First They Came for the Spies

The title of Dorothy Rabinowitz’s Wall Street Journal screed defending two accused spies, "First They Came for the Jews," telegraphs the strategy apologists for Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman will be using when the two AIPAC officials’ trial on charges of espionage, scheduled for June 4, finally begins. It is also a smear so outrageous it almost defies belief. What that headline communicates is the warped conception that the U.S. government, in prosecuting two prominent lobbyists on behalf of Israel for handing over sensitive classified information to Israeli officials, is the equivalent of the Nazi regime. What’s next – the WSJ editorially attacking "Bushitler"?

Rosen, long the spark plug of AIPAC’s very effective lobbying efforts, and Weissman, AIPAC’s Iran specialist, are charged with espionage on Israel’s behalf: here is the indictment. It shows that Rosen and Weissman weren’t just "ordinary citizens," as Rabinowitz characterizes them, or even just high-powered lobbyists, acting, as is their right, to influence government policy. They were the leaders of a spy ring that was in the business of gathering classified information from their sources inside the U.S. government and feeding it to Israeli officials – a business that attracted the attention of the FBI’s counterintelligence unit way back in 1999, when, according to the indictment:

"Rosen had a conversation with Foreign Official 1 (FO-1) and told FO-1 that he (Rosen) had ‘picked up alt extremely sensitive piece of intelligence’ which Rosen described as codeword protected intelligence. Rosen then disclosed to FO-1 national defense information concerning terrorist activities in Central Asia."

At the same time, Rosen also got his hot little hands on a "secret FBI, classified FBI report" – in Rosen’s own secretly-recorded words – about the Khobar Towers terrorist attack, which he claimed he had received from U.S. government officials. Rosen also fed favored media outlets with the fruits of his labors, leaking the Khobar Towers intelligence to a friendly reporter. Rosen, in short, had been the object of the FBI’s attention for some time, and that presumably included the organization he worked for and did so much to build up as one of the most powerful – and feared – lobbies in Washington.

The indictment outlines a series of meetings between Rosen and at least two unidentified U.S. government officials – since identified as David Satterfield and Kenneth Pollack – in which the man who built AIPAC into a lobbying powerhouse turned his organization into a transmission belt that routinely moved classified information from Washington to Tel Aviv. Rabinowitz doesn’t mention any of this: instead, she merely says Rosen was "for some time the object of FBI surveillance." The observant reader will surely ask, "And why was that?"

Apparently Rabinowitz doesn’t care about those particular readers, however, and is, instead, preaching to the choir: Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. This is a group, one suspects, that, if Israel launched air strikes against the continental U.S. tomorrow, would rationalize it without even blinking.

For the rest of us, however, Rabinowitz’s long narrative positing a Justice Department conspiracy to get "the Jews" is as wacky as one of Lyndon LaRouche‘s convoluted conspiracy theories involving the Queen of England, Felix Rohatyn, Satan, and the drug trade.

To begin with, Rabinowitz claims the AIPAC duo were "entrapped in a sting," but the reality is quite different. Yes, top Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin – after being confronted by the FBI and threatened with a long jail sentence – did wear a wire when offering Rosen and Weissman top secret information, which he took care to inform them might get them all "in trouble" if the authorities got wind of it. Yet it was Rosen who first sought out Franklin. "On or about August 5," the indictment states, Rosen called one of his Pentagon contacts, identified only as "DoD employee A," and asked for someone in OSD-ISA "with an expertise in Iran." Rosen’s contact suggested Larry Franklin, described by Rabinowitz as "a staunch patriot." In light of what happened next, however, one has to ask: a patriot of which country?

Rabinowitz claims "the centerpiece of the indictment to come concerned his disclosures to Steve Rosen about an internal policy document on Iran, which, the government alleged, was classified," but this memo, reportedly a draft of a policy paper on Iran, is hardly the most sensitive and interesting in a long list of intelligence tidbits Rosen and Weissman transmitted to their Israeli handlers. These include U.S. intelligence concerning the activities of al Qaeda, Iranian development of WMD, and, significantly, Iranian designs on U.S. troops in Iraq – precisely the issue that has the potential to drive us into another war in the Middle East.

That the AIPAC defendants will be brought to trial just as the provocations directed at Iran reach a crescendo will, one hopes, draw more attention to this legal proceeding than has heretofore been the case. It is at least as important as the trial of Scooter Libby, which was likened, by Chris Matthews, to the trial of Alger Hiss. I would contend that the prosecution of the AIPAC defendants is much closer to the Hiss case. After all, Libby wasn’t charged with being a foreign agent, unless one considers neoconservatives to be in that category by definition. Rosen and Weissman, however, acted as agents of a foreign power, milking Franklin – who had a storehouse of classified top secret documents stashed away in his home – for all he was worth.

