The ‘Patriotic’ Spy

The AIPAC spy scandal was a big setback for Israel’s lobby in the U.S., despite its ambiguous outcome. Yes, the espionage charges against AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were eventually dropped – after every effort to obstruct justice and "graymail" the government was made on the defendants’ behalf – yet just the fact that Israel’s spy ring in Washington was indicted and exposed to public view was and is a major setback for them, and they aren’t about to let it go.

After all, the most powerful lobby in Washington had its offices raided by the FBI not once, but twice, and its name was dragged through a years-long and quite drawn-out process during which the mask began to slip and the true face of AIPAC – as an agent of a foreign government – was there for all to see. Not only that, but the true face of that government as not necessarily a friendly one – indeed, in this instance, as an adversary of the U.S. – was revealed.

Of course, American intelligence officials were – and are – quite familiar with this particular aspect of the Jewish state, having been involved in countering Israel’s covert activities in the U.S. ever since the Jonathan Pollard spy case, but the general public had quite a different impression. At least until recently, most Americans persisted in seeing the Israelis as our often troublesome but essentially loyal ally. With the AIPAC spy case, however, that image was significantly altered, and this, in concert with Israel’s recent descent into outright extremism, threatens the very basis of the so-called special relationship Israel enjoys with the U.S.

As such, this incident cannot be allowed to stand, and the Lobby has launched a campaign to reverse the damage – in effect, to rewrite the history of this fascinating case. There was some initial rewriting done before and right after the case was dismissed, to the effect that Rosen, Weissman, and their accomplice, one Larry Franklin, formerly the top Iran analyst in Doug Feith’s Pentagon policy shop, were just doing what everyone does in Washington, which is trade information in exchange for favors and political advantage. In this narrative, they were innocent babes in the woods doing what all "journalists" do: gathering data. Of course, not all journalists target highly classified information and then hand it over to foreign government officials, but then again the Israelis are considered our best friends, and so – the argument went – what did we have to hide? After all, the Israelis had only to ask for the information sought by the Rosen-Weissman-Franklin spy nest – so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this: Franklin was being questioned not only in connection with leaking classified intelligence, but also because he was suspected of having some knowledge of how Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile leader, came into possession of the closely-held secret that the U.S. had broken the Iranians’ internal code. Chalabi – the head of the Iraqi National Congress, who fabricated "evidence" of Iraq’s "weapons of mass destruction" and passed it on to credulous Bush administration officials – was exposed as an Iranian intelligence asset, and his Iraqi headquarters was raided by U.S. troops. The sudden and premature resignation of Feith and the close questioning of Pentagon personnel – who were given lie-detector tests – indicated law enforcement was hot on the trail of a much larger spying operation, of which Franklin was only a small part.

That operation, however, remains hidden, albeit only partially. Yet the "aboveground" portion – AIPAC’s role as an outlet for espionage-related activities as well as strong-arming Congress and interfering in American elections – has been effectively unmasked, and you can bet the Feds are still watching and waiting for their chance to pounce. After all, even though the spies got away in the end, it wasn’t for lack of law enforcement trying to nail them. Next time the Israelis and their American fifth column might not be so lucky.

By way of a preemptive strike, therefore, the Lobby is going on the offensive, with Franklin recently granting an extensive interview to the Washington Times, averring that the whole thing was part of – you guessed it! – an "anti-Semitic" conspiracy hatched in the Justice Department and the FBI. Franklin, who was videotaped handing over highly sensitive classified information to Naor Gilon, the former chief political officer at the Israeli embassy in Washington, denies ever being a spy for Israel. He’s spun an alternate narrative, which someone who knows nothing about the particulars of his case is all too likely to swallow: he wasn’t a spy, he avers, he was a "double agent," who cooperated with the FBI and then was "betrayed" by them. According to the Times:

"He said his FBI handlers convinced him that AIPAC analysts Steven Rosen and Mr. Weissman were ‘bad people’ and that the agency needed his help in making a criminal case against the pro-Israel lobby officials."

What Franklin leaves out here is how his FBI "handlers" "convinced" him to cooperate: by confronting him with the evidence of his own treason and his year-long relationship with Rosen and Weissman, who had culled from him highly classified intelligence on al-Qaeda, U.S. military movements in Iraq, the bombing of the Khobar Towers, and other closely held secrets. He fails to mention that, when the FBI showed up at his door on June 30, 2004 – after tracking his every move for months – they discovered 83 government documents of various levels of classification, stretching over decades. They knew what he was up to, because they had recorded his conversations with Rosen, Weissman, and Gilon, and it was under these circumstances – facing the prospect of a lengthy prison term – that he turned on his AIPAC handlers and agreed to wear a wire in future meetings of the spy nest.

Larry Franklin a double agent? Double-talker is more like it.

The U.S. counterintelligence community has long been reined in by political appointees, who are under pressure to tolerate Israeli spying and other covert activities on American soil, and you can be sure of one thing: they resent it. These dedicated professionals no doubt also deeply resent accusations of "anti-Semitism" that are being hurled by Franklin and Rosen in the wake of the charges being dropped (Weissman has so far remained mum).

Which means that we haven’t heard the last of Israel’s fifth column, which is still burrowing ever deeper into our national security bureaucracy, intent on achieving its own purposes. Nor have we heard the last from their nemeses in the Justice Department and among counterintelligence officials. We saw a bit of the curtain draw back on this largely unseen struggle when Rep. Jane Harman’s conversation with an alleged Israeli agent was made public. Harman claims she never followed through on her promise to lobby the Justice Department to drop the charges against Rosen and Weissman, but apparently someone intervened, at some level – although I’d be willing to bet the farm it wasn’t just her.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at 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].