January 7, 2006
In August 2004, the FBI and the US Justice
Department counter-intelligence bureau announced that they were
investigating a top Pentagon analyst suspected of spying for
Israel and handing over highly confidential documents on US policy
toward Iran to AIPAC which in turn handed them over to the Israeli
Embassy. The FBI had been covertly investigating senior Pentagon
analyst, Larry Franklin and AIPAC leaders, Steven Rosen and Keith
Weissman for several years prior to their indictment for spying.
On August 29, 2005 the Israeli Embassy predictably hotly denied
the spy allegation. On the same day Larry Franklin was publicly
named as a spy suspect. Franklin worked closely with Michael
Ledeen and Douglas Feith, then Undersecretary for Defense in
the Pentagon, in fabricating the case for war with Iraq. Franklin
was the senior analyst on Iran, which is at the top of AIPAC's
list of targets for war.
As the investigation proceeded
toward formal charges of espionage, the pro-Israeli think tanks
and neo-con ideologues joined in a two-prong response. On the
one hand some questioned whether "handing over documents"
was a crime at all, claiming it involved "routine exchanges
of ideas" and lobbying. On the other hand, Israeli officials
and media denied any Israeli connection with Franklin, minimizing
his importance in policy-making circles, while others vouched
for his integrity.
The FBI investigation of the
Washington spy network deepened and included the interrogation
of two senior members of Feith's Office of Special Plans, William
Luti and Harold Rhode. The OSP was responsible for feeding bogus
intelligence leading to the US attack of Iraq. The leading FBI
investigator, Dave Szady, stated that the FBI investigation involved
wiretaps, undercover surveillance and photography that document
the passing of classified information from Franklin to the men
at AIPAC and on to the Israelis.
investigation was more than a spy case. It involved the future
of US-Middle East relations and more specifically whether the
'",neo-cons' would be able to push the US into a military
confrontation with Iran. Franklin was a top Pentagon analyst
on Iran, with access to all the executive branch deliberations
on Iran. AIPAC lobbying and information gathering was aggressively
directed toward pushing the Israeli agenda on a US-Iranian confrontation
against strong opposition in the State Department, CIA, military
intelligence and field commanders.
Franklin's arrest on May 4,
2005 and the subsequent arrest of AIPAC foreign policy research
director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist and deputy director
for foreign policy, Keith Weissman on August 4, 2005 was a direct
blow to the Israeli-AIPAC war agenda for the US. The FBI investigation
proceeded with caution accumulating detailed intelligence over
several years. Prudence was dictated by the tremendous political
influence that AIPAC and its allies among the Conference of the
Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations wield in Congress, the
media and among Fundamentalist Christians and which could be
brought to bear when the accused spies were brought to trial.
The first blow was struck on
August 29, 2004, when CBS publicized the FBI investigation just
when Franklin confessed to have passed highly confidential documents
to a member of the Israeli government and began cooperating with
federal agents. He was prepared to lead authorities to his contacts
inside the Israeli government. Subsequently Franklin stopped
cooperating. The Anti-Defamation League's (a leading Jewish
pro-Israeli lobby) Abe Foxman called for a special prosecutor
to investigate "leaks" of the FBI investigation, because
they were "tarnishing" Israel's image. Then Attorney
General Ashcroft intervened to try to apply the brakes to the
investigation, which spread into the neo-con nest in the Pentagon:
Feith, Wolfowitz, Perle, and Rubin were "interviewed"
by the FBI. Neo-con Michael Rubin, former Pentagon specialist
on Iran and resident "scholar" at the American Enterprise
Institute, blasted Bush for "inaction in the spy affair"
and called the investigation an "anti-Semitic witch hunt"
(Forward Sept. 10, 2004). AIPAC launched a campaign against
the spy probe and in support of its activities and leaders.
As a result scores of leading Congress members from both parties
vouched for AIPAC's integrity and pledged their confidence and
support of AIPAC.
Never in the history of the
United States had so many leading Congress members from both
parties pledged their support for an organization under suspicion
of spying, based only on information supplied by the suspect
and in total ignorance of the federal prosecutor's case. Contrary
to the bipartisan Congressional support for AIPAC, a poll of
likely voters found that 61 per cent believed that AIPAC should
be asked to register as an agent of a foreign power and lose
its tax exempt status. Only 12 per cent disagreed. Among American
Jews, 59 per cent were not sure, while 15 per cent strongly
agreed and 15 per cent strongly disagreed (Zogby International,
Sept. 25, 2004). Clearly many Americans have serious doubts
about the loyalty and nature of AIPAC activities, contrary to
their elected representatives. The federal spy investigation
proceeded despite Executive and Congressional opposition, knowing
that it had the backing of the great majority of US citizens.