This relationship is characterized by Rabinowitz as "the sympathetic bond (characterized as a conspiracy in the government’s indictment) between the Pentagon analyst and the AIPAC employees." Yes, very much like the sympathetic bond between the KGB, Alger Hiss, and the rather extensive Soviet spy network in Washington.

Rabinowitz brings up all kinds of diversionary issues: she’s angry that Sandy Berger got away with a slap on the wrist for taking classified documents, and she points to another investigation (not into any pro-Israel lobbying group) undertaken by the FBI’s counterintelligence unit that didn’t pan out – which is relevant exactly how? Well, you see, it’s the same FBI unit that went after Rosen and Weissman, and after all, these are the same guys who failed to catch Robert Hanssen. The only response is so what? And one hastens to remind Rabinowitz that Berger didn’t hand over his purloined papers to a foreign power.

Backed into a corner, the Amen Corner bares its fangs – but their problem is that they truly are backed up against the wall by the sheer preponderance of physical evidence against the AIPAC defendants, including audio recordings and photographs, that captures their treason in its entirety. Faced with the dire prospect of such an embarrassing exposure, one that details AIPAC’s activities as a fifth column for Israel all the way back to the Clinton administration, the Lobby is not above invoking the Holocaust in defense of its spies. And that’s just a taste of the tactics we ought to expect from the AIPAC spy ring’s ardent defenders in the weeks to come.

The charge of anti-Semitism is the first and last resort of the Lobby whenever its role as an agent of a foreign power is questioned, or even raised. AIPAC has fiercely resisted any effort to compel it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, yet this trial will demonstrate that AIPAC, under Rosen’s forceful and very successful tutelage, acted as an arm of the Israeli government – and of one agency of that government in particular. This accounts for the desperation in Rabinowitz’s authorial voice as she attempts to downplay the weight of the evidence against her two favorite spies. Her whole piece is a riff on victimological whining, and she delivers a virtuoso performance:

"News of the spy story, it was clear, had brought new life to the obsessed. From quarters of the left and right, and not infrequently the mainstream media came, now, daily rumblings about the spy for Israel, his ties to neoconservatives in the administration, the influence and machinations of the neocons, their effort to push the war in Iraq. More than a few of these meditations on Israel, AIPAC and the power of the neocons bore a strong resemblance to a kind of letter that occasionally shows up in journalists’ mailboxes. The sort that bring punctiliously drawn diagrams, cosmic in scope, with endless tiny boxes, and tinier labels, handprinted with a concentration only the deranged can summon, all intended to illustrate the sinister interconnectedness among certain institutions and persons – the president, the Pope, CIA, World Bank, the Association for Dental Implants and so on."

The poor woman is living in an alternate universe if she still gets mail like that from the postman. However, you don’t need any diagrams to see the connections between the machinations of the neoconservatives, such as convicted spy Franklin, and the activities of Rosen and Weissman: simply read the indictment, which details how the Franklin-Rosen-Weissman spy ring sneaked around and fully acted out their parts as spies, as if they were actors in a low-budget thriller. A favorite rendezvous point for the spy ring was Union Station in Washington, such as "on or about March 10, 2003," when Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman met "early in the morning. In the course of the meeting, the three men moved from one restaurant to another restaurant and then finished the meeting in an empty restaurant."

Gee, they must’ve been really hungry, but then again, my mother always told me to eat a big breakfast, because you never know what challenges may lie ahead of you each day. This advice goes double for spies. With all that running around, ferrying classified documents and meeting their Israeli handlers, then running back to Franklin for more vital American secrets – it’s the kind of frenetic activity that eats up a lot of calories.

How Rabinowitz and her cohorts in the Rosen-Weissman fan club are going to spin the evidence that shows their heroes slinking guiltily around Washington, making sure they aren’t followed as they whisper secrets in the shadows, is anybody’s guess. My guess is that they’ll take their lead from the WSJ‘s headline-writer and, before it’s over, will be likening the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman to the persecution of Alfred Dreyfus.

