Summer Scandals

by , July 05, 2005

All kinds of scandals are looming on the horizon, like summer storms sizzling with lightning: the resulting deluge may be enough to soak the War Party to the skin, and, in the process, prove oddly refreshing for the rest of us. First, the long-simmering Valerie Plame affair, a case of someone in the upper echelons of the Washington bureaucracy outing a CIA agent – the aforesaid Ms. Plame – in order to get back at her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an irksome critic of the administration’s contention that Saddam Hussein was trying to start up Iraq’s moribund nuclear program by procuring uranium from the African country of Niger. For what seems like an eternity, this probe has been stuck in a quagmire of Iraqi-esque proportions – with Vietnam and Korea thrown in for good measure – stalled on account of the unwillingness of some reporters to reveal their sources. Now that logjam is broken with Time magazine turning over reporter Matt Cooper’s notes, and – lo and behold! – it turns out that Karl Rove, according to this account by Lawrence O’Donnell, is one of the sources for this story.

Rove was a major suspect from the beginning, and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if it turns out he had some knowledge of the whispering campaign that was going on. What’s really interesting about all this, however, is the likely prospect that we are dealing with multiple suspects here, and that some of them may well be officials very close to the White House. As Newsweek reports:

“The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper’s sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House.”

In this case, the difference between a “witness” and a suspect is murky, at best, and naturally there’s more than one suspect: a whispering campaign, after all, cannot by definition be a solitary affair. Who are the other sources? The one tantalizing clue: the two lawyers want to remain anonymous because their clients are “witnesses sympathetic to the White House.” One wonders, however, just how sympathetic the White House is going to be toward them once the details of this case are dragged out into the light of day.

You have to remember what l’affaire Plame is all about: at some point in the run-up to war, forged documents purporting to show Iraq’s efforts to procure uranium from Niger turned up in the U.S. intelligence stream and made their way to Washington, where they turned up at the White House and wormed their way into the 2003 State of the Union address in the form of the by-now-infamous “16 words.”

It was one of the earliest – and certainly one of the baldest – indications that something was seriously amiss with U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts when it came to Iraq. The president had no sooner made his claim about Niger uranium as a key asset in Saddam’s alleged nuke program than the UN’s atomic energy commission, the IAEA, asked to see the evidence. It took them only a few hours to identify the Niger uranium documents as a fraud: anyone could have done it with Google.

The White House, red-faced, tried to assert that they had independently verified the Niger connection via British intelligence, although no one would say what that intelligence consisted of. It seems pretty clear, however, that the Americans – or, at least, some of them – had the wool pulled over their eyes. As Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker:

“A former intelligence officer told me that some questions about the authenticity of the Niger documents were raised inside the government by analysts at the Department of Energy and the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. However, these warnings were not heeded. ‘Somebody deliberately let something false get in there,’ the former high-level intelligence official added. ‘It could not have gotten into the system without the agency being involved. Therefore it was an internal intention. Someone set someone up.’”

Who set up whom? That mystery is now unfolding in all its Byzantine complexity.

Rove and his fellow whisperers were out to get Joe Wilson because he was exposing the Niger uranium fraud and undermining the case for war with Iraq. In the process, they outed a CIA agent by claiming that Wilson had been sent to Niger to investigate the purported uranium transfers only because his wife was deeply involved in the CIA’s clandestine efforts to control nuclear proliferation. Aside from just who broke the law and violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the real question is: who planted the forgeries? Who set up the White House? Who or what lied us into war?

If a pro-war cabal within the administration was so intent on leading the charge to “liberate” Iraq that they wouldn’t stop at introducing a crude forgery as “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear intentions, then it is hardly a stretch to imagine this same group was trying frantically to discredit Wilson. As we peel away the layers of the onion, uncovering multiple layers of deception and treachery, it looks like a fairly large number of people are going to be drawn into the vortex.

Oh yes, it’s going to be an exciting summer in Washington, D.C., and environs, where yet another scandal, this one involving espionage by what was once the most powerful foreign lobby in the Imperial City, is about to reach a dramatic climax. The arrest of Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin for passing on top secret information to Israel, and the upcoming indictment of longtime AIPAC policy director Steven Rosen and his aide, Keith Weissman, has my scandal-ometer jumping. The Jerusalem Post reports:

“Sources close to the defense say the U.S. attorney’s office in northern Virginia plans on an aggressive prosecution, especially of Rosen. Prosecutors have indicated they want Rosen arrested and ‘perp walked’ – led into the courthouse in handcuffs – for the cameras, the sources say, and may object to bail.”

