The Samson Gambit

On March 2 former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) foreign policy chief Steve Rosen filed a civil lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Rosen accuses his former employer, directors, and outside public relations firm of libel and slander. Rosen seeks damages of $5 million from AIPAC and punitive damages of $500,000 each from former board members and the public relations firm Rational PR, L.C. An analysis of Rosen’s civil complaint reveals how his “Samson’s gambit” of threatening to pull down the walls of justice over the heads of the Israel lobby may prevail in getting criminal espionage charges dropped within the next two months.

In August 2005, Steve Rosen, fellow AIPAC employee Keith Weissman, and the Pentagon’s Col. Lawrence Franklin were indicted under the Espionage Act for allegedly trafficking classified U.S. national defense information in the interest of provoking a stronger U.S. posture toward Israel’s arch nemesis, Iran. Franklin has since pled guilty and received a prison sentence and fine. Franklin has not reported to prison, since he is cooperating with U.S. prosecutors and ready to testify when the criminal trial of Rosen and Weissman – repeatedly delayed by sophisticated defense team legal maneuvers – finally commences on May 27.

In his civil lawsuit against AIPAC Rosen maintains both his immunity from the Espionage Act and right to obtain tightly held government information for effective lobbying and public relations on behalf of Israel:

“To be effective, organizations engaged in advocacy in the field of foreign policy need to have earlier and more detailed information about policy developments inside the government and diplomatic issues with other countries than is normally available to or needed by the wider public. … Agencies of the government sometimes choose to provide such additional information about policy and diplomatic issues to these outside interest groups in order to win support for what they are doing among important domestic constituencies and to send messages to select target audiences."

One surprising inside glimpse of AIPAC information flow in Rosen’s complaint reveals how special relationships cultivated with U.S. government officials yielded periodic harvests of tightly held information. This bounty was then internally circulated and funneled to outside constituencies at the discretion of AIPAC’s mirror bureaucracy of self-appointed declassification agents:

“To control the flow of such information, government agencies in the field of foreign policy have designated individuals with the authority to determine and differentiate which information disclosures would be harmful to the United States, and which disclosures would benefit the United States through the work of their agencies and would not be harmful to the United States. To maintain liaison with the authorized agency officials who at times are willing to provide such information, organizations like AIPAC have designated officials of their own who have the requisite expertise and relationships to deal with government foreign policy agencies. At AIPAC, Steve Rosen was one of the principal officials who, along with Executive Director Howard Kohr and a few other individuals, were expected to maintain relationships with such agencies, receive such information, and share it with AIPAC Board of Directors and its Senior Staff for possible further distribution. AIPAC, and those defendants who were AIPAC officials and/or members of its Board of Directors, knew that Mr. Rosen and others at AIPAC were receiving such information and expected that they would share it with them.”

More damning to AIPAC, Rosen states unequivocally that other top AIPAC officials not only knew what he was doing, but also received classified information for which they both praised and financially rewarded Rosen and others handling and channeling classified information:

“Mr. Rosen was highly successful in his job, and was regularly praised and generously rewarded by AIPAC’s Executive Director, its President, and its Board of Directors, including by those named as defendants herein who are and/or who were in those positions, for obtaining and sharing such information as described in paragraph no. 18 above. Indeed at the time it was shared with them, AIPAC’s Executive Director, its President, and its Board of Directors including those named as defendants herein who are and/or were in those positions, were well aware of the nature of the information obtained by Mr. Rosen as described in paragraph no. 18 above. Being so aware, they would often share that same information with others outside of AIPAC, particularly valuing Mr. Rosen for his ability to provide them with such information. In fact, AIPAC’s Executive Director, its President, and its Board of Directors, including by those named as defendants herein who are and/or who were in those positions as well as others of AIPAC’s staff, also obtained and shared with each other, and with others outside of AIPAC, such information as described in paragraph no. 18 above, and did so on a regular basis quite apart from the information obtained and shared with them by Mr. Rosen.”

Curiously, Steve Rosen is not the only former AIPAC staffer suddenly surfacing to confront AIPAC. Another even intimates that AIPAC is a hotbed for activities of questionable legality. Former AIPAC chief lobbyist Douglas Bloomfield characterized AIPAC not as a classified information bazaar, but rather as a covert foreign agent for Israeli governments bent on thwarting U.S. brokered peace deals. While simultaneously forecasting the imminent demise of the government’s criminal prosecution against Weissman and Rosen, Bloomfield points to insider forces slowly arraying highly damaging information against AIPAC:

“In cutting loose the pair, AIPAC insisted it had no idea what they were doing. Not so, say insiders, former colleagues, sources close to the defense, and others familiar with the organization.

"One of the topics AIPAC won’t want discussed, say these sources, is how closely it coordinated with Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1990s, when he led the Israeli Likud opposition and later when he was prime minister, to impede the Oslo peace process being pressed by President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.

"That could not only validate AIPAC’s critics, who accuse it of being a branch of the Likud, but also lead to an investigation of violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

‘"What they don’t want out is that even though they publicly sounded like they were supporting the Oslo process, they were working all the time to undermine it,’ said a well-informed source.”

