The other shoe has finally dropped in the case of the spy scandal involving the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In addition to five espionage-related charges filed against former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, two counts of conspiracy to communicate classified information to a foreign power have been lodged against former AIPAC foreign policy director Steve Rosen, and a single count of conspiracy against Rosen’s assistant, former AIPAC Iran specialist Keith Weissman. The latest indictment reads like a spy thriller, and, while some of the elements were already known, there is much that is surprising, including the information that Rosen has apparently been under surveillance since at least 1999.
On April 13, 1999, Rosen had a conversation with someone identified as “Foreign Official 1” (FO-1): the AIPAC director told FO-1 that he (Rosen) had “picked up an extremely sensitive piece of intelligence” described by Rosen as “codeword protected intelligence.” According to the indictment, “Rosen then disclosed to FO-1 national defense information concerning terrorist activities in Central Asia.”
While the identity of “Foreign Official 1” is not yet known, there is no doubt about what foreign country we’re talking about: it is Israel, and without doubt the individuals being observed were officials of the Israel embassy. One of these has already been identified in the media as Naor Gilon, the embassy’s chief political officer, recently recalled home; the FBI is seeking to interview him, and other Israeli officials who may have been part of the spy cell. Three are mentioned in the indictment.
What is striking is that the FBI – or whoever – was hot on the trail of AIPAC and “FO-1” even at this early date, listening in on their phone calls and following them around as they met for lunch over spilled beans. Yet in order to get authorization for wiretaps, especially of an American citizen, law enforcement must go to a federal judge for authorization – and, remember, this was before 9/11, when the legal bar was set far higher. So they had a good reason to be listening in on Israeli officials and their American sock puppets, and shadowing their movements. The discovery that AIPAC officials were in possession of highly classified top-secret information procured from U.S. government officials was apparently part and parcel of an ongoing investigation – but into what? Sparked by what?
We don’t yet know the answers to those questions, but what we do know is this: the idea, floated by some writers on this subject, that the investigation was initiated by Condoleezza Rice in response to Israeli efforts to stop a proposed meeting between President George Bush and Yasser Arafat, is flat out wrong. The roots of this probe go much deeper. As I wrotein The American Conservative in June:
“Like a dorsal fin poking just above the water, the Franklin spy trial promises us a glimpse of a creature much larger than appears at first sight.”
However, not even I imagined the monstrous scale of this submerged giant: the earliest I could trace its movements was back to just before 9/11, based on the reporting of UPI’s Richard Sale. But 1999? Who woulda thought? And it isn’t just the timeline that’s disturbing: it seems that a number of apparently senior U.S. government officials are about to be dragged into this imbroglio of trouble and treason.
AIPAC was pretty busy that summer, particularly Rosen and Weissman; not only were they picking up “codeword protected” intelligence and passing it on to Israeli officials, but the latter was also telling “FO-1” about a “secret FBI, classified FBI report” (the indictment cites snippets of wiretapped conversations throughout) about the Khobar Towers bombing. Weissman was boasting to his Israeli handler that he had gotten the information from “three different sources, including United States government officials.”
The indictment fails to name names, but at the trial – if it comes to that – all will be revealed. These officials will be “outed,” and perhaps face charges themselves. The only question now is: how far up the totem pole will the indictments go?
The indictment outlines a series of meetings between Rosen, Weissman, and U.S. government officials (“USGO-1” and “USGO-2”) about “classified United States strategy against a Middle Eastern country” and top-secret intelligence regarding al-Qaeda, which the AIPAC officials related to various individuals identified as “a foreign national” and “Foreign Official 2 (FO-2).” These meetings spanned a time frame from the winter of 2000 to the winter of 2002.
Much of the timeline related in this superseding indictment was detailed in the first indictment, but there is much new material, such as the information that the Rosen-Weissman spy team was dealing with at least two Israeli embassy officials, not just Gilon. These interactions are fascinating, as they give an inside account of the relationship between AIPAC and Israeli embassy personnel, with the former as the foot soldiers doing reconnaissance and the latter as generals directing the action behind the scenes.
The indictment describes a March 13, 2002, breakfast meeting between Rosen and “Foreign Official 2” in which Rosen disclosed information about a classified U.S. government internal document on U.S. policy toward Iran – which had been provided courtesy of Franklin. After that breakfast, Rosen called “FO-1” – the Big Cheese – “who was from the same embassy as FO-2.” Rosen asked FO-1 if he had heard, from FO-2, “the interesting report” about the draft policy document. Rosen then discussed the specifics of the document, and the two of them talked about “whether a specific United States government official was aware of this information and how the deliberations would proceed.”
This was all about factional warfare going on inside the administration over U.S. policy toward Iran, and “how the deliberations would proceed” was and still is of vital interest to the Israelis. Pushing the Americans toward a confrontation with Tehran, Israel and its American amen corner could care less how many laws they have to break in order to make sure they prevail. Trading in classified information, and leaking to “reporters for a national news organization” and even “a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C., thinktank,” was all part of the game, and no doubt still is: what none of them realized, however, was that the feds were listening in on the other end.
