Friends in High Places

by , September 04, 2004

The Washington Post is confirming the analysis, posted here two days ago, that Israel’s spy nest in the Pentagon involves a lot more than neocon ideologue Larry Franklin leaking the text of a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC employees, who then passed it on to Israel:

For more than two years, the FBI has been investigating whether classified intelligence has been passed to Israel by the American Israel Political Action Committee, an influential U.S. lobbying group, in a probe that extends beyond the case of Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin, according to senior U.S. officials and other sources.

“The counterintelligence probe, which is different from a criminal investigation, focuses on a possible transfer of intelligence more extensive than whether Franklin passed on a draft presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran, the sources said. The FBI is examining whether highly classified material from the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic intercepts of communications, were also forwarded to Israel, they said.”

The National Security Agency is the eyes and ears of the U.S. government: it’s the source of all that “chatter” we hear talked about as an indication of the terrorists’ plans to attack targets both here and abroad. The NSA monitors communications of all kinds, collects, collates, and translates raw data, then feeds it to intelligence professionals. It is, in short, a vital link in the security chain that keeps us safe – to the extent that we are safe. The news that it has been penetrated and compromised by a foreign power should be ringing alarm bells throughout the U.S. government, but instead the investigation is being blocked – by Attorney General John Ashcroft. As the New York Sun reports:

“According to sources familiar with the investigation, the U.S. district attorney in charge of the probe, Paul McNulty, has ordered the FBI not to move forward with arrests that they were prepared to make last Friday when the story broke on CNN and CBS. ‘He put the brakes on it in order to look at it,’ a source familiar with the investigation told the Sun. ‘To see what was there. Basically the FBI wanted to start making arrests and McNulty said ‘Woa, based on what? Let’s look at this before you do anything.'”

The Los Angeles Times, in a remarkably disingenuous editorial – one that bears all the hallmarks of newly-appointed editorial page editor Michael Kinsley’s brand of know-it-all dogmatism – wants “the evidence, please.” Let them ask McNulty, a Republican hack who was in charge of the Justice Department transition team. When the story broke, according to the Sun, Ashcroft immediately put McNulty on the case. The man comes with a bad record when it comes to going after spies, such as Robert P. Hanssen, who was spared the death penalty due to the decision of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. When it comes to rounding up paintball-playing Muslims, McNulty is very gung-ho: but not, apparently, when he’s dealing with Israeli spies in the Pentagon.

When McNulty went after the Paintball Conspirators, FBI official Michael E. Rolince openly admitted that the government had no real evidence that the “jihadists” were involved in a plot against the United States: they were instead convicted of violating the rarely-invoked Neutrality Act. Rolince justified the prosecutions based on the Bushian principle of preemption:

“It is just no longer sound judgment to have people that you believe have engaged in illegal activity and let them conduct an attack before you do something about it. A lot of this is about preemption.

Yes, but not when it comes to Israel, which seems to enjoy some special immunity not granted to others: preemption doesn’t apply in this case. But why not?

The author of the Times editorial, which focuses exclusively on Franklin, hasn’t been paying attention. Warren Strobel’s Knight-Ridder piece the other day made the same point as this more recent report in the Washington Post, which avers:

“The investigation of Franklin is coincidental to the broader FBI counterintelligence probe, which was already long underway when Franklin came to the attention of investigators, U.S. Officials and sources said.”

If the authorities were watching AIPAC, and just happened to stumble on Franklin’s clumsy efforts to pass documents to Israeli officials, the rest can be inferred: This is big, much bigger than Franklin, if it required a systematic and ongoing surveillance of AIPAC and Israeli government agents.

AIPAC and its allies, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., are circling the wagons, denying everything, and – how’s this for chutzpah? – Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League is actually demanding an investigation into who leaked the news of the investigation. No one has a right to know that Israel, the recipient of $3 trillion total U.S. “aid,” is stabbing us in the back.

Who, us – spy on the United States, our “closest ally”? It never happens, the Israelis and their American defenders aver. But the two AIPAC employees who were first identified in the Israeli media as being the principal suspects, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are sure acting guilty as hell. According to news reports:

“They were interviewed by the FBI on Friday – the same day news first broke of the existence of the yearlong investigation – but the interviews were halted after the men said they wanted a lawyer present before answering further questions, [AIPAC attorney Nathan] Lewin said.”

