, which claimed Iran had ceased work on its nuclear weapons program, killing any sense of urgency for the U.S. to take vigorous action to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That NIE is now greatly discredited, and illustrates how the otherwise obscure NIC can hijack the national security debate. The person overseeing the NIE process must not only be as objective as possible but lack even the appearance of conflict of interest or pre-determined policy orientation. Freeman is not that man.

Freeman would not enjoy the trust of our key allies in the Middle East and Asia. The administration has pounded home the need for the U.S. to work with its partners abroad, but we doubt that such critical intelligence partners as Israel, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan would be as willing to work cooperatively with the United States knowing that someone with Freeman’s background will have access to their shared intelligence products. Certainly the most important intelligence they develop regarding China and Saudi Arabia would never be shared; and if it was, policymakers could not be guaranteed that Freeman would give it a fair viewing.

The post of director of the NIC does not require Senate confirmation, but nothing prevents Congress from holding hearings to inquire into Freeman’s fitness for office as part of its established intelligence oversight process. Bipartisan concern has already been expressed, by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) among others. We urge Congress to investigate this appointment and its implications for U.S. national security. There are too many red flags for comfort. Surely in our vast national security bureaucracy there is some other qualified individual who does not bring Freeman’s substantial baggage.


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