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JAMES PETRAS: Them or Us

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    Them or Us AIPAC on Trial By JAMES PETRAS January 7 / 8, 2006 http://www.counterpunch.org/petras01072006.html In August 2004, the FBI and the US Justice
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 7, 2006
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      Them or Us
      AIPAC on Trial
      By JAMES PETRAS
      January 7 / 8, 2006
      http://www.counterpunch.org/petras01072006.html


      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.

      The Franklin-AIPAC-Israeli 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 documents surfaced.

      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
      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 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 23, 2005).

      "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 majorcause 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 ­ 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: jpetras @ binghamton.edu

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