A former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia resigned Tuesday from his new post as chairman of the National Intelligence Council following congressional criticism for comments about the Israeli government and alleged ties to foreign governments.
Charles Freeman's resignation came just hours after National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair said at a Senate hearing that he was standing behind his appointment of Freeman as chairman of the council, which analyzes national security issues. Freeman had not yet begun his work as chairman, and Blair said he accepted the resignation "with regret."
The National Intelligence Council draws information and analysis from all U.S. intelligence agencies to produce national intelligence estimates. NIE's are the intelligence agencies' most comprehensive statements and are meant to be unvarnished and apolitical.
Freeman has aggressively criticized the Israeli government, the war in Iraq and the war on terror. In the last two weeks almost three dozen lawmakers, primarily Republicans, have questioned his ability to be objective in his analysis.
Freeman's financial, personal and business ties with the governments of China and Saudi Arabia have also been called into account. He was president of the Middle East Policy Council, which received some funding from the Saudi government, and he is on the international board of advisers to a Chinese-government owned oil company.
The congressional complaints resulted in an inspector general's investigation into Freeman's ties to the Saudi government.
On Monday, all seven Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Blair expressing concerns about Freeman's suitability for the job. They joined more than a dozen members of the House who over the last two weeks have sent similar letters and requested the inspector general's investigation.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., warned Blair at a hearing Tuesday that the Freeman controversy would not be going away anytime soon. Blair stood firm, saying Freeman's strong opinions would be valuable on the council.
"I think I can do a better job if I am getting strong analytical viewpoints than if I am getting precooked pablum," Blair told the committee.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., one of Freeman's chief critics, said Tuesday that Freeman's resignation "preserved the impartiality of U.S. intelligence."
"We learned from eight years of the Bush administration that intelligence cannot be cherry-picked. It cannot be colored by opinion or even the appearance of conflict," Israel said.