With the unbridled arrogance that is the hallmark of Israel’s American lobby, Lewin had the gall to add: “The FBI could resume the interview. We have not heard from the FBI.”

And he’s hoping that he won’t be hearing from them any further, as John Ashcroft – a “born-again” Christian fundamentalist who believes that the triumph of Israel will bring on the Second Coming of Christ – quietly strangles the investigation.

But if Rosen and Weissman have nothing to hide, and are completely innocent of charges that they acted as a conduit for sensitive intelligence to be forwarded to Israel, then why do they need lawyers to talk to the FBI? They are the ones making a federal case out of this: too bad McNulty isn’t doing the same.

The irony here is that any attempt to cover up Israel’s spy nest in the U.S. – a network not necessarily limited to AIPAC – is bound to create the sort of anti-Semitism that Israel’s defenders claim to abhor. Their answer is that to even raise the charge of espionage against AIPAC is anti-Semitic, in and of itself.

Facts may be stubborn things, but America’s Likudniks are even more so. It doesn’t matter how much evidence is amassed against AIPAC, Rosen, Weissman, et al., because, in their view, it’s all a Vast Anti-Semitic Conspiracy. The New Republic blog, commenting on the reaction to the spy scandal among pro-Israel Republican activists at the GOP national convention, described it as:

“A combination of media criticism and conspiracy-theorizing (which I say with the proviso that not all conspiracy theories are necessarily wrong). David Frum made the most explicit form of the argument at an American Jewish Committee panel this morning: The CBS story breaking the news led with allegations of espionage, but as you read further, you realized the entire story hung on a source that wasn’t even a current government official. … Frum also argued that the FBI investigation of Larry Franklin, the accused Pentagon employee, had been ongoing for months and months and was on the verge of fizzling out when news of the investigation leaked. The timing, according to this view, suggests that the people driving the investigation leaked word of it as a final act of desperation, and that they were hoping to create problems for the Bush administration on the eve of the Republican National Convention.”

But this story has multiple sources: Frum’s complaint about the CBS report was outdated before he even uttered it. And so what if Lesley Stahl’s source wasn’t a “current official”: to neocon “journalists” like Frum, officialdom is a fount of received wisdom, and the Holy Grail of truth is to be found in a government press release. These are the same people who complain that the real news, the “good news” from Iraq, is never reported, due to the “antiwar bias” of the news media.

But what’s especially striking, and disturbing, about Frum’s apologia is that he shows no interest, not even the slightest curiosity, in the facts, since none are mentioned in TNR‘s summary of his remarks. He claims to know that the investigation – which has been going on for over two years – was “on the verge of fizzling out,” but no source is given for this information, which runs counter to the mainstream reporting that this was, as Laura Rozen put it, a “controlled burn.” Investigators were caught flat-footed by the CBS report, and were forced to move quickly to interview suspects – and there is speculation that the Israeli contacts they were most interested in apprehending were alerted to the danger, and took the opportunity to flee the country.

What is especially galling is the tone of outraged indignation that AIPAC’s defenders have affected in confronting the charges. CAMERA, the vehemently pro-Israel “media watchdog” that carps whenever anyone looks at Ariel Sharon cross-eyed, has the nerve to argue that, since the U.S. spies on Israel, they have the right to spy on us. A patriotic American might reply: Hey, I paid for that microphone. But, whatever….

The attitude is: how dare you even question us?! But if law enforcement doesn’t question them, and instead lets a significant hole in our security stay wide open, who knows who or what else may crawl through? Who knows what other moles may have burrowed into the depths of America’s national security apparatus, mining our deepest secrets? If Rosen and Weissman, and their cohorts, will stop obstructing the investigation, and simply agree to answer questions, with or without legal counsel, they will quickly dispel the suspicion – rampant, at present – that they have something to hide. After all, this administration wasn’t too concerned about providing legal counsel to the thousands of Arabs rounded up since 9/11 – why are a couple of Israeli spies any different?

If the ‘A’ in AIPAC stood for Arab, the assets, headquarters, and very existence of the organization would have been impounded and key personnel shipped off to Guantanamo, where the latest Gitmo-ized interrogation techniques would soon persuade them to talk.

