Yesterday’s news by Intelligence Director Dennis Blair that Obama’s choice for top intel analyst would not be Charles “Chas” Freeman allowed the nation a collective sigh of relief.
It spares the Obama administration continuing damage from the self-inflicted wound of yet another very bad personnel decision.
Far more importantly, the country may be spared the adverse security consequences of having its National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) skewed to suit the boss. That of course, leaves the question, Who’s next? Who will be the next choice to fill the position vacated by Freeman for chairman of the National Intelligence Council (NIC)?
The danger of Obama’s choice was very real. In the years since Freeman retired from his career in the Foreign Service, he capitalized on relationships developed during previous official postings in Beijing and Riyadh. He actually worked in various capacities for the Chinese and Saudis, relentlessly promoting the party lines of those who paid his freight.
Along the trail, Freeman established a record of naked partisanship on behalf of actual or potential adversaries like the House of Saud, the Chinese Communists, the Iranian mullahs and even the terrorists of Hamas. He reliably attacked his friends’ enemies, including Israel and Taiwan, and disagreed with the liberation of Iraq and critics of Wahhabism.
In other words, Chas Freeman was a man who could no more be expected to render impartial and objective intelligence estimates than would any other agent of influence for hostile powers. The question is, Who on earth thought otherwise?
The blame game for this fiasco is already underway. Even before Ambassador Freeman asked to have his designation as NIC chairman withdrawn on Monday, administration sources put out the word that the director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, was responsible for this selection, not the president.
For his part, Blair backpedaled, not disavowing the appointment but saying the vetting of Freeman’s financial information had not been completed.
In Washington circles, the message was unmistakable: Team Obama was positioning itself, in the face of growing Democratic and Republican opposition to Freeman, to cut its losses by throwing this appointment under the bus as it had numerous others in recent weeks.
Understanding how an individual with Chas Freeman’s baggage could have gotten this far is a matter of more than accountability for systemic dysfunction in the vetting process, however.
If those responsible for selecting and promoting Freeman are allowed to make such a mistake again, the next person charged with determining the subject matter and contents of National Intelligence Estimates may be every bit as biased and otherwise flawed as was this designee — but perhaps without the public record that proves those problems exist.
Put bluntly, we need to know whether President Obama and/or his director of National Intelligence are determined to cook the intelligence books and, therefore, whether they will recruit another bad choice for NIC chairman.
Is the Obama administration so bent on policies of rapprochement (or appeasement) with the planet’s most dangerous regimes that they require politicized NIEs to provide necessary cover for their actions?
That was, after all, precisely the effect of a notorious December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iran principally drafted by folks who were, like Freeman, long-time denizens of the State Department. Implausibly, that NIE declared with “high confidence” that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years before.
The point of the exercise was not whether the estimate’s pre-eminent judgment was correct — or even whether it was supported by the rest of the document. Neither was the case.
Rather, the point was to effect policy, in this case scuppering any prospect that the Bush administration would act to disrupt what has been and remains the mullahs’ 20-year effort to get the bomb.
If the Obama administration is determined to achieve such a politicization of intelligence, it seems a safe bet that Freeman’s replacement will not be the sort of professional with a record of non-partisan objectivity and independence that the NIC chairman (and, for that matter, other top intelligence community jobs) demand.
That must not be allowed to happen.
Congressional oversight committees, the media, and not least the public, must hold President Obama accountable for these highly sensitive personnel decisions. If we don’t, we will ultimately have in part ourselves to blame for the selection process, and the possibly highly dangerous consequences that flow from it.
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department. He is currently the president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.
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