Neoconservatism and Espionage

These are bad times for Israeli spy operations. It wasn’t enough that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was outed, last week, as a major supplier of U.S. secrets to Tel Aviv: on Monday, Israel’s spy satellite – meant to keep an eye on Iran’s nuclear ambitions – went kaput on lift-off. Measured in time, money, and diplomatic blowback, the loss of the satellite is a hard blow to the Jewish state – but the AIPAC affair could deliver a knockout punch to one of Washington’s most powerful, and feared, lobbying groups. Not only that, it could also destroy the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment by demonstrating, in a court of law, the key link between neoconservatism and espionage.

Attempts to minimize the damage, mostly conducted in the pages of the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Times – which has published "news" stories on the subject consisting almost entirely of the neocons’ outraged denials – have so far downplayed the significance of the documents allegedly given to AIPAC officials by Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin, and then passed on to Israel. The Amen Corner always refers to a draft of a presidential directive on Iran, and then goes on to scoff at the seriousness of the alleged transmission: everybody does it, goes the argument, and what are some "draft" policy papers between such good friends? No notice is ever taken of the "other documents" frequently mentioned, albeit in passing, in various news accounts. But what are we talking about, here: secret codes? The names of American agents abroad? America’s war plans in Iraq? It could be any or all of the above.

Also ignored is the timeline of the investigation: top administration officials, including National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, were reportedly briefed on the inquiry in 2001, shortly after Bush was sworn into office. In order to carry on the kind of surveillance FBI agents were conducting, they had to go to a special judge sitting in a special court and give some indication that the nation’s interests were seriously at risk – and, remember, this was conceivably before the "PATRIOT" Act was passed, when a higher standard of probable cause was the rule.

This is quickly burgeoning into a spy scandal that goes far beyond the activities of Franklin. The investigation, if it isn’t murdered in its crib by a Republican hack prosecutor, will dwarf the infamous Jonathan Pollard spy case in terms of sheer scope – and the damage done to America’s national security.

Just how deep the investigation into Israel’s spy operations in the U.S. goes is indicated in a recent piece by Jason Vest and Laura Rozen, in The American Prospect, which describes the FBI’s recent visit to Stephen Green, an expert on Israeli-American relations:

"As Green spoke with investigators, he realized the agents were investigating far more than Franklin.

"’Larry Franklin’s name never came up, but several others did,’ he said."

The FBI had sought out Green on account of a fascinating piece he’d written in February, and published in Counterpunch, the excellent newsletter put out by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, which detailed the security problems encountered over the years by major neoconservative figures such as Richard Perle, and his protégé, suspected Israeli mole Dr. Stephen Bryen, as well as the self-styled Machiavellian Michael Ledeen, and – higher on the totem pole – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who, in 1978, was the subject of an investigation into whether he gave classified documents on the sale of U.S. weapons to an Arab government to an AIPAC conduit, who then passed them on to Israel.

The Bryen and Wolfowitz investigations were quietly dropped, along with a similar inquiry into the loyalties of Douglas Feith, a hard-line neoconservative comrade and currently the head of the Pentagon’s policy shop, where Franklin works. In 1972, as a Middle East analyst in the Near East and South Asian Affairs section of the National Security Council, Feith was fired because, as Green put it,

"He’d been the object of an inquiry into whether he’d provided classified material to an official of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. The FBI had opened the inquiry."

According to Green, his visitors "were extraordinarily well-informed" and very focused:

"It was apparent they’ve been at this for awhile, I asked them if there was a current reason for them asking questions about things that go back over 30 years, and they sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Yes, it’s a present issue,’ but wouldn’t say specifically what. Though they did ask very specific questions about one individual in particular."

Ledeen’s Israeli connection, as the chief go-between with Israel in the Iran-Contra affair, is well-known, but his storied history didn’t prevent employment as a "consultant" to the Office of Special Plans.

Vest and Rozen report that the agents never brought up Franklin’s name: they wanted to know about Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Ledeen, and Bryen. Another node of interest: the Pentagon’s "Office of Special Plans," which is widely credited with funneling enough phony "intelligence" into the White House to expose its occupant to the charge of being a world-class liar. "The only name that didn’t come up was Larry Franklin," avers Green.