Why the not-so-subtle public threats? Both Bloomfield and Rosen clearly feel that AIPAC violated the ethic of reciprocity when it cut loose Rosen and Weissman and halted funding for their legal defense. AIPAC fired the two to avoid indictment of the entire corporation in the aftermath of two harrowing FBI raids. Corporate criminal indictments probably would have led to AIPAC’s immediate implosion. The melodramatic sense of betrayal that permeates the defamation complaint hinges on the flawed deal lead prosecutor Paul McNulty offered to AIPAC: “We could make real progress and get AIPAC out from under all of us.” AIPAC subsequently put Rosen and Weissman on leave and later fired them, after, in Rosen’s view, “they had approved and rewarded the very behavior which they now condemned.” AIPAC also began deploying its considerable influence in the news media to carefully place stories characterizing Rosen’s work and comportment as unacceptable and uncharacteristic, seemingly oblivious to the idea that the same tactic could also be turned against it. These particular slights may be the straws that broke the camel’s back. Rosen’s angst is palpable as he quotes AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr’s harsh treatment:

“[M]r. Kohr subtly tried to make this case that Messrs. Rosen’s [another AIPAC employee] behavior was out of the ordinary for employees of the organization that considers itself one of the most powerful in Washington. At the same time, Mr. Kohr said he has taken steps to ensure that no lines in the future will be crossed by his lobbyists and analysts. ‘I will take steps necessary to ensure that every employee of AIPAC, now and in the future, conducts themselves in a manner of which you can be proud, using policies and procedures that provide transparency, accountability and maintain our effectiveness’ he said….”

Rosen cites a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report to make a surprisingly frank assertion that Kohr himself not only received classified information from Rosen, but also knew it was from U.S. intelligence sources:

“Further, on June 17, 2005, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported a different formulation to defame Steve Rosen: ‘No current employee knew that classified information was obtained from Larry Franklin or was involved in dissemination of such information,’ spokesperson Patrick Dorton said. In fact, Mr. Kohr had been told in writing that information obtained from Mr. Franklin originated from ‘intelligence’ sources, and Mr. Rosen knew no more about the sources or classification than Mr. Kohr.”

The seemingly defeatist maneuvers of this circular firing squad partially mask Rosen’s real strategy. Millions of dollars would do him little good behind bars or preserve AIPAC’s reputation if he prevails. What Rosen needs most is for AIPAC to pull him “out from under all this” as soon as possible. Otherwise AIPAC and the rest of the lobby will face the full wrath of Rosen’s accumulated arsenal: access to damning AIPAC internal information and a multitude of allies who follow the credo that “divided we fall.” Rosen, having recently proven his considerable powers even under indictment by derailing the nomination of Charles Freeman at the National Intelligence Council, now clearly expects AIPAC to muster the entirety of its own considerable resources to achieve concrete results before May 27. For bystanders, the key remaining question is whether Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama have the mettle to withstand the most intense maneuvers from all directions urging them to fold the Espionage Act trial before it begins.

Not since former attorney general Robert F. Kennedy ordered AIPAC’s parent organization to register as a foreign agent has the Israel lobby been as existentially threatened by rule of law in America. The elite mainstream press, from the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal, has already pitched in to help by urging the DOJ to quickly march away from the prosecution. Pundits who before Barack Obama entered office saw the case as a threat to “freedom of the press” are now repositioning the trial as a vestigial legacy of the Bush administration’s pervasive secrecy.

But the passage of time has not played in AIPAC’s or the defendants’ favor. In the economic aftermath of a disastrous war empowered by carefully channeled disinformation, many Americans are questioning how rule of law might temper selective leaks from lobbyists obliviously liquidating U.S. tax dollars and soldiers in foreign follies. The Espionage Act should function like the financial industry’s Fair Disclosure regulation, which protects small investors from being victimized by larger investors trading on material inside information. If AIPAC obtains closely held information, shouldn’t all Americans instantly be privy? Also, that AIPAC is a de facto foreign agent covertly injecting Israeli government mandates into Congress and the executive branch isn’t quite the explosive secret AIPAC insiders presume it to be. In 2008, the DOJ grudgingly declassified all internal files detailing its earlier three-year fight to register AIPAC’s parent organization as a foreign agent. Any American who checks the Foreign Agents Registration Act against AIPAC’s routine activities knows it is the agent of a foreign power. Middle East historians have no need of Douglas Bloomfield’s verification that the Israel lobby thwarts presidential peace initiatives – the transcripts of Sen. J.W. Fulbright’s investigation of the Israel lobby in 1963 reveal precisely how such concerted actions thwarted the Johnson plan for Middle East peace. The issue is whether the Department of Justice will at long last stand up to AIPAC’s obvious violations of important laws that protect the interests of average Americans. Both John F. and Robert F. Kennedy struggled mightily and failed. If Obama and Holder similarly fail, it is not for lack of evidence now being delivered on silver platters from AIPAC operatives.

For – ironically – everything Steven Rosen alleges in his lawsuit and Bloomfield in his bluff is verifiably true. As an individual actor, Rosen truly is innocent of AIPAC’s protective ruse that he and Weissman alone were in any way unique at AIPAC. Yet another prior incident – also now public – substantiates this. AIPAC never adequately explained how its possession of a 300-page classified report in 1984 outlining the secret American negotiating position for the fatally flawed U.S.-Israel Free Trade Area could possibly be legal. The U.S. government, even in 2009, still won’t declassify that report for an overdue public audit.

Steve Rosen’s late legal gambit cannot obscure the obvious. The real issue isn’t whether AIPAC failed its lobbyists by jettisoning them in a panic; it is whether the Department of Justice failed Americans when it didn’t indict the entire American Israel Public Affairs Committee. If Obama and Holder resist urgent pressures from the Israel lobby, Steve Rosen’s lawsuit may actually accomplish what prosecuting attorney McNulty could not – making all top AIPAC operatives finally stand trial together.

Read more by Grant Smith