What these two scandals have in common is that the culprits broke the rules when it comes to the Washington power game of influencing public policy. The Wilson-Plame affair was due to the eagerness of neocons in the administration to go after their enemies and plug up an embarrassing hole in their argument for war with Iraq: the Franklin-AIPAC spy scandal was a similar case of going over the line that separates a legitimate effort to shape policy from an illegal act. Franklin was apparently soliciting the cooperation of AIPAC officials in his efforts to influence the White House on the Iran issue, even as he was feeding them [.pdf file] top secret information fresh from the vaults of the Pentagon.

Another point of commonality is that these two scandals involve many of the same neoconservative crowd who were so hot to get us into Iraq: Franklin is a committed neoconservative ideologue and has links to many others, both within the administration and without, in Washington’s neocon network. These folks played a key role in the propaganda effort that duped Americans into blindly following their president down the road to a disastrous war – and now their cover has been blown. Their crimes are about to be exposed. And it isn’t just Rove who will pay the price.

Washington has been rocked to its core by these twin eruptions: it’s going to be a raucous time in the old town this summer.

Part of the fun, of course, is the panicked reaction of the pro-war pundits, especially Israel’s amen corner in the U.S., as they weave and bob and writhe their way out of it, around it, and try to crawl into the small crevices between the known facts. Here’s Roger L. Simon whining about the “harassment” of AIPAC. Gee, you’d think that a writer of detective novels would appreciate the entertainment value, if not the legal implications, of this case. After all, a crime has been committed, and in a way that a noted screenwriter such as Simon would certainly see possibilities in. After all, the indictment [.pdf file] against Franklin details how, at one point during their clandestine meetings, he and his AIPAC buddies moved stealthily to at least three different restaurants: all very cloak-and-dagger, and oddly cinematic.

Here is former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, wailing to the New York Sun:

“For Mr. Rosen’s defenders, the entire affair has the potential of criminalizing everyday behavior in the nation’s capital. When asked for a reaction to the matter, Mr. Indyk, who professed to inside information about the case other than news reports, was disdainful. He said, ‘The notion that this was all not kosher, treyf, when everyone does this in Washington, but AIPAC does it more effectively – well, it’s ridiculous.’”

That’s the essence of the case made by those who defend Franklin, and AIPAC: everybody does it. But everybody doesn’t hand over classified information to foreign officials, and even if, on some level, this “defense” has some validity – at least in the case of Israeli’s partisans in our nation’s capital – I have the distinct feeling that after that “perp walk” we’ve been promised, the practice of espionage as an everyday occurrence in Washington is about to come to an abrupt halt.

The latest development in this fast-moving story is the news that AIPAC President Howard Kohr, who tried to distance himself and his organization from the spy nest, was directly privy to the classified information pilfered by his cohorts. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

“Two former staffers at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee facing indictment on espionage charges shared allegedly classified information at the crux of the case against them with AIPAC’s executive director as soon as they received it, JTA has learned. Howard Kohr had no idea that the information in the July 21, 2004 e-mail from Keith Weissman, then AIPAC’s Iran analyst, was classified, multiple sources said, and the government has told AIPAC that Kohr is not the subject of any investigation. Kohr did not further disseminate the information, sources familiar with the events said.”

Especially given the somewhat unusual content of the information passed along to Kohr in that e-mail, one has to look askance at Kohr’s denials: so they’re telling us, on the one hand, that Rosen and Weissman received information specifically identifying Israeli and American personnel who were supposedly in danger from Iranian intelligence assets in Kurdistan, and that Kohr, once he found out, didn’t ask how they knew. Squirm, wriggle, twist, and turn – and if that doesn’t work, cry foul. Call it “harassment” or worse: but never call it by its right name, which is treason.

The JTA piece – alongside this recent article in the New Yorker – gives us a preview of the defense argument.

“The apparent rush by Weissman and Rosen to tell their boss the new information could reinforce the defense contention that they were not lone wolves bent on espionage, as sources close to the defense believe the government plans to argue, but lobbyists sharing inside information, as was their job. That is to be the crux of the two men’s defense, sources said.”

AIPAC made a tactical mistake when they dumped Rosen and Weissman overboard, although the group is still paying the duo’s legal fees. The defense strategy is clearly to try to implicate Kohr, then dare the government to do the politically impossible and indict AIPAC as well. If we’re guilty, the AIPAC defendants are saying, then so are those guys.

