Rep. Wolf’s assault on me was shoddy and inaccurate

An open letter to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.)

Dear Mr. Wolf:

As a fellow public servant, though retired, I have followed and appreciated your service to the nation for many years. You earned a reputation for challenging the tyranny of conventional wisdom and seeking truth from facts. I was impressed by your 2006 initiation of the Iraq Study Group, a much-needed and courageous effort to shine a light on U.S. policy in that country in which I was proud to participate.

Given what I knew of you, you can imagine my dismay at your March 14 article in The Washington Post after my withdrawal as chairman-appointee of the National Intelligence Council (“Charles Freeman Orchestrated his Own Fall”). That article parroted the defamatory innuendo circulated in the blogosphere over the previous few weeks. It contained numerous errors of fact and interpretation.

The most egregious of these was your effort to associate me with the atrocities in Darfur. Your basis for this slur was my past service on the international advisory board of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), whose “investment in Sudan’s oil sector,” you charged, sustains the government of Sudan and its policies. Not content with imputing guilt by association with genocide, you went on to imply that if I returned to government I might actively subvert U.S. law and policy with respect to Sudan.

The man who leapt to this bizarre conclusion about me clearly was not interested in the facts, and cannot be the Frank Wolf I thought I knew.

CNOOC is the only Chinese oil company with foreign outside directors on its board and an all-foreign (European, Australian and American) international advisory board. It is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. CNOOC’s attention to international opinion may be one reason it has never invested in Sudan and has no operations there. You should have checked before echoing baseless accusations against me.

Frankly, even if CNOOC were involved with Sudan, I would not understand your objections to my having advised its management on the changing international environment. Given your consistent interest over the years in raising the consciousness of Americans and foreigners with respect to issues like Darfur, I would have thought that you, in particular, would see the worth of foreign corporations’ pondering American reactions as they consider investment and other decisions.

Similarly, you suggest that I am insensitive to the plight of the Tibetan people because I characterized the events of March 14, 2008 in Lhasa, in which Tibetan rioters killed 18 non-Tibetans and injured hundreds more, as a “race riot.” But both foreign observers on the scene and Tibetans themselves reported that the primary dynamic in that day’s savagery was ethnic Tibetan rage against Han and Hui Chinese. I predicted that the consequence would be “a long-term clampdown in Tibet.” Sadly, that has turned out to be correct.

You cited your own experience in Tibet. The irony here is that, in the early 1980s, I had a role in opening Tibet to foreign visitors, including members of Congress. I am pleased that you and other Americans have subsequently been able to gain a firsthand understanding of conditions on the ground there.

You claim that you were not contacted by lobbyists in reaching a decision to oppose my appointment. Yet you repeated verbatim the bill of particulars drawn up and shopped around the blogosphere and Congress by a group of lobbyists with a narrow and very particular agenda. You cited the very same China- and Tibet-related items they had selected to discredit me, using the very same words and distortions they did. You accepted these misrepresentations without making any effort to check them.

This is not the Frank Wolf I thought I knew.

Carelessness with the facts and insistence that analysis of foreign trends and events conform to the canons of political correctness are, unfortunately, part of a wider pattern of self-destructive behavior in political Washington at present. Self-appointed thought police assure that there is severely narrowed space for the discussion — either openly or on a classified basis — of issues of great importance to the nation.

Many politicians seem meanwhile to have come to view intelligence not as a resource for decision-making but as raw material for polemics. They hear only what is politically convenient and spurn anything inconsistent with their preconceptions. They pick out what is politically useful to them and ignore the rest. This pattern did not die with the Bush administration; it is endemic in both parties.

The abuse of intelligence for political purposes has gravely damaged our credibility abroad. It is demoralizing to those in the intelligence community who labor to make sense of the world for policymakers. (Why bother with analysis at all if the only acceptable conclusions are stipulated in advance?) But most important, when politicians insist that the phrasing and conclusions of intelligence products confirm rather than challenge their policy preferences, they create a basis for policy errors that, in its current circumstances, our nation simply cannot afford.

Your work in the past on human rights, our policy in Iraq and in support of our men and women in the foreign and intelligence services attested to your integrity. Where is that Frank Wolf now?

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