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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Freeman ties to China, Saudi Arabia to be examined

In Thursday's Washington Times, Eli Lake reports that Chas Freeman's ties to China and Saudi Arabia will be examined by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Inspector General, as requested Wednesday night by several members of Congress (Hat Tip: Memeorandum).
Among the areas likely to be scrutinized in the vetting process are Mr. Freeman's position on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC). The Chinese government and other state-owned companies own a majority stake in the concern, which has invested in Sudan and other countries sometimes at odds with the United States, including Iran.

Mr. Freeman is also president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. He also has chaired Projects International, a consulting firm that has worked with foreign companies and governments.

Lindsay Hamilton, a spokeswoman for Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York who sits on the House Appropriations Committee's select intelligence oversight panel that funds the classified budgets for the intelligence community, said her boss had been in touch with [the agency's Inspector General] Mr. [Edward] McGuire, who was appointed by the first director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte.

"Congressman Israel spoke with DNI inspector McGuire. The inspector said he would look into the matter. And the congressman is pleased with his response." Two other congressional aides also said the inspector general would start his inquiries soon.

[Dennis Blair's spokeswoman] Ms. [Wendy] Morigi said only that Mr. McGuire was "reviewing the letter."

The ranking member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said the questions arising from Mr. Freeman's past associations and business relationships should disqualify him from the NIC post.

"What kind of vetting process did [Director of National Intelligence] Blair go through on this?" he asked. He added that the disclosures about Mr. Freeman's relationships "may give Blair an out now. If he is on the board of these kinds of companies, it may provide a rather easy out to disqualify him."
What's astounding about this article - and it's not reporter Eli Lake's fault because he's reporting facts and not opinions - is that except for the two brief paragraphs above it takes until the last section (of an article that is four screens long on the web) before someone wakes up and says 'maybe this guy's views ought to disqualify him' instead of trying to explain away his financial associations or praising him as a 'great mind.' Here's where Lake is finally able to get to what ought to be the real issues here:
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.


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."
Malinowski is wrong. A capacity to make moral distinctions would have resulted in a different National Intelligence Estimate on Iran being issued in December 2007. And if a different Estimate had been released, the World might not be inching towards the precipice of nuclear war as it is today.

Read the whole thing.


Glenn Reynolds headlines this story: "HOUSE, BARN DOOR, ETC."


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