Magazine article The American Conservative

AIPAC on Trial

Magazine article The American Conservative

AIPAC on Trial

Article excerpt

The lobby argues that good Americans spy for Israel.

IS THERE A First Amendment right to engage in espionage? Dorothy Rabinowitz seems to think so. Describing the actions of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former top officials of AIPAC, the premier Israel lobbying group, who passed purloined intelligence to Israeli government officials, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist characterized them as "activities that go on every day in Washington, and that are clearly protected under the First Amendment." If what Rabinowitz says is true-if passing classified information to foreign officials is routine in the nation's capital-then we are all in big trouble.

On Aug. 4, 2005, Rosen, Weissman, and Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin were indicted by a federal grand jury and charged with violating provisions of the Espionage Act that forbid divulging national defense information to persons not authorized to receive it. The indictment traces the treasonous trio's circuitous path as they met in the shadows-in empty restaurants, at Union Station in Washington, on street corners. Rosen and Weissman sought out and cultivated Franklin, milking him for information that they dutifully transmitted to their Israeli handlers. According to Rabinowitz, however, they were merely "doing what they had every reason to view as their jobs"-which is true, assuming they understood their jobs to be spying for Israel.

The trial is scheduled to begin June 7. As the day of reckoning approaches, the Israel lobby is ratcheting up the rhetoric. So, too, is the defense: in a duet of hysterical accusations and frenzied rationalizations, the accused spies' defenders have described the proceedings as a frame-up, the result of an intra-bureaucratic struggle within the government, and a plot by anti-Semites in Bush's Justice Department to carry out a Washington pogrom. None of these flights of imagination are any more convincing than the Dream Team's defense of O.J. Simpson. Yet the noise level continues to rise, as if sheer volume, instead of logical arguments, could overwhelm the copious evidence of the defendants' guilt.

The indictment lists numerous acts of espionage, dating back to 1999, in which Rosen and/or Weissman acted as conduits for classified information flowing from Washington to Tel Aviv. The feds had been watching for a long time: the indictment makes clear that Rosen and Weissman didn't make a move without the FBI's counterintelligence unit knowing about it This surveillance is how they happened on Larry Franklin, the Pentagon's top Iran analyst, who walked in on a luncheon meeting in Arlington, Virginia, attended by Rosen, Weissman, and Naor Gilon, chief of the political-affairs section at the Israeli Embassy. The feds were listening in as Franklin-referring to a document dated June 25 and marked "top secret"announced he had secrets to tell.

Tell not sell: unlike the majority of post-Cold War spies, the AIPAC-Franklin espionage ring wasn't centered around financial gain but ideology. Franklin is a dedicated neoconservative, a minor yet key player in the neocon network, who served in the military attache's office in the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv in the late 1990s and was a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst with expertise in Iranian affairs working in Douglas Feith's policy shop.

The counter-intelligence unit was hot on Franklin's trail, and they watched his every move-his wholesale transfer of top-secret information on Iran, al-Qaeda, and other intelligence of interest to Israel to Rosen and Weissman, who funneled it to their contacts in the Israeli Embassy. The FBI gave Franklin enough rope to hang himself, and then moved in, showing up at his door and confronting him with his treachery. A search of his home and office turned up a veritable lending library of classified documents dating back years, all of which had doubtless been made available to the Israelis. Faced with the probability of a long prison stretch, Franklin agreed to wear a wire to his subsequent meetings with Rosen and Weissman. …

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