Israel’s fifth column in Washington acted as a two-way transmission belt, vacuuming up tidbits of classified information, including top-secret documents (which Franklin stored in his home and office) and leaking information to the media in order to score whatever Brownie points were to be toted up that day. These methods are becoming familiar to us as the media’s role in the Rove-gate affair – and particularly the role played by New York Times reporter Judith Miller – comes to light. They used the media not only to strike out at their enemies, but also to launder their stolen secrets. The indictment relates an incident that took place on May 21, 2004, in which Franklin
“Verbally provided to reporters from a national news organization Top Secret/SCI national defense information concerning meetings involving two Middle Eastern officials.”
This was followed by a news report detailing the meetings, quoting Franklin as an anonymous source specifying that the U.S. government “had obtained intelligence pertaining to these meetings” and reporting such details as had been related by Franklin. Franklin, a committed neoconservative ideologue, didn’t care if he betrayed our sources and methods, and possibly endangered agents in the field, and neither did his handlers at AIPAC: all they cared about was giving some advantage to Israel, and if that had to be gained at America’s expense, well then tough.
The authorities gave Franklin enough rope to hang himself with, and then quietly reeled him in – in mid-July 2004, when they confronted him and got him to cooperate in the investigation. They wired him up and sent him on his way. He met with Rosen and Weissman and emphasized the top secret nature of the information he imparted, explicitly warning them not to use it. Whereupon they blabbed it all over town, including to members of the media.
The FBI then contacted Rosen and Weissman, both blithely unaware of their former cohort’s betrayal. They denied having received any classified information from Franklin. Incredibly, this very strong indication that the feds were on to their game did nothing to deter the AIPAC spy cabal from continuing to spill U.S. secrets to further Israel’s agenda. On Aug. 20, 2004, less than two weeks after being visited by the FBI, Weissman got in touch with “another member of the media and disclosed to that person classified national defense information obtained on July 21, 2004, from Franklin. Weissman,” the indictment continues, “further advised that he was trying to arrange a meeting between Franklin and another member of the media.” The AIPAC gang is nothing if not brazen.
However, as Labor Day weekend 2004, drew near, they started to panic: Rosen got in touch with his Israeli superiors and, declining to talk about the specifics over the phone, indicated the need for an urgent meeting. The authorities were listening to every word as the spy ring scrambled to cover its tracks, following their targets through the streets of the Beltway, as they met outside the train station, and in one day changed restaurants three times in order to evade any possible surveillance. You can almost hear The Man From U.N.C.L.E. theme song in the background…
The new indictment adds more serious charges to those already lodged against Franklin, including conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government, a violation of this statute as well as this one. He could wind up with a 50-year sentence.
Rosen is charged with two counts, good for 20 years, and Weissman is hit with one count that carries a 10-year maximum, but the unindicted co-conspirator here is AIPAC itself.
What emerges from this indictment is AIPAC’s role as an organization that functioned as a lot more than a mere Washington lobbying group, but rather one whose primary objective is intelligence-gathering on behalf of Israel. Rosen, the man who more than anyone else embodied AIPAC, had served as its foreign policy director and main spark plug since 1982, and it is clear from the indictment that the FBI’s counterintelligence crew has been watching him since at least 1999. If that doesn’t make AIPAC an accessory to Rosen’s crimes, then one wonders what would.
Rosen used AIPAC’s resources, both financial and political, to carry out a sophisticated spy operation inside the Pentagon, involving not only Franklin but an entire subterranean network of informants and other assets, government officials who regularly provided information and pushed Israel’s agenda inside the administration. AIPAC functioned, in effect, as an organized conspiracy on behalf of a foreign power, a funnel that not only poured money into pro-Israel candidates in both major parties and lobbied furiously on behalf of Tel Aviv, but also operated as a virtual clearinghouse of classified information, laundering it through the media – and, of course, funneling it back to their Israeli handlers.
As the issue of Iran’s alleged push to procure nuclear weapons takes center stage, AIPAC’s efforts to sway U.S. policy – including stealing and leaking U.S. secrets in the service of their pro-Israel agenda – could not have been exposed at a more opportune time. Franklin’s trial is scheduled for Sept. 6, although this new indictment could delay matters, but one thing is clear: When these people are finally brought to trial, it is the War Party that will be put in the dock. All those mysterious government officials, not identified by name in the indictment, will be called to testify under oath: the same goes for reporters who laundered Franklin’s ill-gotten secrets. The whole network of Israel Firsters will be pulled up by its roots, and you can expect the high-pitched screams to start shortly.
One can safely ignore outlandish claims that it’s Kristallnacht-on-the-Potomac, and I wouldn’t put too much credence in the conspiracy theory that attributes these indictments to a cabal of neo-Nazis inside the Justice Department and the FBI. Instead, I’m getting out the popcorn, laying out some serious guacamole and chips, and settling down for a good, long soap-operatic trial. I can hardly wait to find out who “GO-1” and “GO-2” turn out to be! Will Franklin’s Israeli handlers be extradited and hauled into court? Can we expect more charges, more indictments, and possibly a few more defendants?
“A source close to the defense said that one of the U.S. officials involved, who has not been indicted, was recently appointed to a senior Bush administration post. The source, who asked not to be identified, would not name the official.”