Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2005, page 16
With Indictment of AIPAC Honchos, Trial of Spy-for-Israel Franklin May Be Postponed
By Andrew I. Killgore
Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin was first indicted by a federal grand jury in May, for passing classified information to Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel’s principal lobby in the United States. He was indicted again on June 13, this time charged with disclosing classified information to Israeli Embassy official Naor Gilon, including intelligence about a weapons test related to Iran’s nuclear program. On Aug. 4 the same grand jury, sitting in Alexandria, Virginia indicted Rosen and Weissman for, according to the Aug. 5 New York Times, “conspiring to gather and disclose classified national security information to journalists and an unnamed foreign power that government officials identified as Israel.”
The indictment contained additional charges against Franklin as well, making it likely his September trial date would be postponed, The Times said.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s account of Franklin’s June 13 indictment emphasized that, since Franklin saw Gilon 14 times, he would hardly have needed Rosen and Weissman to get in touch with him, tending (in JTA’s opinion) to undermine any case against them. Apparently the grand jury did not agree. The JTA also stressed that Franklin’s eagerness to influence U.S. policy toward Iran motivated him to seek out the far-reaching influence of Israel and pro-Israel officials inside the U.S. government.
The Washington Post reported on Franklin’s June indictment as well, but seemingly sought to conceal it by placing it in the local “Metro” section. The Post did reveal, however, that the indictment mentioned another Defense Department official who was present when Franklin disclosed the classified material to Rosen and Weissman. No mention was made, however, of the identity of the other Defense Department official.
Piecing together the disjointed press accounts of the investigation, it now appears that AIPAC was targeted as early as 2001. Indeed, the indictment against Rosen, AIPAC’s former director of foreign policy issues, and Weissman, a senior AIPAC Middle East analyst (AIPAC cut the two men loose in April 2005), cites illegal activities beginning in April 1999. According to the JTA, the FBI investigation stemmed from President George W. Bush’s determination to clamp down on leaks.
The indictments suggest the government has a trove of information on AIPAC.
The Franklin indictments already suggested that the government has a trove of information on the functioning of AIPAC, “an organization that hates exposure,” noted the JTA. In fact, AIPAC keeps such a low profile that it is rarely mentioned in the Washington, DC media.
Two decades ago when the Post mentioned the “Israeli lobby,” it did so using quotes, as if to imply that, while a few people might use the term, it was something outside the mainstream. The quotes have disappeared, but 32 of the 35 still active pro-Israel PACs (political action committees) that, in coordination with AIPAC, shell out campaign contributions, have totally misleading names, with no mention of Israel, Jewish, Zionism or the Middle East (see the November 2004 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 24).
AIPAC has been called a “night flower” in that it blossoms in darkness and dies in the sunlight. This is an apt designation because, while it is so powerful that it inspires fear among politicians, it is so little known by the public. Even as late as August 2005, The New York Times’ David Johnston, in his story on the Rosen and Weissman indictments, described AIPAC as “a” pro-Israel lobbying group.
Jewish leaders seem particularly worried that the FBI has learned so much about how the AIPAC juggernaut works: “There is a strange sense that when the two [Rosen and Weissman] are indicted, a lot of crap is going to come out, and it could have precocious implications for the institution,” said a Jewish communal leader with strong ties to AIPAC, as quoted in the newspaper Forward.
Steve Rosen was a dominant figure in AIPAC, which used to limit its lobbying to Congress. Under Rosen, however, AIPAC achieved real success in penetrating the White House and the Department of State as well. Perhaps its very success led President Bush to launch the FBI’s careful investigation of AIPAC.
In August 2002, Rosen telephoned a Pentagon employee (could it be the outgoing neocon undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith?), to ask the name of an expert on Iran in the office of the Secretary of Defense. The unnamed employee gave Rosen Franklin’s name. The two were supposed to meet a week later, but ended up meeting in February 2003. Weissman attended that meeting with Rosen, as did an additional unnamed Pentagon official.
A “Real Insider”
En route to that meeting Rosen told Weissman (presumably) that he was excited to meet the “Pentagon” guy because he was a “real insider,” the indictment said. (The indictment clearly indicates that Rosen’s car was “bugged” by the FBI.)
Franklin’s June indictment describes him as motivated not only by hopes that his ideas on Iran would gain acceptance, but by personal ambition. Looking at a position on the National Security Council, he asked Rosen to “put in a good word” for him. Rosen replied, “I’ll do what I can.”
The indictment of Rosen and Weissman is a major blow to Israel-firsters who hope to contain the damage of the espionage allegations to one errant Pentagon staffer. With the Israeli Embassy’s Gilon “reassigned,” the hopes of those who want to cut AIPAC down to size now rest on Rosen and Weissman—and perhaps that unnamed Defense Department official.
The Times’ Johnston noted in his Aug. 4 report on the indictments, “The charges leave delicate questions unanswered. It is unclear what action, if any, the government plans to take against Israel or an embassy official [Gilon] who met with the three Americans.”
AIPAC’s worst nightmare, of course, is having to register as a foreign, rather than an American, lobby. That would shed too much light on AIPAC and Israeli activities alike—something the “night flower” might not survive.
Andrew I. Killgore is publisher of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.