WASHINGTON (JTA) – A controversial former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia was appointed to a top intelligence job.
Charles "Chas" Freeman Jr. was named the chairman of the National Intelligence Council by Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence.
A letter from Blair’s office to congressional leaders obtained Thursday by the Politico news Web site spelled out Freeman’s responsibilites.
The letter said Freeman "will be responsible for overseeing the production of National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) and other Intelligence Community analytical products, providing substantive counsel to the DNI and senior policymakers on issues of top national security importance, reaching out to nongovernmental experts in academia and the private sector to broaden the Intelligence Community’s perspective, and articulating substantive intelligence priorities and procedures to guide intelligence collection and analysis."
More than any almost other document, national intelligence estimates help shape foreign policy, particularly in wartime. The Bush administration blamed omissions in a 2002 estimate for some of the misinformation it peddled about the threat posed by Iraq.
News of the likelihood of the appointment had set off a firestorm among pro-Israel pundits in recent days. Freeman heads the Middle East Peace Council, a think tank that has raised substantial sums from the Saudi royal family, and is chairman of Projects International, a firm that has represented U.S. defense firms in Saudi Arabia.
In public statements he has relentlessly criticized Israel while rarely noting Palestinian terrorism as an element in the failure of peace talks. Freeman also has soft-peddled repression in Saudi Arabia and China, another country where he worked as a diplomat and subsequently had business dealings. Associates of Freeman have told sympathetic bloggers that he is a professional who will leave his biases at the door in his new job.
Freeman is close to Blair. According to one senior Jewish leader with ties to the administration of President Obama, the White House was sensitive to criticism of the pick. On the other hand, the Jewish leader said, Obama was reluctant to appear to show political interference by blocking Blair’s choice.