A ma­jor na­tional in­tel­li­gence mis­step

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

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 hos­til- ity 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

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 pol- 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 fight- 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. Two weeks ago, 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.

Sammy Benoit is ed­i­tor of the po­lit­i­cal blog Yid With Lid (http://yid­with­lid.blogspot. com).

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