Wednesday 25 May 2005

A Spreading Treason

There's more to the AIPAC spy scandal than 'mishandling' classified information

by Justin Raimondo

The vagaries of U.S. involvement in the Middle East were surely brought home to First Lady Laura Bush on her recent trip to Israel, on a tour of Jerusalem's holiest sites. At the Wailing Wall, where she placed a note in the Western Wall – as is the custom – she faced surly throngs of protesters shouting "Free Pollard Now!" The Pollardites also showed up earlier that morning, as Mrs. Bush paid a visit to the home of Israeli President Moshe Katsav: "Pollard, the people are with you!" they chanted.

Jonathan Pollard, the jailed spy who sold U.S. secrets to Israel, is a national hero in Israel, and Tel Aviv has never stopped importuning Washington for his release. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly brought up the issue again on his recent visit to America, where he bargained with American officials on Pollard's behalf in return for the promise of continued cooperation with Bush's peace plan. He probably got nowhere: when Bill Clinton reportedly gave in to the Israelis' blandishments in return for a promise of cooperation on his Middle East peace plan, whole battalions of top government officials threatened to resign. Perhaps, though, Sharon also intervened on behalf of another more recent practitioner of Israeli spycraft on American soil: Larry Franklin, a Jonathan Pollard for our times.

We have our Pollardites in America, too, and they are much in evidence these days as another major Israeli spy ring is on the verge of being busted and hauled into court. The recent arrest of Franklin, a 58-year-old Pentagon analyst who – until recently – headed up the policy department's Iran desk, has conjured the specter of Pollard's heinous crime – and promises to be just as injurious to American national security, if not more so.

Franklin, a longtime Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and fervent neoconservative, was observed by FBI agents in the summer of 2003 imparting top secret information to two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the spearhead of Israel's amen corner in the U.S. What is striking about this story is that Franklin's perfidy was discovered only because these two top officials – Steve Rosen, AIPAC's longtime policy director, and Keith Weissman, their Iran specialist – were already under surveillance by law enforcement agencies. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put it in a recent report:

"Information garnered during the investigation into alleged leaks from a Pentagon analyst to the two former AIPAC staffers suggests the FBI began probing AIPAC officials just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."

I've been covering this investigation since it surfaced last year, when CBS leaked the news that Franklin's treachery had been unearthed. That initial report – which originated, it is clear in retrospect, as an attempt to derail the investigation, and warn Franklin's co-conspirators that the feds were on their trail – was the occasion for a cacophony of catcalls, all coming from Israel's intrepid defenders in the neoconservative media and the various pro-Israel lobbying groups. The party line was to downplay the charges – "People exchange information in Washington all the time!" – and imply, not so subtly, that anyone who lends credence to the accusations against Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman, let alone makes them, is an anti-Semite.

When Franklin was finally arrested, however, reflexively pro-Israel neocons like Joel Mowbray and Kate O'Beirne sneered that the charges didn't rise to the level of espionage, and averred that the whole thing was merely a matter of "mishandling" classified information: a tempest in a teapot. And on the left, an otherwise excellent piece by Laura Rozen in The Nation downplayed the charges in a less obvious way.

Rozen, a perceptive reporter who has been following this story from the start, gives us the essential context of the Franklin affair by showing that he was very much a part of a small, tightly-knit network inside the Pentagon dedicated to provoking war not only with Iraq but also igniting a regional conflict including Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and beyond. She does a very good job, in her piece, of showing how Franklin was at the center of this group's covert machinations: he had a penchant, as she puts it, for "showing up at critical and murky junctures of recent history":

"He was part of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which provided much-disputed intelligence on Iraq; he courted controversial Iraqi exile politician Ahmad Chalabi, who contributed much of that hyped and misleading Iraq intelligence; and he participated with a Pentagon colleague and former Iran/contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar in a controversial December 2001 meeting in Rome – which, in a clear violation of US government protocol, was kept secret from the CIA and the State Department."

"In all these endeavors," Rozen writes, "Franklin … was hardly acting as a lone wolf." These rogue operations were projects of the neoconservative matrix in Washington, which reaches not only into the bowels of the Pentagon but also seems to have gained access to the higher echelons of this administration, and virtually taken over the Vice President's office lock, stock, and barrel.

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