In December 2004, the FBI subpoenaed
four senior staffers at AIPAC to appear before a grand jury and
searched the Washington office of the pro-Israel lobby seeking
additional files on Rosen and Weissman.
AIPAC continued to deny any
wrongdoing, stating: "Neither AIPAC nor any member of our
staff has broken any law. We believe any court of law or grand
jury will conclude that AIPAC employees have always acted legally,
properly and appropriately" (AIPAC December 1, 2004). Nevertheless
a few months into the investigation and with the arrest of the
two top leaders, AIPAC terminated their employment and after
a few months cut off paying their legal defense bills. Likewise
Israel's categorical denials of espionage, evaporated, as video
and transcripts of their intelligence operative receiving classified
A Grand Jury was convoked in
early 2005. As the FBI's spy investigation extended into AIPAC-Pentagon's
inner recesses, self-confessed spy Franklin's superiors Paul
Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith announced their sudden resignation
from the number 2 and 3 positions in the Pentagon. In February
2005, Bush announced that former convicted felon, defender of
Central American death squads and long-term Zionist fanatic,
Elliott Abrams, would be in charge of Middle East policy in the
National Security Council. Abrams would serve as a channel for
directing Israeli policies to the White House and as day-to-day
source of the most essential policy decisions and discussions.
Apparently Abrams was smart enough to keep his distance from
the Franklin/Feith and AIPAC/Embassy operations and deal directly
with Ariel Sharon and his Chief of Staff, Dov Weinglass. In
April 2005, AIPAC dismissed Rosen and Weissman, saying their
activities did not comport with the organizations standards.
On May 4, Franklin was arrested on charges of illegally disclosing
highly classified information to two employees of a pro-Israel
lobbying group. On June 13, 2005 an expanded indictment explicitly
named AIPAC and a "foreign country" (Israel) and its
Mossad agent, Naor Gilon, who had, in the meantime, fled to Israel.
Despite AIPAC being named in
a major espionage indictment involving Steve Rosen, head of its
foreign policy department and Keith Weissman, head of its Iran
desk, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice gave the keynote
address at AIPAC's convention (May 22-24, 2005). Leaders from
Congress and the Republican and Democratic parties also spoke,
declaring their unconditional support for AIPAC, Israel and Ariel
Sharon. The list included Senator Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority
Leader Bill Frist (Republican) and Senate Democratic leader Harry
Reid. Based on previous year's attendance, more than half of
the US Senate and one-third of US Congress members were in attendance.
Clearly AIPAC, with 60,000
wealthy members and $60 million annual budget, had more influence
on the political behavior of the US executive, political parties
and elected representatives than a federal indictment implicating
its leaders for espionage on behalf of Israel. Could there be
a basis for charging our political leaders as "accomplices
after the fact" of espionage, if the AIPAC leaders are convicted?
On August 4, 2005 Paul McNulty
of the Justice Department formally indicted AIPAC leaders Steven
Rosen and Keith Weissman of receiving and passing highly confidential
documents via the Israeli embassy to the State of Israel. Their
trial is set for April 25, 2006. Franklin's trial was set to
begin on January 2, 2006 but has been postponed. Franklin has
been co-operating with the FBI and Justice Department in its
investigations of AIPAC and the Pentagon's 'Israel Firsters'
in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and the further plans to
attack Iran. The indictments are based on a prolonged investigation.
AIPAC was targeted for investigation as early as 2001, while
the indictment of Rosen and Weissman cites illegal activities
beginning in April 1999.
