At the request of House Republicans, a government watchdog is examining whether the new chairman of an influential U.S. intelligence panel has compromising ties to Saudi Arabia's government.
At issue is the appointment of Charles Freeman, U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, to lead the National Intelligence Council. It writes the national intelligence estimates, the best judgments on critical security issues from the 16 intelligence agencies, for the president.
The national intelligence director, Dennis Blair, said through a spokeswoman he believes the inspector general reviewing the matter "will put to rest any questions about Ambassador Freeman's suitability, character and financial history."
A dozen House Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and party whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, asked this week for a probe into whether Freeman has personal, financial or contractual links with the Saudi government.
Republicans on Thursday also asked for a review of Freeman's relationship with China and Iran. Freeman has served on an international advisory board of the government-owned Chinese National Offshore Oil Company, according to a biography posted on Businessweek.com. The company signed a $16 billion agreement with Iran to develop one of its oil fields in 2007.
The State Department has not determined whether that deal violates economic penalties placed on Iran in an attempt to curb its nuclear program, spokesman Noel Clay said.
Questions about Freeman were referred to Blair's spokeswoman, Wendy Morigi, who noted that Freeman has 30 days to identify and resolve potential financial conflicts of interest. Freeman was appointed last week.
Freeman has stirred controversy on conservative blogs because of his sharp criticism of the Israeli government, the Iraq war and the Bush administration's approach to fighting terrorism.
Freeman until recently was president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank. The Republicans claim in their letter the Saudi government funds the organization and therefore paid his $87,000 annual salary.
In a 2006 interview, Freeman said the Saudi government provided only enough money to allow the council to shut its key programs down if it ran out of money and was forced to close. Jon Roth, the group's executive director, declined comment on its contributors.
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