Spy With a Heart of Gold?

by , January 26, 2006

In sentencing former top Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin to over 12 years in prison for passing on classified information to two AIPAC employees and officials at the Israeli embassy, U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis opined:

"’The defendant did not seek to hurt the United States. He thought he was helping to bring certain information to the attention’ of the security council."

It’s possible that a spy could believe he’s helping his country by spying on behalf of a foreign power: after all, during the Cold War era, American agents of the Soviet Union doubtless believed they were helping to build a better world (and, by implication, a better America) in funneling U.S. secrets to Moscow. In short, their intentions were "good." But so what? That didn’t stop prosecutors from throwing the book at them: the Rosenbergs fried – and justice was done.

Franklin may not have thought he was inflicting a blow to U.S. national security – yet that is precisely what he did when he revealed, over a period of many months, classified U.S. information about al-Qaeda, American troop movements in Iraq, and other secrets to a cabal of Israeli spies centered in the top rungs of AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group for Israel that wields enormous clout in Congress and the highest councils of our government. Alarmed over Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, and the security implications for Israel, Franklin sought out Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s top lobbyist, and Keith Weissman, AIPAC’s Middle East policy expert, in an effort to influence U.S. policy. The goal: get the U.S. to confront Iran. The means: leak classified information supporting such a position to AIPAC and the Israelis, who would then use their considerable influence inside policymaking circles to steer a collision course with Tehran.

The idea, in essence, was to gin up another war in the Middle East, one that would directly benefit the Israelis – this, in the mind of Judge Ellis, means he wasn’t seeking to "hurt the United States."

What this case shows is that the roots of the current war hysteria over Iran’s alleged attempts to build nukes really go back before the invasion of Iraq, to 2002, when Rosen and Weissman first recruited Franklin into their spy ring. The story coming from Franklin’s defenders is that the Pentagon analyst, "frustrated with what he saw as government inaction against the threat posed by Iran" – as the Associated Press report put it – "decided to take national security into his own hands." In this version, Franklin is a kind of Paul Revere character, riding around on his horse yelling, "The Iranians are coming! The Iranians are coming!" The only problem with this exculpatory narrative is that Franklin’s recruitment into the spy ring predates the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent power vacuum that Tehran began to fill.

The Israelis, having anticipated the triumph of Tehran resulting from the Iraq invasion, were already beginning to play the Iran card, setting up their next target for "regime change." This involved, to begin with, a covert action spearheaded by AIPAC to gather intelligence and lay the groundwork for directly influencing U.S. government policy toward Iran.

The AIPAC defense, of course, is that this is simply "lobbying," and that "everybody does it" – but does "everybody" steal our secrets, compromise the sources and methods of U.S. intelligence-gathering, and meet with foreign agents? The indictment of Franklin and his co-conspirators shows that they collected information and documents relating to internal discussions and policy debates occurring at the time over the Iran question: the Israelis, it is clear, were positioning themselves, using classified information to build and buttress their case that Iran had to be confronted.

The Israelis are now engaging in a bit of blustering, hinting broadly that they are ready to nip Iran’s nuclear program in the bud by conducting a raid similar to that carried out at Osirak, Iraq, in 1981, when Israeli warplanes bombed Saddam’s nascent nuclear facility. That probably isn’t going to happen in this case, however, for two reasons: (1) The geographical spread of the various suspected nuclear sites prevents any attempt to knock them out in a single blow, or even several blows, and (2) Instead of fighting their own battles, the Israelis would much rather use the U.S. to do their dirty work, whenever possible – and that seems highly possible given their past success in this area.

Between the indictment and Franklin’s sentencing, there have been a number of interesting, albeit underreported, developments in the AIPAC spy ring case: for one thing, Rosen and Weissman are threatening to sue AIPAC, their former employer. The pro-Israel lobbying group swiftly threw the AIPAC Two overboard when the government presented some of the evidence it had, although AIPAC agreed to provide funds for a legal defense. The lobbying group soon began to back away from the deal, however, after it became apparent that the two were planning on squealing to save their own necks – and putting the blame on AIPAC, which, they claim, knew all about their activities, and fully approved.

The arrest and prosecution of Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman has to be seen in the context of a widening rupture in the "special relationship" between Israel and the U.S., its principal ally and protector. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the need for the U.S. to gain support from Muslims, especially in the Middle East, put Israeli and American interests at loggerheads. A way had to be found to divert U.S. policymakers from their principal task – getting bin Laden and smashing al-Qaeda – and directing our retaliatory energy at another, altogether different target: Saddam Hussein and his secular-nationalist regime in Iraq. In this way, the Israelis – acting through their powerful lobbying groups and other U.S. assets – harnessed American military power and used it to take the offensive against their enemies in the Middle East.

First and foremost, and in the short term, this means eliminating the threat to their security posed by Iran and Iranian-backed groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. In the long term, it means effecting "democratic" regime-change throughout the region, effectively smashing the Arab states and Iran and reducing them to splintered remnants.

Insofar as Iraq is concerned, the Israelis can effectively claim "mission accomplished." The country is on the verge of civil war and has split into at least three de facto mini-states, each based on a particular ethno-religious constituency. When it comes to Iran, though, their strategy is just beginning to be put into practice – and is running up against a major roadblock in the reluctance of the Bushies to climb on board.

When a parasite invades, it hides as long as it can, sucking the vital juices and draining the energy of its host. Yet there is a limit to what the host can tolerate: eventually, it either builds up an immunity to the depredations of its "guest," or it is sucked dry and exhausted to the point of near-death. Having used up nearly all available military and economic resources in Iraq, the U.S. has a choice: it can either build up an immunity to Israeli influence, even a partial one, or it can let itself be turned into a dry husk, a casualty of Tel Aviv’s ambitions.

Franklin’s stiff sentence is evidence that at least some in the U.S. government have chosen the former course. The upcoming trial of Rosen and Weissman – scheduled for late April – is bound to prove even more instructive. This whole affair illustrates what I have been saying and writing for years: that beneath the surface of the "special relationship," Israel and the U.S. have been engaged in what can only be described as hostilities – in effect, a secret war that escalated in the months prior to 9/11 and has only now begun to come out in the open.

Since 9/11, Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. has argued that there is no divergence of interests between Washington and Tel Aviv. The sentencing of Franklin has delivered a powerful retort to the Israel-firsters. Those who oppose the Iraq war and – now – the looming confrontation with Iran, on the grounds that these policies serve Israeli rather than American interests, have been provided with an effective answer: They can point to Franklin and wonder out loud why – if Israel is our bosom buddy – he has been sentenced to over 12 years behind bars.

Franklin is only the tip of a very large and potentially destructive iceberg: come April, U.S. prosecutors will begin exposing and ripping up the rest of the spy ring, which is merely an underground extension of Israel’s more open propaganda and intelligence-gathering apparatus in the U.S. And they will do so in full public view, in open court – a prospect that, rightly, fills Israel’s fifth column with terror.

It may be that the defense will succeed in further delaying the trial – originally scheduled for January – by demanding all sorts of classified documents, as well as the full transcripts of the wiretapping conducted on the treasonous trio. Then again, lawyers need to get paid, and AIPAC has cut off Rosen and Weissman financially. Whether this means the two discarded spies will spill the beans and implicate AIPAC as an organization that functions as little more than the eyes and ears of the Mossad in Washington remains to be seen. In any case, efforts to spin Franklin as the spy with a heart of gold will likely come to naught as the whole sordid story becomes known.

As far as I’m concerned, April can’t come quickly enough.

Read more by Justin Raimondo