During DNI Dennis Blair’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) pressed a line of questioning on Blair’s choice for chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman. “The concern here,” said Leiberman, is that a number of statements from Freeman “suggest he’s more than an advocate than an analyst.” Lieberman also raised questions about Freeman’s past financial associations (which Blair had responded to yesterday.) Lieberman asked Blair what he was doing “about the concerns that have been expressed” about the selection of Freeman.
Blair responded that “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.” Because of concerns expressed by some of members of Congress, “the inspector general is taking a closer look at those associations than is normally done.”
In regard to statements by Freeman that some have regarded as troubling, Blair said that “those have all been out of context, and I urge everyone to look at the full context of what he was saying.” Blair praised Freeman as a skilled and highly intelligent analyst, and suggested that those concerned with how Freeman’s views may impact policy “might misunderstand the role of analysis that supports policy.”
For 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 and inventive mind will add to those strongly.
As Spencer Ackerman reports, it looks as if concerns about Freeman’s potential financial conflicts have come to nothing, so we’re left with concerns over Freeman’s “strong opinions.” He’s apparently the only person in Washington not allowed to have any.
LIEBERMAN: I want to leave that there, I want to go to a different question, Admiral. I know there’s been a lot of controversy over your selection of Charles Freeman to be the .Chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The- seven of our colleagues wrote yesterday 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 about some questions about some previous business associations the ambassador has had to meet and raise questions about his independence of analysis and the second are statements that he’s made that appear to be, that are inclined to lean against Israel or too much in favor of China. In fact, I gather yesterday and the last few days that leaders of the 1989 protest that led to the Chinese governments’ massacre at Tiananmen Square wrote to President Obama to convey, I’m quoting, “our intense dismay at your selection of Mr. Freeman.” So I wanted to ask you on the public record this morning, we you aware of these comments and associations by Admiral Freeman, by Ambassador Freeman, before you chose him for this position and the concern here is that it suggests he’s more of an advocate than an analyst which is what we want in that position. Second, in any sense, 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 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 past financial associations. In addition because of the letter by some of the members of Congress, the Inspector General is taking a closer look than what 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 who I have known for a number of years said about Ambassador Freeman that “there is no one whose intellect I respect more and with whom I agree less than with Ambassador Freeman.” Those of us who know him find him to be a person of strong views, an inventive mind- in the analytical point of view, I’m not talking about policy—and when we go back and forth with him better understanding comes out of those interactions, and that’s the value that I think he primarily will bring. On the, on the effect that he might have on policy, I think that some misunderstand the role of development of analysis that 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 agency and community and then out of those we come out with the best ideas, and Ambassador Freeman with his long experience and inventive mind will add to those strongly. So that’s the view that I had when I asked him to serve and that’s how I feel about it.
LIEBERMAN: Yeah, I appreciate your answer, 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 look, and you know those are not only his right and his responsibility to express that this position may not be right for him because he will have to separate his policy views from the analysis. I just want to say that I don’t have a particular course to recommend, but having been around the Congress for awhile, 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 it’s—I suppose in the end, my time’s up I have to end, but this puts a greater burden on you to filter out opinions from analysis to make sure that you’re giving the President and the other leaders of our country, sort of, unfiltered information not biased by previous policy points of view.
BLAIR: Yes sir I think I can do a better job if I’m getting strong analytical viewpoints to sort out and pass on to you and to the President than if I’m getting pre-cooked problem judgments that don’t really challenge.
LIEBERMAN: Okay, I guess I would say to be continued.