Lawyers? Hey, buddy, there’s someone I want you to meet: Ahmed, this is Lynndie ….

The Bush administration has known about this investigation – of which the Franklin affair is just a footnote – for over two years, according to the latest from Reuters. Yet, addressing AIPAC in May, President Bush called the group “a great asset to our country.”

But if AIPAC is involved in the theft of U.S. government secrets, how is it an “asset” to any country other than Israel?

The burgeoning spy scandal, which went from the theft of a draft presidential directive to the appropriation of sensitive NSA intercepts, is fast taking on the complexity and multi-layered levels of meaning of a tale by John LeCarre, one that is all too realistic. On one level, it is the story of how a group of Israel Firsters infiltrated the highest levels of policymaking and – utilizing a talent for the well-told lie and a penchant for forgery – steered us down the road to war with Iraq. Warren Strobel reports that it isn’t just Franklin and his foibles coming under scrutiny:

“The bureau appears to be looking into other controversies that have roiled the Bush administration, some of which also touch [deputy defense secretary for policy Douglas] Feith’s office. They include how the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile group backed by the Pentagon, allegedly received highly classified U.S. intelligence on Iran; the leaking of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters; and the production of bogus documents suggesting that Iraq tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country of Niger. Bush repeated the Niger claim in making the case for war against Iraq.”

“‘The whole ball of wax’ was how one U.S. official privy to the briefings described the inquiry.”

On another level, it is a pure spy story about the penetration and subversion of what is arguably the single most valuable asset in America’s anti-terrorist arsenal: the NSA, which gathers together the raw materials from which accurate intelligence is derived. This, by the way, is not the first time the NSA’s security has been questioned: the story of Sibel Edmonds, a former NSA translator, which I’ve covered rather extensively in several columns, involves the existence of a mysterious unidentified organization – which the FBI was watching – that tried to recruit her into not translating certain intercepts. Edmonds was fired for blowing the whistle on these shenanigans, and then muzzled by Ashcroft, who declared that she couldn’t say anything to the public about what she knew due to reasons of overriding “national security.” A judge backed up Ashcroft’s gag order, but you can read her interview with Antiwar.com – and 60 Minutes, here – and decide for yourself if something fishy is or isn’t going on. Where there’s this much smoke, there has to be some real fire.

Why is the Justice Department “putting the brakes” on an investigation involving the most sensitive intelligence matters? Ashcroft wasn’t hesitant when he went after these other guys, nor were his prosecutors when it came to withholding evidence, a practice that eventually got their convictions thrown out. Why is he treating the AIPAC cabal with kid gloves? What gives?

I’ll tell you what gives. A large body of evidence suggests this counterintelligence investigation goes back before 9/11, when U.S. government agencies first began to take notice of Israelis turning up at U.S. government offices, and at government agents’ homes, in the guise of “art students” trying to sell or promote their “work.” In Salon, an article by Christopher Ketcham suggested that this was an attempt by the Israelis to blow smoke, and divert attention away from something else. And now, it appears, the “art students” are back….

It’s just not possible to fully understand what exactly is going on here without reference to my book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, which shows that the U.S. government’s concern with Israeli spies reached a spike of apprehension in the months prior to the worst terrorist attack in our history. A two year old investigation? Try four, or more.

One final note: The attempt to spin this as a political attack on George W. Bush, emanating from the Democrats, is hogwash, pure and simple. If Kerry says a word about this, I’ll throw away my Nader button (the one with Badnarik on the back) and surrender myself to the narcotic effects of Kerry’s Kool-Aid.

Kerry’s best answer to the “Swift Boat” ads is a few television spots on “Spies in the Pentagon.”Giving Zell Miller tit for tat may lose him Florida, but gain him the Midwest, the South, and several key border states in the bargain. I can hear some of the dialogue now:

“There are spies in the Pentagon – and they have friends in high places….”

It won’t happen, of course. If Kerry says anything at all, it’s likely to be a defense of AIPAC. He would much rather bypass this golden opportunity to draw Republican blood on the national security issue than offend a vociferous – and hypersensitive – special interest group. That’s one reason why – in spite of a wilting “recovery” and an increasingly unpopular war – he’s in danger of losing big.

Read more by Justin Raimondo