If the antecedents of AIPAC-gate can be traced back across a span of some 25 years or so, then our sense of déjà vu is further heightened by the circumstances in which Franklin was caught red-handed trying to hand over classified documents to Israeli agents in the presence of an AIPAC employee. As part of a larger investigation, the FBI was listening in on the AIPAC-Mossad meeting at a Washington, D.C., eatery when Franklin walked in on the proceedings "out of the blue" with his awkward offer. Confronting Franklin with the evidence of his treachery, the feds turned him and used him to scope out the deep roots of Israel’s secret underground in U.S. policymaking circles.

The only difference with the Bryen case is that this AIPAC-Mossad luncheon was probably held at one of the Imperial capital’s finer institutions of higher dining, the kind frequented by Gucci-wearing Washington lobbyists and the higher-priced politicians. In 1978, Bryen met his Mossad contacts at the Madison Hotel Coffee Shop, where he was overheard – by Michael Saba – offering classified documents to an Israeli Embassy official, Zvi Rafiah, described by Green as the Mossad station chief in Washington. Green also notes that Bryen would not agree to take a polygraph test, but Saba readily agreed and passed with flying colors.

The sense of deja-vu gets stronger as we contemplate the first indications that the investigation is being killed. As Saba puts it:

"In 1978, the conversation that I overheard in the restaurant and the subsequent reporting of what was said to the FBI, led to an investigation of that government employee, Stephen Bryen, and a recommendation from the FBI investigators that the matter be brought before a grand jury with charges of espionage for Israel. That case was then mysteriously dropped."

The agents doing the field work on the Franklin investigation were reportedly eager to make arrests, but were stopped by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who put GOP hack Paul McNulty in charge of the case: McNulty moved quickly to nix the plan to go to a grand jury or file a complaint. Apparently, he’ll go after such national scourges as OxyContin before he’ll lift a finger to go after spies. But the investigation continues, and, given the latest developments, it looks like the bloodhounds have picked up the scent of treason and are relentlessly following it to the source. The Washington Post reports:

"FBI counterintelligence investigators have in recent weeks questioned current and former U.S. officials about whether a small group of Iran specialists at the Pentagon and in Vice President Cheney’s office may have been involved in passing classified information to an Iraqi politician or a U.S. lobbying group allied with Israel, according to sources familiar with or involved in the case. In their interviews, the FBI agents have also named two Israeli diplomats stationed in Washington and asked whether they would be willing recipients of sensitive intelligence, the sources added."

The Defense Policy Board – until recently chaired by accused thief and neocon guru Richard Perle – and the office of Dick Cheney are also being scrutinized for evidence of penetration by Israel’s fifth column. David Wurmser, a prominent neoconservative writer and publicist, a specialist on Iran who serves as Cheney’s principal deputy assistant for national security affairs, is also of interest to investigators. The Post reports:

"’The initial interest was: Do you believe certain people would spy for Israel and pass secret information?’ said one source interviewed by the FBI about the defense officials."

The Post also notes that the suspects in this case "have strong ties to Israel," including, in the case of Wurmser, Feith, and Perle, joint authorship of a 1996 policy paper for then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” that called for regime change not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. The idea, back then, was that Israel would accomplish this, all on its own. Over the years, however, the plan apparently evolved: instead of Israel accomplishing a regional transformation all by its lonesome, Tel Aviv would manipulate Washington into paying the price in treasure and casualties. The Clean Breakers were instrumental in helping to bring this about. But did they also commit acts of espionage in the process?

If so, then their policy prescriptions will be seen in a new light. Why did the Wolfowitz-Perle-Feith Axis of Israel inside the Pentagon argue so consistently and relentlessly for a policy of "Iraq, Delenda Est"? As of this moment, 1001 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq so far. What did they die for? As I put it in an op ed published in USA Today, in February of last year:

"Our troops will be fighting a proxy war in Iraq, and beyond, not to protect U.S. citizens from terrorist attacks, but to make the world safe for Israel. When the dead are buried, let the following be inscribed on their tombstones: They died for Ariel Sharon."

