Freeman walks away from US intel slot

Former Saudi Arabia ambassador subject of investigation; Blair accepts decision "with regret."

Dennis Blair 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
Dennis Blair 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Charles Freeman, the controversial choice to chair the US National Intelligence Council, withdrew from the position on Tuesday, hours after top intelligence officials defended his selection. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair accepted Freeman's decision "with regret," according to a terse statement put out by his office. Freeman has become the subject of a investigation by the DNI inspector-general. Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had come under fire from several members of Congress for statements criticizing Israel and appearing to side with China against democracy advocates. The legislators, who included members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, also questioned his business associations with the Chinese government and a think tank, the Middle East Policy Council, funded in part by Saudi money. They had requested the investigation, which began last week. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) raised these issues when Blair testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on global threats earlier on Tuesday, saying of Freeman, "The concern here is that it suggests that he's more an advocate than an analyst, which is what you and we want in that position." Blair responded that Freeman would not be one making policy and that the statements attributed to him had "all been out of context." "Getting strong analytical viewpoints" to sort through served him better than "getting pre-cooked pablum judgments that don't really challenge," Blair said. In a letter he sent last week to the members of Congress who demanded the investigation, Blair defended Freeman in stronger words. "I am writing to underscore my full support for the appointment of Ambassador Charles Freeman," he told them, though he noted he had asked the inspector-general for a careful review. "Ambassador Freeman has served the United States in difficult, demanding assignments. His focus has been and will continue to be our national interest, not that of the various countries and cultures where he has developed an expertise." In response, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-New York) sent another letter to the inspector-general pressing him for strict scrutiny of Freeman's record.