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JERUSALEM – President Obama's nominee for a top intelligence post sits on the board of a major oil company owned by the Chinese government that is widely seen as conducting business deals meant to expand China's influence worldwide, WND has learned.
Charles "Chas" Freeman, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, is slated to head the U.S. National Intelligence Council. The NIC is a crucial component of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, serving as the center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking within the American intelligence community. It provides intelligence briefs for Obama and key U.S. agencies and produces reports that help determine American policy on crucial issues, such as Iran's nuclear program.
Freeman is on the board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC, which in 2005 tried to purchase the ninth largest oil firm in the U.S. while he was a member. The merger was halted following bipartisan congressional opposition amid fears the deal would harm American national security interests.
The Chinese oil firm also has been accused of multiple human rights violations.
Freeman has served on the board of CNOOC since 2004. He also founded a pro-China organization, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, which seeks to promote U.S.-China relations.
Freeman did not return WND requests for comment left with a media representative for his Middle East Policy Council.
CNOOC, the third largest Chinese oil company, focuses on the exploitation, exploration and development of crude oil and natural gas offshore of China. Seventy-five percent of the company's shares are owned by the government of the People's Republic of China.
Chas W. Freeman
In 2005, CNOOC made a staggering, all-cash $18.5 billion offer to buy the American oil company Unocal, topping an earlier bid by ChevronTexaco. Immediately, lawmakers and many policy experts, including a broad array of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, mounted a major opposition campaign to the bid, urging the Bush administration to have the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. determine how the deal would affect national security.
"This takeover is part of a Chinese strategy to move very aggressively into acquiring natural resource assets all over the world to fuel China's continued growth, because China is relatively resource-poor," Alan Tonelson, a research fellow with the U.S. Business and Industry Council, told reporters in 2005. "It's also part of a Chinese campaign to move, again, very aggressively into the American economy."
There was concern the deal would give China a major foothold in the U.S. economy and would also boost Chinese influence and political clout worldwide, particularly in Asia, where Unocal maintained major holdings in Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh,
"The acquisition would significantly help China achieve its goal of dominating the entire (Asian) region," John J. Tkacik Jr. wrote in a 2005 article in Capitalism Magazine.
Rep. Donald Manzullo, R-Ill., similarly warned the acquisition would give China an economic "leg up" in Asia.
Scores of media reports in major news outlets quoted congressmen worrying the CNOOC deal would give the Chinese an energy bargaining chip during U.S. negotiations seeking a tougher line against North Korea's nuclear program.
Human rights violations
Arakan Oil Watch, a human rights organization, issued a report accusing CNOOC last October of human rights abuses and land theft in an oil prospecting venture in Burma. The accusations came less than a month after the U.S.-based EarthRights International expressed concern about China's increasing grip on Burma's natural resources, including through CNOOC's ventures.
The accusations against CNOOC, with Freeman on its board, ranged from land seizure to wanton pollution of rice fields and water systems with oil waste.
"Observers note that the actions by CNOOC are similar to the methods still used throughout rural China when entrepreneurs in cahoots with Communist Party officials want to pursue a development against local peoples' wishes. They simply steamroller opposition," read a report in Irrawaddy, the independent news magazine based in Thailand.
Freeman has a long history of involvement with China. He was the principal American interpreter during President Nixon's historic visit to Beijing in 1972 and was a member of the advance team that opened the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing in 1973. From 1979 to 1981, Freeman directed Chinese Affairs at the State Department. From that point until 1984, he served as chargé and deputy chief of mission at the American embassy in Beijing.
Freeman is the co-founder of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation, which, according to its website, promotes a greater understanding between American and Chinese policymakers, researchers and government officials. Among the missions of the foundation is to organize the development of China studies in U.S. institutions of higher education.
Freeman has been widely quoted in the media supporting Chinese policies and even penned a piece praising communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
The Weekly Standard recently obtained an e-mail Freeman posted to a list serve rapping the Chinese government for not immediately breaking up the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
He wrote: "I find the dominant view in China about this very plausible, i.e., that the truly unforgivable mistake of the Chinese authorities was the failure to intervene on a timely basis to nip the demonstrations in the bud, rather than – as would have been both wise and efficacious – to intervene with force when all other measures had failed to restore domestic tranquility to Beijing and other major urban centers in China."
Saudi Arabia, bin Laden family ties
As WND reported, Freeman served as president of the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based Saudi backed nonprofit that received tens of thousands of dollars a year from the bin Laden family and hundreds of thousands more from other Saudi donors.
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 that 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.
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.
With additional reporting by Ashley Rinsdberg.