The neocons’ defenders characterize the investigation as a case of political persecution, an act of factional warfare carried out by the CIA and the Brent Scowcroft-Republican realists against their neoconservative rivals. But the Clean Break Gang and their willing accomplices did more than just argue on behalf of Israel’s cause. If the scope of the present investigation into AIPAC is any indication, over a period of many years the Clean Breakers acted like a coherent and disciplined cell, implanted in the very heart of the U.S. government. Stealing our secrets and feeding us lies, this cabal operated a two-way transmission belt of treason – subverting our efforts to go after the real perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and diverting attention and resources to the war against Israel’s enemies, the Ba’athist regimes in Baghdad and Damascus, and the mullahs of Tehran.

While the neocons appear to have been given a platform by that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times, to give their defense in the framework of "news" articles that impart very little new information, the usual suspects have not been heard to defend AIPAC too loudly. Michael Ledeen is his usual voluble self, demanding to know why, if the charges have any substance, they haven’t arrested anyone. Does this mean he’ll join with Rep. John Conyers, who has called for McNulty to be taken off the case, so we can finally see somebody in handcuffs? Conyers has suggested handing it over to the prosecutors in the Valerie Plame case, headed up by Patrick J. "Bulldog" Fitzgerald. That way, the accused will have their day in court, and the neocons will be blessed with what every political movement of any consequence eventually acquires: an ample supply of martyrs.

Aside from Ledeen, however, and pro-forma denials by the Israelis and AIPAC, the response to the AIPAC espionage caper on the part of Israel’s most vehement champions – a numerous crew of ordinarily loquacious pundits, such as Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Clifford May, etc. – has been an uncharacteristic silence. Bill Safire managed to get off one very weak volley, in the context of a column in the Sunday Times about the election:

"Retiring Senator Bob Graham, whose failure to dissociate himself from Pat Buchanan’s anti-Israel screed on ‘Meet the Press’ yesterday will not help Democrats in Florida, complains that Kerry’s campaign is ‘still a little out of focus.’"

But Buchanan did not engage in any sort of "screed," "anti-Israel" or otherwise. Here is what he said:

"We also need to investigate whether there is a nest of Pollardites in the Pentagon who have been transmitting American secrets through AIPAC, the Israeli lobby, over to Reno Road, the Israeli embassy, to be transferred to Mr. Sharon. Now, I did not know until this weekend’s stories in The Washington Post that this is exactly what is being talked about; that certain individuals over there in Mr. Feith’s shop or beneath him have been transmitting these secrets.

"Now, the FBI have been asking questions. There are no conclusions. No one should assume guilt on anyone’s part. But if this has been going on, Tim, we are getting dangerously close to the T-word. And I would urge the president of the United States to get out in front of this, to take this investigation away from Mr. McNulty and give it to Patrick Fitzgerald and let them look into it because if the president can – I’m sure the president has no involvement in this. But questions have been raised, and this is not something on the Internet. This is The Washington Post doing this, moving all this around, and so I think there clearly needs to be an investigation."

All I know is what I read in the papers: "No one should assume guilt on anyone’s part." This is an "anti-Israel screed" only in the upside down world of Bizarro Bill Safire.

By giving the Clean Break Gang the benefit of a doubt Pat is being generous to a fault: given their record, and the circumstantial evidence gathered so far, they hardly deserve it.

On the same program, Newt Gingrich defended the neocons, if you call this a defense:

"I think that it is very worrisome that some security people, whether they’re at the CIA or the FBI, are trying to destroy careers by leaking to the press allegations that are untrue. You may have just noticed, by the way, that Ahmed Chalabi, after a six-month campaign by Ambassador Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority, Ahmed Chalabi was just cleared, something which didn’t get quite the same coverage as all of the vicious and dishonest charges.

"Now, if what we’re seeing is a strategy of smearing people out of public life by using the FBI and the CIA, I think that’s something the Congress should investigate. If somebody’s guilty, fine, arrest them, indict them, convict them. But to have people who are supposed to be in charge of security out smearing people, I think makes one worry about the protection of individual liberty and the protection of individual innocence in this society."

But the publicity surrounding the investigation was not a plus for the investigators, as the Post reports:

"Several law enforcement officials have said in recent days that the FBI had initially considered making rapid arrests in the Franklin probe when it became clear that news of the investigation was about to become public last week. But, these officials said, prosecutors urged caution, arguing that investigators needed more time to gather evidence and assess the case."

