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Obama eyes intel pick tied to bin Laden

Chas W. Freeman

JERUSALEM – The Obama administration’s reported pick for a top intelligence post has financial ties to the infamous bin Laden family – including dealings after Sept. 11, 2001.

Charles “Chas” Freeman, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to head the National Intelligence Council, according to multiple reports. Freeman has come under fire in the Israeli media and on some pro-Israel blogs for his sharp criticism of the Jewish state. He also reportedly heavily criticized American anti-terrorism policy.

Now Ashley Rinsdberg, a Jerusalem-based researcher and blogger for the Daily Beast website has dug up another issue that may cause even bigger worry for the likely Obama appointee – he had business ties to Osama bin Laden’s family and strongly defended the connections after 9/11.

Rindsberg documented how as chairman of Projects International, Inc., a company that develops worldwide business deals, Freeman declared in an Associated Press interview just after the 9/11 attacks he was still “discussing proposals with the Bin Laden Group – and that won’t change.”

The Bin Laden Group is a multinational construction conglomerate and holding company for the assets owned by the bin Laden family. It was founded in 1950 by Sheik Mohammed bin Laden, father of the terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Freeman told the AP companies that have “had very long and profitable relationships are now running for public relations cover.”

He said bin Laden remains “a very honored name” in the Saudi kingdom.

In a separate interview Sept. 28, 2001, Freeman told the Wall Street Journal he spoke at the time to two of Osama bin Laden’s brothers following the mega terrorist attacks. He said they told him the FBI had been “remarkably sensitive, tactful and protective” of the family during the current crisis.

The Journal noted Freeman’s ties to the bin Laden family went beyond admiration and business. He served as president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based Saudi backed nonprofit that at time was receiving tens of thousands of dollars a year from the bin Laden family.

Freeman maintained to the Journal that the bin Laden family company was closely aligned with American interests and that the group was part of the “establishment that Osama’s trying to overthrow.”

Osama bin Laden worked briefly in his family business and is reported to have inherited as much as $50 million from his father in cash and stock. The Saudi Bin Laden Group has invested in the Carlyle Group, a global private equity investment firm to which former President George H. W. Bush served as adviser. Former President George W. Bush sat on the board.

Rindsberg noted several investigations by U.S. intelligence agencies and journalists of the bin Laden family’s ties to al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden, raising questions about the authenticity of the family’s claim of distance from the terrorist chieftain.

Vincent Cannistro, a former CIA counter-terrorism specialist, for example, asserts that some bin Laden factions have not disowned Osama.

Also, Carmen bin Laden, a sister-in-law of Osama, told the German magazine Der Spiegel that the “Bin Ladens never disowned Osama; in this family, a brother remains a brother, no matter what he has done.”

Freeman heavily critical of U.S., Israel

Meanwhile, Freeman’s likely appointment has sparked concern among the pro-Israel community.

Blogs and Israeli news media websites have been highlighting recent comments Freeman made that are perceived as heavily critical of Israel.

He told the Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs in 2007 that Israeli policy is generating anti-American sentiment while the Jewish state “no longer even pretends to seek peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them.”

“American identification with Israeli policy has also become total. Those in the region and beyond it who detest Israeli behavior, which is to say almost everyone, now naturally extend their loathing to Americans,” he claimed.

Freeman lauded Hamas as “is the only democratically-elected government in the Arab world and claimed the terrorist group “is showing that if we offer it nothing but unreasoning hostility and condemnation, it will only stiffen its position and seek allies among our enemies. In both cases, we forfeit our influence for no gain.”

An investigative article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 2005 exposed how Freeman’s Middle East Policy Council was peddling to American schools a wildly inaccurate, anti-Israel, Saudi-funded textbook.

His council joined with California-based Arab World and Islamic Resources in selling to U.S. schools the “Arab World Studies Notebook.” The JTA found the book described Jerusalem as unequivocally “Arab,” characterized Jewish residence in the holy city as “settlement”; labeled the “question of Jewish lobbying” against “the whole question of defining American interests and concerns”; and suggested the Quran “synthesizes and perfects earlier revelations.”

“Freeman is a strident critic of Israel and a textbook case of the old-line Arabism that afflicted American diplomacy at the time the state of Israel was born,” Steve Rosen, a former top official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wrote on his “Obama Mideast Monitor” blog hosted by the Middle East Forum.

Rindsberg notes Freeman also heavily criticized Bush’s policy after 9/11. In 2006, in a speech to the U.S. Information Agency Alumni Association, Freeman compared Bush to Caligula and slammed America as a country that “stifles debate at home, that picks and chooses which laws it will ignore or respect, and whose opposition party whines but does not oppose.”