I say arrest them all and let them share a jail cell.

My favorite defense of the AIPAC spy cabal has to be Caroline Glick’s Jersusalem Post piece, which is ostensibly about spinning Israel’s recent weapons sales to China. The real subject, however, is the growing rift in the “special relationship” that, as expressed on the Israeli side, has given rise to a surprisingly open hostility:

“Yet, in the Americans’ haste this week to humiliate Israel and emasculate its arms industry, even at the expense of its other allies, we see a disturbing indication that as the Bush administration slogs through its second term, it is intent on ignoring the strategic realities of the region and indeed of the global strategic environment, preferring instead to try to appease the Arabs and the Europeans at Israel’s expense in the hopes of receiving their cooperation in the future.

“This latest American move was not carried out in a vacuum. It comes against of backdrop of a disconcerting pattern of behavior by the administration that leads inexorably to the devastating conclusion that the US is moving to abandon its alliance with Israel. The publication of the federal indictment against former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin this week is case in point.”

Yes, not only are those mean Americans trying to prevent us from supplying China with enough sophisticated military equipment to take back Taiwan – and, in the process, reduce the West Coast of the United States to radioactive dust – but they’re even objecting to the routinely larcenous attitude Israeli officials and their henchmen in America take toward proprietary U.S. secrets. Why, we’ve been stealing your secrets for years, and nobody said a thing! That’s the “defense” launched by the Larry Franklin Fan Club, at least on the home front, but in Israel the party line is even less subtle:

“From a perusal of the charges against Franklin, the following picture emerges: Franklin, a hawk on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, sought to bring his views to the attention of decision-makers. In so doing, he did what countless Washington policy analysts do on a daily basis. He sought to build a coalition with like-minded thinkers outside the government.”

As Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman moved from restaurant to restaurant, looking over their shoulders, sneaking about in the shadows, they weren’t engaged in spying: that was “coalition-building.” Not even Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were brazen enough liars to come up with that one!

“According to the indictment, Franklin passed no significant classified information to AIPAC officials or to Naor Gillon at the Israeli embassy. He received no compensation for his relationships with them. All he did was talk about Iran with people who share his concerns in the hope that they could – through their official dealings with administration officials – advance his views.”

Ms. Glick’s reading of the indictment is, uh, unique: the indictment [.pdf file] shows Franklin relayed “national defense information” to Rosen, Weissman, and/or Naor Gilon, chief political officer at the Israeli embassy, on at least five occasions. Furthermore, Franklin’s home was apparently a repository of highly classified documents, and the possibility that this cache functioned as a kind of lending library for the benefit of Israel’s spy cell certainly looms large. Does Ms. Glick know the nature of the information Franklin relayed, and, if not, how does she know it wasn’t “significant”?

“Franklin’s one crime, it would seem, was his unquestioning view of Israel as a strategic ally of the US at a time when powerful circles in Washington are trying to disengage from this alliance. Had he conducted identical conversations with British diplomats or pro-Japanese lobbyists, there is little doubt that he would still be sitting behind his desk at the Pentagon.”

Bollocks. A spy nest of any nationality or ethnicity caught red-handed whispering our secrets in the dark while extending its tentacles into top policymaking bodies of the U.S. government would find itself on the other end of an FBI eavesdropping device: a Japanese or British spy would sit behind his or her Pentagon desk only as long as it took the authorities to compile enough evidence to convince a jury. These weren’t just “lobbyists,” as Glick avers, who were skulking about exulting that they had a real “Pentagon insider” on the line: Rosen and Weissman were acting in tandem with a top Israeli official at the Israeli embassy, and this treasonous trio mined their mole for all he was worth.

The Niger uranium forgery was yet another attempt to “influence” policy, and I’m waiting – with bated breath – to hear the familiar defense: Oh, dearie me, you’re just trying to “criminalize” policy differences. Why, everybody does it!

Yeah, that’s right: everybody forges documents, outs CIA agents, and then tries desperately to cover up both crimes, in a ruthless effort to lie us into war and to hell with the consequences. Funny thing is, in the world of the neoconsWashington, this may well be true, or as close to the truth as these people are ever likely to get. And that’s what makes this summer of scandals all the more entertaining.

So start poppin’ that popcorn, get out the chips and dips, and pull up a chair: it’s party time! Scandal Bowl promises to be a blast – one that will blow up the War Party’s Washington base of operations and put a lot of these sociopaths where they undoubtedly belong: behind bars.

Read more by Justin Raimondo