Whoever leaked this case wasn’t rooting for the investigators, but was alerting the other members of the spy nest, allowing them time to scurry to safety – perhaps to Israel – and, in any case, cover their tracks. It was, as Laura Rozen speculated, a "controlled burn," a preemptive strike designed to obstruct and abort the ongoing investigation before arrests could be made.

Gingrich doesn’t answer any of the charges, he merely asserts they are "untrue." But how does he know that? Does he have access to the wiretaps, the surveillance records, the transcripts of bugged conversations between AIPAC employees, Israeli embassy officials, and whomever, going back over two years? The FBI does, and they must know something Gingrich doesn’t know. So this is not an honest response from Gingrich. The only really direct response of any consequence, apart from "Well, why don’t you arrest them, then?", comes from errant paleoconservative John Derbyshire, commenting on the National Review "blog":

"The paleocon websites – yep, you bet I read them – have been going nuts over this story of an Israeli spy in the DoD.

"This strikes me as disingenuous. I have always assumed that every country – including friendly ones – spies on the US govt to whatever degree it can get away with. The value-added of having some advance, unauthorized insight into US govt policy discussions is tremendous. Foreign governments, friendly or otherwise, would be fools not to do all they can to get insights into US policy. "

Here is someone who thinks other countries would be "fools" not to engage in espionage against the United States. Isn’t there something on the citizenship application form about approving of treason? It’s amazing that they let Derbyshire, an immigrant from Britain, into the country, let alone made him a citizen.

As a writer for a magazine that smeared several prominent antiwar conservatives and libertarians, including Buchanan, Robert Novak, and Lew Rockwell – as well as a few minor ones, including myself – as "Unpatriotic Conservatives," the statement that the activities of the AIPAC cabal amount to "having some advance, unauthorized insight into US government policy discussions" is … breathtaking.

If he were elected prime minister of somewhere-or-other, Derbyshire breezily assures us, he would immediately expand his country’s program of spying on the United States, and would be "furious" if one were not already in place. He gives voice to the hard-core Likudnik view of America’s relationship with Israel, while supposedly conveying an ostensibly neutral value-free stance:

"For Israel, whose actual existence as a nation might depend on US policy (as in fact it did in 1973), there is no excuse at all not to spy on the US. An Israeli government that did not spy on the US would be in very serious dereliction of its duty towards its citizens."

Translated into colloquial American, this means: Screw the U.S. We’ll spy on them if we must, and we’ll be the proper judges of that. Every country pursues its own interests. But the only problem is that Israel’s supporters have made the point, over and over again post-9/11, that the interests of Israel and the U.S. are identical. AIPAC-gate proves that this is a lie: Israel treats its main benefactor – and practically its lone friend in the world – as if it were a mortal enemy. But then again, given Derbyshire’s recognition that we hold Israel’s life in our hands, this hostility is understandable: such an over-dependence can only breed resentment, contempt, and, inevitably, a sense of betrayal. No matter how much aid we give, and how unconditional our support, it’s never enough: not enough to stave off the rising tide of Arab nationalism, not to mention the demographic tide rising to engulf the Jewish state in an Arab sea.

So what should we do? According to Derbyshire:

"Of course, if we catch someone spying for a foreign power – whether friendly or not – we should throw the book at him. We are entitled to do everything we can to protect our national secrets, and need not apologize to anyone for that. But that is just the other side of the game.

"To throw up your hands in horror on learning that some friendly country is spying on the US is preposterous. Unless, of course, you have a heavy emotional investment in the notion that lots of very senior administration officials owe their true primary allegiance to that country…"

A "friendly country"? A country that not only spied on us, but also set up a covert intelligence cell within the highest councils of the U.S. Government and colluded with them to lie us into war – this is a friendly country? This is precisely what the British did during World War II, as Thomas E. Mahl, author of Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44, documents, but as an American citizen, albeit of British ancestry, and a conservative to boot, no doubt Derbyshire doesn’t approve of that. Although one could understand why he might: but why make the same sort of exception for Israel? Just asking.

