On Feb. 14, 2012, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will deliver oral arguments to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. At issue is whether AIPAC defamed its former top official Steven J. Rosen by telling the New York Times he was terminated because his behavior “did not comport with standards that AIPAC expects of its employees.” Fortunately for AIPAC, it is extremely difficult for public figures to win defamation suits in America. Unfortunately for AIPAC, it has now filed so many false and easily debunked claims in appeals court that a sensible presiding judge may allow Rosen’s $20 million in claims against AIPAC and its board of directors to move on to a jury trial.
The events culminating in this unhappy Valentine’s Day rendezvous are well-documented in AIPAC’s appellee’s brief filed on July 25, 2011 [.pdf]. In March 2005 AIPAC legal counsel Nathan Lewin was given a limited security clearance by federal prosecutors in order to listen to a damning wiretap recording of Rosen and fellow AIPAC staffer Keith Weissman channeling classified information to Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler. In that fateful 2004 FBI wiretap, Rosen claimed this purloined information proved Iran was engaged in “total war” against the U.S. that demanded a response. After listening to the tap, “Lewin advised AIPAC to terminate Rosen despite having previously been Rosen’s main proponent and supporter.” Rosen and Weissman were both later indicted under the Espionage Act. AIPAC spent $4.9 million defending Rosen until the case was mysteriously dropped by the Obama administration in 2009. Shortly before the case was terminated, Rosen filed a $20 million defamation suit against AIPAC.
During the 2010-2011 defamation suit, Rosen filed evidence in Superior Court that AIPAC officials routinely trafficked in classified information such as national security directives, overseas intelligence about enemies, and annual reports of secret U.S. arms sales. His lengthiest filing included documentary evidence that AIPAC had obtained a classified U.S. government document called “Probable Economic Effect of Providing Duty-Free Treatment for Imports from Israel” in 1984 as part of an effort to secure enormous permanent trade preferences for Israel. Today AIPAC claims to the Appeals Court that “what he [Rosen] does not go on to indicate is that following an FBI investigation, that AIPAC was cleared of any wrongdoing and the document that formed the basis of the investigation contained no classified national defense information. … There was no evidence of any kind presented in the record that the alleged 1984 involvement by AIPAC that was investigated by the FBI, involved an impropriety by AIPAC or any AIPAC employee. The matter clearly involved no classified documents.” But none of AIPAC’s claims are true.
AIPAC was never formally cleared of wrongdoing for obtaining secret U.S. trade documents in 1984. According to partially declassified files, the FBI interviewed three top AIPAC officials and the Israeli embassy’s minister of economics. The interviews commenced late in the “Year of the Spy”(1985) just after Jonathan Pollard was arrested for stealing a million top-secret documents. The FBI was forced to drop the trade-theft investigation in 1987 after Economics Minister Dan Halpern, who had passed the purloined document to AIPAC in a furtive meeting, claimed diplomatic immunity [.pdf] and refused to reveal how he obtained it. An examination of the full FBI file reveals numerous improprieties committed by AIPAC employees so that Israel could benefit from preferences that today are worth about $10 billion per year. Despite Israel lobby and Republican Party pressure, Ronald Reagan later ducked the lobby’s annual confab in 1988, likely as an overdue show of disapproval for AIPAC’s clandestine activities.
Rosen’s core legal shortcoming is that he stopped short of deposing former AIPAC legislative director Douglas Bloomfield during defamation suit proceedings. During the 1980s document caper, Bloomfield found the classified trade report so valuable he duplicated it [.pdf] for AIPAC’s use before returning the original by order of the U.S. trade ambassador. For his part, in 2009 Bloomfield defended Rosen in the press during his defamation suit by subtly threatening to reveal how AIPAC functions as a foreign agent of the Israeli government if it didn’t settle up with Rosen as promised. Rosen likewise declined to broadly depose Ester Kurz [.pdf], who also handled the classified trade report in the 1980s. This would have been unsettling to the lobby, since in 2010 Kurz was still holding a top-level job at AIPAC and even received Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the annual D.C. conference.
AIPAC’s court claims that its theft of U.S. trade secrets in the 1980s “clearly involved no classified documents” are easily debunked. Despite multi-year Freedom of Information Act requests to fully declassify the document in order to conduct a complete public interest damage assessment, last month the International Trade Commission refused [.pdf] full release in order to continue protecting classified “confidential business information which the ITC obtained from private sources.”
By failing to depose fellow AIPAC officials intimately involved in secrets trafficking, Rosen sacrificed his single best chance for a successful defamation suit. He is now fumbling through August appeals court filings [.pdf] that center on claims that AIPAC had “no standards” by which to judge the conduct of its employees. The record fully reveals AIPAC’s standards. Employees who leverage classified information against the United States in Israel’s favor without being criminally indicted are retained and rewarded. All others are thrown under the bus. AIPAC’s campaign to entangle the United States in yet another disastrous military conflict in the Middle East was severely tripped up by Rosen’s bungled tradecraft in 2004. However — unlike the U.S. Congress and the establishment media — the D.C. Court of Appeals is unlikely to be a pliant channel for AIPAC’s misinformation.