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Another Man Down By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, March 11, 2009


On Monday, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair announced that Charles Freeman had withdrawn his name from consideration for the post of Chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), ending weeks of acrimonious debate that had been triggered by Freeman’s nomination. But while Freeman has receded from the spotlight, his selection to a critical intelligence post – despite a deeply troubling political background – lingers as a dark cloud over the Obama administration.

In the sensitive role of Chairman of the NIC, Freeman would have been privy to state secrets and would have advised President Obama on matters of national security. Yet Freeman’s ties to foreign powers raised obvious questions regarding conflicts of interest. Moreover, Freeman has made controversial public statements that fly in the face of official U.S. policy, on subjects like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, and even the 1989 massacre in Communist China’s Tiananmen Square.

Since 1997 Freeman, a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, has been the president of the nonprofit Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), an organization with “close ties to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” In a 2006 interview, Freeman explained that MEPC had received a $1 million endowment, thanks to “the generosity of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.” The following year, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud gave another $1 million to MEPC. (Alwaleed’s offer of money to New York City after 9/11 was famously turned down by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.)

Furthermore, researcher Ashley Rindsberg recently revealed Freeman’s pre- and post-9/11 “business connections” with the bin Laden family, which have donated “tens of thousands of dollars a year” to the MEPC. Rindsberg also discovered donations to Obama’s presidential campaign by Freeman’s Projects International, “a company that develops international business deals.”

Many of Freeman’s public statements during his time at MEPC also suggest that his “ties to the Kingdom” included identifying with certain aspects of the Saudis’ worldview. Among its other activities, the MEPC proudly issued an “unabridged” version of the controversial 2006 essay “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. The report claimed that American Jews had a “stranglehold” on U.S. politicians and decision makers. Freeman endorsed the report and boasted, “No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article, given the political penalties that the Lobby imposes on those who criticize it.”

Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and others opposed to Freeman’s appointment had also cited a speech delivered by Freeman in 2002, in which Freeman seemed to make apologies for Islamic terrorism while condemning the United States. Said Freeman:

“Saudis and other Gulf Arabs were shocked by the level of ignorance and antipathy displayed by Americans toward them and toward Islam after September 11. The connection between Islam and suicide bombing is a false connection. Kamikaze pilots were not Muslims…And what of America's lack of introspection about September 11? Instead of asking what might have caused the attack, or questioning the propriety of the national response to it, there is an ugly mood of chauvinism. Before Americans call on others to examine themselves, we should examine ourselves.”

Besides his longstanding ties to Saudi Arabia, Freeman also sits on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), which is majority owned by the Chinese government. The Corporation has investments in Sudan as well as Iran and “other countries other countries sometimes at odds with the United States.” During Freeman’s time on the board, the CNOOC was investigated by the State Department for violating the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act.

Freeman’s close working relationship with the Chinese government seems to have influenced his political views – so much so that, in a 2006 internet post that is only now receiving media scrutiny, Freeman criticized the Chinese authorities for not moving swiftly enough to crush democratic protestors and dissidents assembled in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

“[T]he truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than -- as would have been both wise and efficacious -- to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China. In this optic, the Politburo's response to the mob scene at ‘Tiananmen’ stands as a monument to overly cautious behavior on the part of the leadership, not as an example of rash action….

“I do not believe it is acceptable for any country to allow the heart of its national capital to be occupied by dissidents intent on disrupting the normal functions of government, however appealing to foreigners their propaganda may be. Such folk, whether they represent a veterans' ‘Bonus Army’ or a ‘student uprising’ on behalf of ‘the goddess of democracy’ should expect to be displaced with despatch [sic] from the ground they occupy.”

Unsurprisingly, 87 Chinese dissidents, many of whom have served stints in Chinese prisons for their part in the Tiananmen protests, have written President Obama to “convey our intense dismay at your selection” of Freeman. The dissidents noted that “[n]o American in public life has been more hostile than Mr. Freeman toward the ideals of human rights and democracy in China.”

Freeman's apologetics for Chinese authoritarianism fueled the fury over his nomination. Adding to the controversy was that, up until his withdrawal from the nomination, Freeman failed to submit the required financial disclosure forms required for all nominees, nor had he been formally vetted by the White House. Instead, an independent inspector had been charged with investigating Freeman’s foreign financial ties, following growing criticism of his appointment by senior members of the House of Representatives. And Freeman’s critics were only growing more vocal.

Shoshana Bryen, Senior Director for policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, was among the first to denounce the Freeman appointment. In a telephone interview with FrontPage prior to Freeman’s sudden withdrawal, Bryen said that “unhappiness with” Obama’s choice of Freeman “goes beyond party lines.” Bryen said that, although the Middle East Policy Council “is a non-profit, Freeman actually worked as a lobbyist,” albeit an unofficial one, “because he took his money from people with a particular point of view, so his analysis of certain issue may be distorted by the fact of where the money came from.” Bryen added that even if “Saudi Arabia’s concerns mirror our own” on occasion – for instance, when it comes Iran’s possible acquisition of nuclear weapons – Freeman’s relationship with the Kingdom suggests that “he may be beholden to a foreign government.”

Bryen found Freeman’s remarks about Tiananmen Square “even more troubling. He still hasn’t disavowed them, and he seems willing to consider that the requirements of an unelected government” like that ruling Communist China, take precedent over the rights of helpless ordinary citizens to life, let alone freedom of assembly.

Echoing Bryen’s concerns was Laurent Murawiec, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute. In an interview conducted before Freeman withdrew his name from consideration, Murawiec told Front Page that Freeman “is part of the crowd,” the “cabal,” that includes the State Department and the CIA that under George W. Bush issued the “mendacious” National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran. The report’s conclusion that “the Ayatollahs’ regime had stopped its efforts to weaponize its nuclear program” was based on “evidence that proved to be a lie.”

The cabal’s policy, “unchanged for decades,” says Murawiec, “is that despots and tyrants in the Arab-Muslim world should be supported for the sake of stability, and stability preserved for the sake of petroleum.” Such stability, adds Murawiec, never lasts for long.

“Freeman, if head of NIC, will skew and manipulate” future National Intelligence Estimates and “consistently leverage his position in the interest of his Saudi sponsors, and more broadly, of the Washington ‘realist’ consensus.”

“The NIC does not dictate policy,” allows Murawiec, but “with an ignorant and inexperienced president like Barack Obama at the helm, the chances for a serious foreign policy-making process would be further destroyed” with Charles Freeman as the NIC’s chairman.

How telling that someone like Freeman, before his fall, had been appointed by the Obama administration for such a sensitive position, especially one that did not require Congressional approval. Given Freeman’s undisputed ties to Saudi Arabia and China, any advice he would have offered the President could well have been compromised by conflicts of interest. The results might have proven fatal. Although Freeman was not personally appointed by Obama, the administration allowed the controversy to build for days without comment. The fiasco is another embarrassment for a new administration whose brief transition period has already been marred by similar examples of confusion and poor judgment coming out of the White House.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.


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