A country that passed secrets to Iran, via its agents, Chalabi and AIPAC, endangering American lives on the battlefields of Iraq – what kind of "friendship" is that?

Horror is the proper response to treason of this kind, and the only sort of "emotional investment" required is an emotional attachment to one’s own country, as well as an abiding concern for its security in this, the age of terrorism. Furthermore, it is absurd to speculate on subjective interpretations of to whom or what the traitors in our midst felt allegiance. We cannot know what they felt, only what they did. Whether the spying for Israel was done to advance the neoconservative cult of power, or the cult was a front for Israeli interests pure and simple, is a question one must leave to future scholars of the subject. Just as academic specialists ponder the question of what motivated Alger Hiss, and wonder who promoted Peress, tomorrow’s AIPAC-ologists will debate the point raised by Derbyshire, which is interesting – but irrelevant to our purposes.

What matters to us here at, and the reason we’ve been covering this story so comprehensively, is that it validates what we have been saying all along about the neocons, and Israel’s operational role in the propaganda campaign that led to the invasion of Iraq. AIPAC-gate further delegitimizes an already unpopular war, and could help block the War Party’s moves to incite more armed conflicts throughout the region. Before we resolve, finally, to get out of Iraq, and out of the Middle East, where we never belonged in the first place, we’re going to have to fully comprehend and appreciate the key link between neoconservatism and espionage.

The whole neoconservative movement is an act of subversion: of our republican virtues, of the moral character of our people (see Abu Ghraib), and the conservative movement itself. That top neocons in government have been exposed as foreign agents only confirms that their agenda of "national greatness," neo-imperialism, and perpetual war is un-American through-and-through and to the core.

It also confirms our worst suspicions about the "mainstream" conservatives over at National Review, including Derbyshire: that they all too often act as fellow travelers in treason, excusing and exculpating the worst excesses of Israel’s lobby in America, while offering the neocons a platform to slime true conservatives and principled libertarians of the right.

As Ledeen conducts seances in the pages of National Review, complaining to the mad ghost of James Jesus Angleton that Israel’s spy nest is being subjected to the tortures of "McCarthyism," and David Frum denounces the investigation as an anti-Semitic plot (presumably carried out by neo-Nazis in the FBI), one has to ask: Why this knee-jerk anti-American response to the actions of our government, which, after all, is only trying to protect us?

Who are the "unpatriotic conservatives" now?

And it isn’t just the conservatives. While The Hill newspaper reports that Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), House majority whip, has announced that the House "probe" of AIPAC-gate will start "with a record of confidence" in AIPAC, House Democratic whip Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), gave a statement that echoes the worst excuse-making of Ledeen, Frum, and her old adversary Gingrich:

"’AIPAC has played a pivotal role in ensuring the strength of the special relationship between the United States and Israel,’ she said. ‘AIPAC is a dedicated advocate for Israel, educating our nation’s leaders about opportunities to assist our democratic ally in the Middle East. I am proud to have worked closely with AIPAC and its leaders to support Israel as it works to defeat terrorism and strives toward a just and lasting peace.’"

This craven catering to a group that has effectively acted as a fifth column, and stands credibly accused of being an accomplice to crimes including espionage, is an outrage. What’s even worse: AIPAC activists are flooding the Congress with calls, and letters, in a massive campaign to drop the charges, obstruct justice, and engage in damage control. The problem is that damage to American interests is not their concern: it’s all about Israel.

When both parties are complicit with treason, what is to be done? Thank god for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), who seems to be one of the few true patriots left in Congress, who is calling attention to the possibility of a cover-up.. The people must rise up and act if this treason is to be ended.

We can stop the cover-up, but only if we act now. Get on the horn and call your congressional representatives: your two senators as well as the member of the House from your congressional district.

Let it not be said that, when it came time to speak up and defend the country from treason, only traitors could find words to defend their co-conspirators. Call, write, and make your voice heard. And be polite. Simply ask why the investigation seems to have been hampered, not helped, by the intervention of John Ashcroft. And ask why is it that Israel is given the sort of leeway that no country can afford to give another – without necessarily answering your own question. Be polite, but, by all means, feel free to point out that if the "A" in AIPAC stood for Arab, one wonders if members of Congress would be so quick to give a group of accused spies their imprimatur.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was 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].