Blair Defends Chas Freeman to Lieberman

Mar 10, 2009 12:48pm

ABC News’ Jeunee Simon transcribed the exchange at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning between Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and DNI Dennis Blair regarding Chas Freeman:

Lieberman: As you know there’s been a lot of controversy about your selection of Ambassador Charles Freeman to be the chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Seven of our colleagues on the Intelligence committee wrote yesterday expressing their concern. I’m concerned.

The concern is based, to state it briefly, on two points. One, I think, is a question about some previous business associations that the ambassador has had that may raise questions about his independence of analysis. And the second are statements that he’s made that appear either to be inclined to lean against Israel or too much in favor of China. In fact I gather yesterday or in the last few days, some of the leaders of the 1989 protests that lead to the Chinese government’s massacre at Tiananmen Square, wrote President Obama to convey—I’m quoting — “our intense dismay at your selection of Mr. Freeman."

So I wanted to ask you for the public record this morning, were you aware of these comments and associations by. .. Ambassador Freeman before you chose him for this position? And the concern here is that it suggests that he’s more an advocate than an analyst—which is what you and we want in that position. Second,…what are you doing about the concerns that have been expressed by people about this selection?

Blair: Let me just make a couple of points about my selection of Ambassador Freeman. First as far as the effects of business associations and the ethics rules, Ambassador Freeman is going through the vetting that is done with anybody joining the executive branch in terms of financial and past associations. In addition because of a letter of some…Members of Congress, the Inspector General is taking a closer look at those associations than is normally done with a federal employee. So that’s one piece of it.

As far as the statements of Ambassador Freeman that have appeared in the press I would say that those have all been out of context and I urge everyone to look at the full context of what he was saying. Two other things though, A mutual friend said about Ambassador Freeman, who I’ve known for a number of years, "there is no one whose intellect I respect more and with whom I agree less than Ambassador Freeman."

Those of us who know him find him to be a person of strong views, of an inventive mind—on the analytical point of view—I’m not talking about policy. And that when we go back and forth with him better understanding comes out of those interactions—and that’s primarily the value that I think he will bring. On the effect that he might have on policy I think that some misunderstand the role of the development of analysis which supports policy. Number one, neither I nor anyone who works for me makes policy. Our job is to inform it. We’ve found over time that the best way to inform policy is to have strong views held within the intelligence community and then out of those we come out with the best ideas. And Ambassador Freeman, with his long experience, his inventive mind will add to those strongly. So, that is the view that I had when I asked him to serve and that’s how I feel about it.

Lieberman: I appreciate your answer, my time is up but I will say this, obviously the intelligence community are not policy makers, you’re analysts and providers of intelligence information. The concern about ambassador freeman is that he has such strong policy views and those are not only his right but his responsibility to express—the disposition may not be the best for him because he will have to separate his policy views from the analysis. I just want to say to you, I don’t have a particular course to recommend, but having been around the congress for a while, my own sense is that this controversy is not going to go away until you or ambassador freeman find a way to resolve it. I’ll go back and look at the statements that are on the record, I’ve read some at length. And they’re very decisive, even in the context. So whether I disagree or agree with them—he’s very opinionated and it’s a question of whether that’s—whether I suppose in the end, and my times up so I have to end it , this puts a greater burden on you to filter out opinions from analysis to make sure that you’re giving the president and other leaders of our country sort of unfiltered intelligence information not biased by previous policy points of view.

Blair: I think I can do a better job if I’m getting strong analytical view points to sort out and pass on to you and to the president than if I’m getting pre-cooked pablum judgments that don’t really challenge.

Lieberman: Okay, I guess I would say, "To be continued." Thank you.

– jpt

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