Rarely has a second-tier government appointment been more momentous than Team Obama’s decision to entrust the National Intelligence Council (NIC) to Charles “Chas” Freeman.
After all, by so doing, Mr. Obama would make the arbiter of the most policy-sensitive intelligence community products — the collective judgments known as National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) — to a man with strong and profoundly troubling views.
Bias of any kind should be considered a disqualifier for the job of NIC chairman. Bias of the kind Chas Freeman has displayed for many years puts him absolutely beyond the pale.
If the House Intelligence Committee does its job in a hastily arranged hearing with Ambassador Freeman this afternoon, it will be abundantly clear that he is unfit for this post and another serious blemish on the judgment of the president who would have him serve in it.
Since Freeman left the Foreign Service after a multidecade career involving service in, among other places, Communist China where he was the No. 2 man in the U.S. embassy and Saudi Arabia where he held the top diplomatic job, he has done what many others with similar backgrounds have done: Cash in.
Freeman served on the board of Beijing’s noxious state-owned petroleum giant, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) during the years it sought to corner the market on oil produced around the world. Among its targets: Unocal, a major U.S. company with significant oil reserves and the owner of the only American repository of certain highly strategic rare earth minerals.
Freeman also ran the Middle East Policy Council, an organization bankrolled by, among others, Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, the pre-eminent practitioner of what has come to be known as “stealth jihad,” the effort to promote through influence operations, front groups and outright acquisitions the seditious theo-political-legal program authoritative Islam calls “Shariah.”
It is not just that the ambassador was effectively employed by foreign governments and interests hostile to America. He actively advanced their agendas through his public advocacy of their positions, sometimes in utterly sycophantic ways. For example, as Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens observes in an essay today in which he describes Freeman as a “crackpot,” the would-be NIC chairman has unctuously fawned over Mao Zedong and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Worse yet, he has served as an apologist for not only the Chinese and Saudi regimes but also the Iranian mullahocracy and even Hamas. He and his council have been prime purveyors of Arabist disinformation, including relentless attacks on Israel.
Freeman is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, senior U.S. government official to translate connections developed during his public sector career into a lucrative practice in the private sector. In the latter capacity, he is, of course, free to espouse whatever tyranny and spin whatever repressive and even anti-American behavior he wishes.
It is a totally different matter, however, to put a person with a track record of doing both in a top intelligence community job in which he will be able to determine what the U.S. government perceives and exercise profound influence over what it does about various nations and policy issues.
The claim that such an individual would bring a “new perspective” to the task is only appealing to the extent one believes that perspective should be one closely aligned with the views and agendas of the countries most likely to be subject to scrutiny by the National Intelligence Council in the turbulent years ahead.
Members of the House intelligence panel are sure to want to explore with care both Freeman’s well-established record of dubious judgments on matters ranging from high strategy to the true ambitions of Saudi Arabia, Iran and China to his visceral contempt for one of our closest allies, Israel, to his solidarity with deniers of human rights.
Legislators will also need to assess the myriad conflicts of interest that are inherent not only in his present financial holdings but in his past and prospective relations with problematic governments and businesses.
A more intangible, but no less real, problem must also be assessed: The impact on intelligence cooperation and sharing in which foreign governments will be willing to engage knowing that someone with Freeman’s proclivities will, inevitably, be in the distribution “loop.”
The United States simply cannot afford to have less high-quality information available to it, for example, from those who may have far more human collectors of intelligence than we in closed Middle Eastern societies, countries with whose government the Ambassador has been extraordinarily close.
At the end of the day, it should be clear to members on both sides of the aisle that, while Chas Freeman is a smooth-talking, clever and even brainy man, he is unfit for the job to which he has been appointted.
Better to make sure the danger his posting would represent is avoided at the outset, rather than after it has translated into potentially grave harm to our intelligence community and national security policies.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department and is currently the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.
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