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Ambassador Charles W. “Chas” Freeman Jr.’s nomination as chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) has quickly become the Obama administration’s most controversial appointment to date.
Mr. Freeman’s two post-government activities involved being a de facto employee of Saudi Arabia. In exchange, he received lavish support for his Middle East Policy Center (MEPC) and lucrative contracts for the consulting firm he founded to guide international companies into finding royal family-connected partners within the Saudi elite. This raises the reasonable questions as to whether Ambassador Freeman acted as an unregistered Saudi agent. This role has created significant concern about his impartiality as chief U.S. intelligence analyst on matters that will clearly involve Saudi views and interests.
While many former diplomats, especially former Saudi ambassadors, are not known for being big fans of Israel, Mr. Freeman presided over a center and publication featuring hostility to Israel that is beyond the broadest mainstream of U.S. thinking on the region. In addition, his slavish following of the Saudi “party line” has involved Mr. Freeman in some embarrassing situations.
For example, the MEPC, which receives major funding from the Saudi royal family, publishes a resource for American teachers called “Arab World Studies Notebook.” This notebook includes bizarre historical anomalies, such as that Muslims inhabited the New World in pre-Columbian times, and English explorers met “Iroquois and Algonquin chiefs with names like Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik.”
Another MEPC project is the quarterly magazine, Middle East Policy, the editorial pages of which are filled with disturbingly radical anti-Israel polemics. Claims such as the Iraq war was waged for the United States on behalf of Israel (fall 2008 issue) or that the United States allows Israel to “call the shots” on policy in the region, including a strategy of “buying off Fatah and starving Hamas” that is “an Israeli plan that Washington has had to accept” (fall 2007 issue). Mr. Freeman’s willingness to push these extreme positions for financial reward is troubling.
The chairman of the National Intelligence Council serves many of the same functions as the editor of a journal. He must review, edit, add context to and decide what to present in terms of good intelligence.
Mr. Freeman’s judgment may be tainted because of a desire to stay in the good graces of the House of Saud for his post-NIC career. As long as we are fighting a global war on Islamic terrorism, Mr. Freeman’s judgment as a de facto employee of the Saudi government should trouble citizens and supporters of the United States.
The Obama administration should also find it trouling. The new president has pledged to run a transparent operation. The job for which Mr. Freeman is nominated is not one the Senate must confirm. Neither is it one the president has to “own,” as the word is the Freeman nomination came not from the Oval Office but from Dennis Blair, director of national intelligence, who is a personal friend of the former ambassador.
Members of Congress from the president’s own party are deeply concerned about the appointment. Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, called Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel regarding the appointment, and Rep. Steve Israel, New York Democrat, asked the inspector general for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to look into the Saudi funding of the MEPC.
Perhaps, for its own good, the White House should ask those same tough questions and think about whether the appointment of Chas Freeman suits the interests of the United States or those of the House of Saud.