Chas Freeman

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Chas W. Freeman is a career Foreign Service Officer, who was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia through the period of the Gulf War. He was nominated as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, but withdrew from consideration after concerns were expressed over conflict of interest with Saudi Arabia and China. Freeman has a reputation for outspokenness and raising difficult policy questions, sometimes in inflammatory terms.

Following his service as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1989-1992, he was Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs from 1993-94, earning the highest public service awards of the Department of Defense for his roles in designing a NATO-centered post-Cold War European security system and in reestablishing defense and military relations with China.

National Intelligence Council

He withdrew his recent appointment as incoming chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Different sources say the controversy was due to his political views, to his financial ties, both, or simply his provocative statements. He commented on his nomination, by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, as a surprise; he had been enjoying life outside government.

“asking me to give my freedom of speech, my leisure, the greater part of my income, subject myself to the mental colonoscopy of a polygraph, and resume a daily commute to a job with long working hours and a daily ration of political abuse.” I added that I wondered “whether there wasn’t some sort of downside to this offer.[1]

Freeman was president of the Middle East Policy Council, which received funding from the Saudi government, and was on the international board of advisers to a Chinese-government owned oil company. Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, concerned about conflict of interest. [2]

The circumstances surrounding the nomination were complex. If issues of the appearance of conflict of interest, and of offending domestic influence groups, were set aside, he was widely regarded as well qualified. For a diplomat, however, he made some inflammatory statements that became prominent in the opposition to him; David Broder quoted his description of "a clash between Tibetan demonstrators and Chinese guards as a 'race riot' and talked about Israeli efforts "to smother Palestinian democracy in its cradle.'" [3] Editorially, however, the Washington Post considered him a poor choice: "The real question is why an administration that says it aims to depoliticize U.S. intelligence estimates would have chosen such a man to oversee them." [4] While he blamed the Israel Lobby, Newsweek reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi disagreed most with his statements on China. DNI Blair said that while Freeman's organization ha received funds from Saudi Arabia, he had not, nor had he lobbied for it. He had received a $10,000 fee from a Chinese oil company. [5]

A number of diplomats supported him. While a letter in the Wall Street Journal carried the names of three, the full list of those supporting him was Thomas Pickering, Ronald Neumann, Samuel Lewis, Ronald Spiers, Robert Hunter, Thomas Boyatt, Nicholas Veliotes, Brandon Grove, William Harrop, Robert Keeley, James R. Jones, Roscoe Suddarth, Harry Barnes, Jr., Avis Bohlen, Howard Schaffer, Edward Rowell, Chet Crocker, Richard Viets, Wendy Sherman, and Patricia Lynch-Ewell. They did not all agree with his political views, but considered him of high integrity, "who would never let his personal views shade or distort intelligence assessments." The financial issue was not addressed.[6]

Freeman had also been critical of Israel. Several sources mentioned the most flagrant position had been a speech in which he spoke of "the changes brought about by the progressive collapse of American policies in the region, including US efforts to transform Iraq, to block Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons, and to achieve security for Israel by persuading it to respect the right of Palestinians to democratic self-determination in a secure homeland." [7]

Middle East

Middle East Policy Council

He followed Senator George McGovern as President of the Middle East Policy Council on December 1, 1997. There have been allegations of conflict of interest after service, joining interest groups with Saudi funding; the MEPC does receive such funding.[8]

For a presumed supporter of the Saudi monarchy, however, he spoke of the Muslim world:

It’s not the case that they are objecting to modern technology or Pizza Hut or democracy. In fact, the extremists often argue for an Islamic democracy, an Islamic Republic. Their ideal is a democracy within the limits of the faith, much like the United States is a democracy within the limits of the Constitution. That’s why they are so fervently anti monarchist.[9]

Apropos of the Iraq War, "Consider our entry into Iraq. It was the product of bipartisan consensus. So when Democrats blame the Republicans for it, that’s a cheap shot."[9]


The day before he withdrew his nomination, he told David Broder, ""I think their goal is not to stop me but to keep others from speaking out, and to assure that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is part of the vetting process for future nominees" [3]

After withdrawal, he angrily said

The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors. [1]

A Republican critic, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois (U.S. state)) however, said it was the financial transparency issue, not policy, that killed the nomination: Saudi funding of MERC and his service on the board of a Chinese oil company.[10]

Saudi Arabia

In 2006, he said the Saudis were effective on reducing their domestic terrorism problem, using methods that had worked for the British against the Irish Republican Army, in contrast with U.S. efforts that kill people but not ideology: [9]

  1. They have essentially discredited the extremist ideology in their own mosques, by driving the radical imams from the pulpits.
  2. They have co-opted or seduced or induced to defect a large number of people who were terrorists or were heading in that direction, and who are now going straight.
  3. They’re killing anybody who’s left.


In 1995, he became Chairman of the Board of Projects International, Inc., a international business development firm.

Education and research

Between 1994 and 1995, he was a Distinguished Fellow of the United States Institute of Peace

1992-93 Distinguished Fellow, Institute for National Strategic Studies

He also serves as Co-Chair of the United States-China Policy Foundation and Vice Chair of the Atlantic Council of the United States. He is a member of the boards of the Institute for Defense Analyses, the Washington World Affairs Council, the American Academy of Diplomacy, and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, as well as an overseer of Roger Williams University and a member of several corporate and non-profit advisory boards.


Between 1986 and 1989 Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, African Affairs

He was Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs during the historic U.S. mediation of Namibian independence from South Africa and Cuban troop withdrawal from Angola.


Chas. Freeman served as Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires in the American embassies at both Bangkok (1984-1986) and Beijing (1981-1984). He was Director for Chinese Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 1979-1981. He was the principal American interpreter during the late President Nixon's path-breaking visit to China in 1972.


Ambassador Freeman earned a certificate in Latin American studies from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, certificates in both the national and Taiwan dialects of Chinese from the former Foreign Service Institute field school in Taiwan, a BA from Yale University and a JD from the Harvard Law School.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Freeman speaks out on his exit", Foreign Policy (magazine), 10 March 2009
  2. Pamela Hess (11 March 2009), "Former US diplomat quits post as analyst", Associated Press
  3. 3.0 3.1 David S. Broder (12 March 2009), "The Country's Loss", Washington Post
  4. Editorial (12 March 2009), Blame the 'Lobby'": The Obama administration's latest failed nominee peddles a conspiracy theory.
  5. Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball (10 March 2009), Newsweek
  6. Spencer Ackerman (8 March 2009), "Line Them Up", Wall Street Journal
  7. Chas Freeman (31 October 2006), The GCC and the Management of Policy Consequences
  8. Rob Dreher (17 June 2002), "Their Men in Riyadh: Ex-U.S. ambassadors who stick with the Saudis.", National Review
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Dan Froomkin (21 February 2006), "Watchdogs, meet a gadfly", Nieman Watchdog
  10. Ben Smith (10 March 2009), "Freeman hits 'Israel lobby' on way out", Politico