Freeman Explains His Intelligence Post Withdrawal

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In a message posted on The Cable, Foreign Policy magazine's blog, Freeman blamed the "Israel lobby" for his decision.

Veteran diplomat Chas Freeman, who Tuesday withdrew his agreement to serve as President Obama's head of the National Intelligence Council, says he did so because it was "best for the country."

"I accepted this position because I believed that I could make a contribution to the quality of our intelligence analysis, and that I could restore its credibility, which has been somewhat problematic in recent days," Freeman tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "When it became apparent that anything I was associated with would be subject to fairly unscrupulous attack and criticism, I decided that in fact it was best for country, for me, to withdraw."

National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair had said at a congressional hearing Tuesday that he was standing behind Freeman. But despite support, the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia said he felt his chairmanship would undermine the council.

"Public service is not for sissies and I knew that when I accepted," Freeman says. "It became apparent that no matter what the National Intelligence Council put out under my chairmanship, I would be used as an excuse, if something was said that wasn't politically correct, to disparage the quality of the intelligence."

Freeman wrote an angry letter published in The Wall Street Journal after he was criticized by several columnists and politicians who are pro-Israel.

The New Republic's Martin Peretz wrote that Freeman was "a bought man, having been ambassador to Saudi Arabia and then having supped at its tables for almost two decades." Peretz, who is a strong supporter of Israel, wrote, "That Freeman would be chosen as the president's gatekeeper to national intelligence is an absurdity. It would be as if I were appointed the gatekeeper to that intelligence."

Freeman calls Peretz's writings "absurd."

"The allegation that somehow I have benefited financially from my service to my country during Desert Shield and Desert Storm is insulting and I resent it very much," Freeman says.

Freeman says that the Middle East Policy Council that he headed for 12 years has a budget of $600,000 a year, and about one-twelfth of that comes from the Saudi government in any given year.

"And of course that doesn't go to me," Freeman says.

Freeman says he has been a donor to the council and accepted $76,000 in salary a year, including expenses.

"I don't have anything like the level of commitment to any foreign country that he has to Israel. ... I'm not sure why [Peretz] imagines that the Middle East Policy Council, which is devoted to opening issues for public debate rather than advocating positions ... is in any way comparable to his own commitment to Israel, which is deep and longstanding," he says.



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