Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair has written a letter to the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees defending his choice of Chas Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council., even as every Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee signaled their qualms about the choice. Questioned by a skeptical Joe Lieberman (Freeman is "more an advocate than an analyst") in a Senate hearing today, Blair said "As far as the statements of Ambassador Freeman that have appeared in the press those have all been out of context, and I urge everyone to look at the full context of what he was saying. I'm better off getting strong analytical viewpoints ...than if i'm getting precooked pablum judgments that don't really challenge." Lieberman said, "My own sense is that this controversy is not going to go away until you or Ambassador Freeman find a way to resolve it." On Blair's "out of context" theory, see today's Weekly Standard online and ABC's Jake Tapper.

Ben Smith at Politico reports that Blair's efforts are having meager results so far. The Washington Post reviews Congressional reaction to Freeman, and notes that , after he begins work at the NIC, he has 30 days to file his financial disclosure statement and work out with the DNI general counsel how to resolve any potential conflicts of interest. A Washington Times editorial says Freeman is unsuitable for the NIC because of his statements on Tibet. Rep. Frank R. Wolf said he is sending Mr. Blair a pair of socks made by Tiananmen protesters in a Beijing prison that Mr. Wolf visited in 1991. He also will send Mr. Blair a videotape of two women from a Darfur refugee camp describing how they were raped by Sudanese forces. "I elaborated a little more [to Blair] on why having visited Darfur and having seen what the Chinese have done, and CNOOC has done, how the oil money has helped fund [Sudanese President] Omar Bashir to kill innocent people," Mr. Wolf said. Bret Stephens has an excellent piece at the Wall Street Journal online. Also see Martin Kramer on Freeman's theory that Israel is the cause of anti-Saudi terrorism.

Blair Defends Intelligence Pick From Questions on Foreign Connections
By Tim Starks, CQ Staff
March 9, 2009
The nation's spy chief is defending his pick to head the National Intelligence Council even as every Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee signaled their qualms about the choice.

In letters sources said were sent March 6 to key lawmakers, including the leaders of both the House and Senate Intelligence committees, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair responded to congressional complaints about Chas W. Freeman Jr.'s former service as president of the Middle East Policy Council and on the board of the China-owned Chinese National Offshore Oil Company.

In a copy of one of the letters obtained Monday by CQ, Blair wrote that the Middle East Policy Council has received no more than a twelfth of its annual budget from Saudi Arabia and does not take stances on issues or lobby; Freeman, he also wrote, did not discuss any of the Chinese company's dealings with Iran while on the company's board, a position which provided him with about $10,000 annually. The MEPC job provided Freeman with between $76,000 and $84,000 annually, the letter said.

Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, has never been a lobbyist, would not serve the director in any policy capacity, and his international-business development firm, Projects International, has never had foreign governments as clients, Blair states.

Blair wrote that an inspector general review of Freeman's service on the council combined with the security-clearance process, and a required public financial disclosure form "will put to rest any questions about Ambassador Freeman's suitability, character and financial history."

Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee prepared a draft letter to Blair about Freeman's appointment, a copy of which was provided to CQ by a Republican aide.

The letter stops short of expressing full-throated opposition to the pick, although the Republicans said they were "surprised" by the choice. They cited Freeman's lack of expertise in intelligence and "highly controversial statements" he has made. Freeman's critics cite comments he has made about the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and against U.S. support for Israel.

"Given our concerns about Mr. Freeman's lack of experience and uncertainty about his objectivity, we intend to devote even more oversight scrutiny to the activities of the NIC under his leadership," the senators wrote.

The letter was slated to be signed by GOP Sens. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the panel; Richard M. Burr of North Carolina; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia; Tom Coburn of Oklahoma; Orrin G. Hatch of Utah; Jim Risch of Idaho; and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.