The problem with this line of attack is that, aside from denying the massive amount of physical evidence arrayed against the defendants, it assumes a gigantic anti-Semitic conspiracy existing inside the Justice Department – and higher up – intent on pulling off a political pogrom in Washington. It’s a crazy idea: if anything, the Justice Department has been soft on AIPAC, assuring its leadership that they aren’t prosecuting the organization itself. Whether the trial will ultimately result in AIPAC being forced to register as a foreign agent, however, remains to be seen.

That this is even a possibility has the Amen Corner in a lather, as Rabinowitz’s fulmination attests. Her piece repeats two key themes of the defense: (1) Rosen and Weissman are guilty of "activities that go on every day in Washington, and that are clearly protected under the First Amendment," and (2) Rosen and Weissman aren’t getting a fair trial, a charge based on the government’s request that some of the testimony and evidence be kept out of the public domain.

This second objection is quite interesting because it reveals the depth and breadth of the Israelis’ penetration of U.S. secrets. That is why some evidence can only be summarized, including recordings of conversations, and some testimony will have to be taken in secret. Rabinowitz complains the ACLU is so concerned about the nonexistent rights of Gitmo prisoners that the dilemma of a couple of American-born Mossad agents who can’t get a square deal somehow escapes their attention. It must be anti-Semitism.

The defense appears to be blackmailing the government, or trying to do so. Apparently Rosen and Weissman had access to such prized secrets that the act of prosecuting the two of them in open court would endanger our national security – in this sense, the vastness of their crime acts as a protective shield. That the government went ahead and charged them anyway is an indication that the damage they caused is quite serious.

The Israel Lobby is openly using its muscle to gin up a U.S. confrontation with Iran. That they would seek to penetrate the councils of state in order to do it hardly seems incredible, and appears not to involve the Pope, the CIA, the World Bank, or even the Association for Dental Implants. What it does involve, however, is a network of neoconservative ideologues, such as Franklin, centered in the policy shop of former undersecretary of defense Doug Feith, who apparently engaged in a number of extralegal activities in league with foreign agents – involving not only Israel but also the cadre of Iraqi exiles around Ahmed Chalabi.

The defenders of Rosen and Weissman argue that this is a First Amendment case, but there is no First Amendment right to engage in espionage – or else why aren’t the Rosenbergs considered martyrs to the principle of "free speech"? This isn’t just about passing information to Israel. Franklin is an associate of neoconservative guru Michael Ledeen and fellow Pentagon analyst Harold Rhode, with whom he traveled to Rome in 2001 to attend an unauthorized meeting with Iranian "dissidents" and the scamster Manucher Ghorbanifar, of Iran-Contra fame (which Ledeen also played a key role in, as Israel’s go-between). The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposed to be looking into this, along with the FBI, but somehow that investigation got stalled. Will the Democratic majority now take it up with alacrity? Don’t bet the farm on it. The Lobby is a bipartisan powerhouse, and any hopes that the Democrats will take time out from embarrassing Alberto Gonzales to pull some really grisly skeletons out of the closet are dim, at best. Besides which, this is a nonpartisan scandal, one that – as we examine the unusually long timeline of the investigation into the Lobby’s underground activities – implicates Democrats as well as Republicans.

It seems hardly surprising that the War Party would team up with agents of a foreign power in order to advance the cause of "regime change" throughout the Middle East. Especially in the case of Iran, Israeli patriots with American citizenship could easily convince themselves that Washington’s interests and Tel Aviv’s are perfectly consonant, even identical. That’s why we get this odd "patriotic" theme from Rabinowitz – so blinded by ideology that she sees reason where there is only treason.

Franklin is being touted as a man who was simply ahead of his time: he saw the alleged danger to American soldiers in Iraq from Iranian operatives and went to AIPAC in order to do something about it. That he and his confreres in Feith’s policy shop were engaged in provoking such a confrontation, and otherwise setting up a series of tripwires aimed at Tehran, is what will come out at the trial. Before they could do that, however, the Israelis had to gather as much intelligence about the U.S. government’s internal deliberations – and the state of our own intelligence on Iran – as possible. Then and only then could they win the internecine war taking place between the neocons and the State Department "realists" – basically the same configuration of forces that fought it out in the prelude to war with Iraq.

It now appears that, having won, the neocons are reaping the fruits of the AIPAC spy ring’s treason, as accusations fly of Iranian interference in Iraq and the next border incident could provoke an all-out conflict. The June trial (scheduled for the same day that, in 1986, Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard entered a guilty plea) will reveal much about how we got to this point – and, perhaps, open up the possibility of halting our headlong rush to war. That is, if the shooting hasn’t already started…

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].