After Rosen and Weissman came
under intensive federal investigation as co-conspirators in the
Franklin spy case, AIPAC decided to cut its losses and cover
its backside by throwing them overboard: AIPAC fired them on
March 2005, arguing that their "conduct was not part of
their job, and beneath the standards required of AIPAC employees"
(Forward, December 23, 2005). In effect AIPAC was making Rosen
and Weissman the "fall guys" in order to shake off
a deeper federal probe of AIPAC's activities. Moreover AIPAC
stopped payments to Rosen's and Weissman's lawyers sticking them
with almost a half-million dollars in legal fees. AIPAC does
not intend to pay the fees before the trial is over ş not
for lack of funds (they raised over $60 million in 2005 and are
tax-exempt) but for political reasons. AIPAC wants to
see how the trial goes: if they are acquitted, it will be safe
to pay their lawyers. But if they are found guilty AIPAC will
refuse to pay (citing the organization's by-law technicalities)
in order to avoid being implicated with convicted spies. AIPAC
leaders are putting their organizational interests and their
capacity to promote Israeli interests in Congress and the media
over loyalty to their former officials.
Facing up to 10 years in federal
prison, up against detailed, well-documented federal charges
based on wiretaps, videos and the testimony of self-confessed
spy and Pentagon contact Franklin, fired and denounced by their
former colleagues and current leaders of AIPAC, Rosen and Weissman
are striking back with unexpected vehemence.
The defense attorneys are expected
to argue that receiving information from administration officials
was something the two were paid and encouraged to do and something
AIPAC routinely does (Forward, December 23,2005). In other
words, Rosen and Weissman will say that pumping top US government
officials for confidential memos and handing them over to Israeli
officials was a common practice among AIPAC operatives. To bolster
their case of "just following AIPAC orders", Rosen
and Weissman's defense lawyers will subpoena AIPAC officials
to testify in court about their past access to confidential documents,
their contacts with high-placed officials and their collaboration
with Israeli Embassy officials. Such testimony could likely
bring national and international exposure to AIPAC's role as
a two way transmission belt to and from Israel.
If Rosen and Weissman succeed
in tying AIPAC to their activities and if they are convicted,
that opens up a much larger federal investigation of AIPAC's
role in aiding and abetting felonious behavior on behalf of the
State of Israel.
In the almost two years since
Rosen and Weissman came into the public limelight as spy suspects,
AIPAC has successfully fended off adverse publicity by mobilizing
leading politicians, party leaders and senior members of the
Bush Administration to give public testimonials on its behalf.
It dumped Rosen and Weissman and pushed ahead with lining up
the US Congress with Israel's pro-war agenda against Iran. And
then out of the blue, Rosen and Weissman threaten to blow their
cover "as just another influential lobby" working to
promote US and Israeli mutual security interests.
Rosen and Weissman's defense
will certainly bring out the fact that AIPAC at no point informed
their employees about what the law states regarding the obtaining
and handing over of highly confidential information to a foreign
power. Weissman and Rosen will argue that they did not know
that receiving confidential information from administration officials
and handing it over to Israel was illegal since everybody was
doing it. They will further argue that their alleged spy activity
was not a 'rogue operation' carried on by them independently
of the organization, but was known and approved by their superiors
ş citing AIPAC's employee procedures for reporting to superiors.
According to one former AIPAC
employee with connections to the organization's current leadership,
Rosen and Weissman are perceived as acting "like Samson
trying to bring the house down on everyone" (Forward, December
"Everyone" that is
involved in exploiting US wealth, power and military forces to
serve Israel's expansionist interests. What started out as a
small scale spy trial, no different from other recent cases,
is growing into a major cause celebre, involving the most
powerful lobby influencing the entire direction of US Middle
East policy. If Rosen and Weissman are convicted and they effectively
make the case that they were following orders and informing AIPAC
of their felonious activities, it is possible that it will drive
away many wealthy Jewish donors and activists, and perhaps put
some shame into the politicians who kow-tow and feed at the AIPAC
trough. With a weakened AIPAC and its allies in the government
wary of continuing to "liaison" with Israeli intelligence
on Middle East policy, it is possible that a free and open debate
based on US interests can take place. With a public debate relatively
free of the constraints imposed by the Israel First lobbies and
ideologues, perhaps the US public's opposition to Middle East
Wars and occupations can become the dominant discourse in Congress
if not the Executive. Perhaps the $3 billion dollars plus annual
foreign aid to Israel ş more than $5 billion, all told --
can be reallocated toward rebuilding all the industrially ravaged
cities and towns of Michigan, upstate New York and elsewhere.
James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at
Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in
the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless
in brazil and argentina and is co-author of Globalization
Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social
Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina,
will be published in October 2005. He can be reached at: email@example.com