Charles “Chas” Freeman
JERUSALEM – President Obama’s nominee for a top intelligence post withdrew his name from consideration today amid controversy concerning his associations and alleged business connections, including receiving large sums from Saudi Arabia and serving on the board of a Chinese government-owned company accused of acting against U.S. national security.
Charles “Chas” Freeman, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War, had been 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.
Today, the office of National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, who originally appointed Freeman, announced Blair’s appointee had withdrawn his candidacy. The announcement came just after Blair strongly defended Freeman’s appointment to Congress.
“Charles W. Freeman Jr. has requested that his selection to be Chairman of the National Intelligence Council not proceed. Director Blair accepted Ambassador Freeman’s decision with regret,” the statement said.
The primary concern of some congressional critics was his documented ties to foreign governments, including service on the advisory board of a Chinese-government-owned oil company widely seen as conducting business deals meant to expand the communist nation’s influence worldwide. One of the company’s recent attempts to purchase a large U.S. oil firm drew bipartisan congressional opposition amid fears the deal would harm American national security interests.
Since 2004, Freeman has been on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, or CNOOC.
Ma Bing, an analyst for CNOOC’s investor relations department confirmed to WND that Freeman is still on the board. He said Freeman’s role is to “provide the (company) management with strategic advice on world events and macro issues that may impact our development.”
In 2006, CNOOC, with Freeman on its advisory board, signed a memorandum of understanding with the state-owned National Iranian Oil Company to develop Iran’s North Pars gas field in a contract with Tehran reportedly worth $16 billion. The deal was stalled for two years after the U.S. State and Treasury Departments vowed to scrutinize the transaction to see if it violates either international or U.S. sanctions against Iran.
In December, the Iranian oil company announced it finalized the development plan with CNOOC. The two companies are currently negotiating the price of the contract.
Mohammad Ali Emadi, director of the Iranian firm’s research and development team, said the terms of the agreement may be finalized “in less than one month,” paving the way for the multibillion-dollar deal to be made public.
Emadi said the agreement with CNOOC would last for at least 25 years.
A spokesman for the State Department told WND the U.S. government will look into the deal after it is concluded to determine if it violates American sanctions. The Treasury Department in the past acted swiftly against international firms said to violate the sanctions.
“Such deals suggest to the Iranian government it is business as usual despite Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear capabilities and its failure to cooperate with the IAEA,” State Department spokeswoman Laura Tischler added in comments to WND.
Freeman did not return WND requests for comment left with a media representative at the Middle East Policy Council, where he serves as director.
Last week, a bipartisan group of American congressmen called for a review of alleged financial ties between Freeman and the Saudi government. His Middle East Policy Council, a Washington-based, Saudi-backed nonprofit, received tens of thousands of dollars a year from Osama bin Laden family and hundreds of thousands more from other Saudi donors.
Expanding Chinese influence
The Iran deal may not be the only controversy tying Freeman to the Chinese government.
WND reported that 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.
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.
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, an 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 Binladen Group – and that won’t change.”
The Binladen 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 Binladen 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.
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.