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An Alternate Path

Dual-Tracking Post-Governmental Employment to Avoid the Next Freeman Debacle

By Michael Tanji | March 16, 2009

This is not an article about Charles Freeman; it is about something bigger than Charles Freeman, for which he is simply a poster boy.

While anyone who is looking for an objective, informed voice on issues relative to national diplomacy and security should be at least concerned about statements attributed to Charles Freeman, one should not forget to look at this issue from another angle: Why does it seem like the only post-governmental living that can be made by people like Mr. Freeman comes at the expense (real or perceived) of their independence and objectivity?

Now, when I say "people like Freeman," I'm saying senior, seasoned officials who have logged serious time working in the trenches for their government. Their rewards, hard fought and won, tend to cumulate in a glory assignment, a high-level award, and a modest pension. Then the pay-off for all that blood, sweat and tears comes day after retirement: a well-compensated position for a consultancy of some sort, where one's expertise, experience, and influence can be applied to push a given agenda. Most readers will recognize this process by the colloquial term: revolving door.

I'm the last person in the world to say that someone shouldn't maximize their earning potential, but why is it that the most lucrative path after a career of selfless service is to embed yourself with foreign power(s) whose sole purpose for employing you is to lobby for interests that are almost assuredly going to run counter to the best interests of the US? Such efforts may not be directly and severely adverse to our own national security, and in fact such interests may be strategically useful in many regards, but the agenda isn't being driven by those who have our best interests at heart 24/7. Contrary to popular belief, "ally" on a strategic level is not analogous to "friend" on a personal level.

Did the "Israeli lobby" end Mr. Freeman's chances of leading the National Intelligence Council? Well, what if it did? It is worth noting that one of the loudest voices against Charles Freeman was a man indicted in an alleged espionage conspiracy that would have benefited Israel. The worst kept secret in the secrets business is the massive, penetrating, and long-standing intelligence operations Israel has been running against the US for decades. It is interesting to note that most of the people serving time in the US for espionage did so on behalf of or in support of a range of oppressive, adversarial regimes . . . and Israel. Granted, were I a nation surrounded by other nations bent on my destruction, I'd be running a very forward-leaning intelligence apparatus as well. Yet, were there an organized, state-sponsored effort to derail Mr. Freeman's appointment, would it in effect be anything more than a countermeasure to the efforts applied by Islamic governments?

Going on the payroll of other nations - directly or indirectly - is of little utility unless you can get back into a position where your influence can inject those positions into policy and supposedly objective intelligence. That's why foreign nations fund academic chairs, think tanks, and other mechanisms external to but closely linked with the government. I don't mind Chas Freeman diplomat-come-appointee promoting political views; just do it in the White House not in the NIC. It would be funny, were it not so disturbing, that someone didn't think that years of enjoying foreign largess would not raise a red flag. Again, make as much money as you like, just make an effort to ensure the funds originate from tax dollars, not foreign coffers.

We could avoid more and future problems of this nature by letting people choose between second careers that have foreign ties and those that do not; the former coming with the caveat that you will be locked out of contention for future governmental posts. Cushion your nest egg any way you like, espouse any position you like, just don't expect to exert any influence on your government save from afar. Our nation is not hurting for expertise in the national security arena, and in fact halting the revolving door should serve to inject new thoughts and ideas from people who would normally have never been considered for such positions because they're experts and not political. At its core however, we should be striving to develop a system that fills the government's ranks with people who show up saying, "I am here to serve my nation, not for summer in the Hamptons."

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1 Comment

Your thesis is all well and good, but the effect is that the potential pool of qualified people to head senior intel positions becomes small and will primarily be composed of careerists.

And I think it's also important to mention that people who lobby on behalf of Israel don't seem to have any problem getting all kinds of US government appointments. The thing that bothers me most is that what is good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.

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