It was very obviously a well-planned operation, executed with military precision: the FBI moved in on a nondescript office building near the Capitol, Wednesday morning, arriving at 10, and staying until past 4 p.m. According to one source, "this was a massive raid – the FBI surrounded" the place and carted away a load of evidence. "This is no joke," the source told journalist Laura Rozen.
Another raid on an Islamic charity with alleged ties to terrorists? A drug bust? A hit on a child porn ring? No, none of the above: instead, the G-men’s target was the Washington headquarters of what Fortune magazine has rated the second most powerful lobbying outfit in the nation’s capital: the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
This will make the second time this year that the feds have come knocking on AIPAC’s door: the first was in late summer, when the Larry Franklin case first surfaced and was trumpeted on major news media outlets, including CBS. Franklin, a mid-level Pentagon official, had been caught red-handed supplying Israeli government officials with classified information via two AIPAC officials, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. As the story began to come out, it became apparent that Franklin was just a small fish in a much larger aquarium, and had been scooped up in this web of intrigue almost by accident. As Laura Rozen and Jason Vest relate in The American Prospect:
"In late July, as this debate raged, a Pentagon analyst named Larry Franklin telephoned an acquaintance who worked at a pro-Israel lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)."
Franklin, who works in the policy shop run by the neocons’ man on the ground, Douglas Feith, told his AIPAC friend that he was worried about U.S. government inaction in the face of alleged attempts by Iran to penetrate southern Iraq and counter growing Israeli influence in Kurdistan. A meeting was arranged. A few weeks later, as Rosen and Vest report, FBI agents showed up at the door of Franklin’s friend, asking about the Iran analyst in what seemed like a routine background check.
In truth, the agents were interested in far more than Franklin: the FBI’s counterintelligence unit had been eavesdropping on AIPAC for over two years, in what appears to be a wide-ranging and rapidly developing investigation into Israeli penetration of U.S. government agencies. Franklin had been swept up in a massive and ongoing counterintelligence operation aimed at a cabal of high-level Israeli moles.
The Franklin affair was leaked to the media, and the FBI, which had been hoping to catch bigger fish than a mid-level analyst, was forced into action: they raided AIPAC’s headquarters, copied computer disks belonging to Rosen and Weissman, and conducted interviews with a number of employees. Rosen and Weissman soon stopped answering questions, however, and demanded legal counsel.
The story gathered headlines for a few days, and then disappeared off the radar screen as quickly and mysteriously as it had appeared – until now. In this latest raid, the feds not only carried away bales of evidence, but they also came bearing gifts: four subpoenas summoning AIPAC’s executive director, Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, research director Raphael Danziger, and Renee Rothstein, the group’s communications director, to testify before a grand jury. The investigation, formerly conducted by FBI counterintelligence czar David W. Szady, was transferred to the jurisdiction of U.S. attorney Paul J. McNulty, in Alexandria, Virginia: the Financial Times reported, just before the presidential election, that agents were being told to turn down the heat. But the heat is on again, and there is every prospect that it will get much hotter for AIPAC and Israel’s amen corner in the U.S. even as the winter cold sets in.
The simple reason for a sudden change in the weather is that, as one official put it, "This is no joke." What is involved here is nothing less than treason – a spy ring far more sophisticated and dangerous to U.S. national security than the infamous Jonathan Pollard espionage operation conducted by Israel in the 1980s. The AIPAC spy scandal goes way beyond Franklin, as the Washington Post reported back in the beginning of September:
"The FBI probe is actually much broader, according to senior U.S. officials, and has been underway for at least two years. Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi, the former Iraqi dissident who was long a Pentagon favorite but who has fallen out of favor with the U.S. government."
Post reporters Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks identified "at least two common threads" in this complex and multi-pronged investigation:
"First, the FBI is investigating whether the same people passed highly classified information to two disparate allies – [Ahmed] Chalabi and a pro-Israel lobbying group. Second, at least some of the intelligence in both instances included sensitive information about Iran. The broader investigation is also looking into the movement of classified materials on U.S. intentions in Iraq and on the Arab-Israeli peace process, sources added."
The Chalabi aspect of the probe surfaced after a visit by Iraqi government officials to the Baghdad headquarters of the Iraqi National Congress. Wright and Ricks report that classified U.S. intelligence material was discovered in the May raid, a widely-publicized incident that marked the meteoric decline of Chalabi, once the darling of the U.S. occupiers, and his descent into disgrace. Long in thrall to the Iranian government, Chalabi had somehow obtained access to the most closely-held secrets regarding U.S. intelligence sources and methods, revealing to Tehran that the U.S was monitoring the Iranians’ internal communications.
On November 20, Washington hit out again at the neocons’ Iraqi poster boy, raiding four INC offices, utilizing the good offices of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior and some "American contractors." Now they’re bitch-slapping the AIPAC crowd with subpoenas, grilling them in front of a grand jury convened to hear evidence of Israel’s American fifth column in Washington. The timing of these two raids is, as they say, no coincidence.
Wright and Ricks point out two threads of this investigation, and draw out the implications with what limited information they have been able to discern from a very close-mouthed U.S. attorney and a few anonymous insiders. These two trails – the Iranian spy angle, and the AIPAC aspect – lead to the same group of individuals, but there are plenty of sub-trails and footpaths to follow, all of which point to the very same crowd – a powerful faction in this administration, one credited – if that is the word – with steering us into war with Iraq and trying mightily to navigate us into a conflict with Iran: the neoconservatives.
Centered mainly in the upper reaches of the Pentagon’s civilian leadership, and in the Office of the Vice President, the recent history of this group is defined by its fervor for a new war in the Middle East. The conquest and occupation of Iraq, and the "liberation" of the region (excepting Israel, of course) has long been the announced aim of such worthies as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith. They filled the middle reaches of the national security bureaucracy with their underlings and ideologues – like Franklin – who were strategically placed to doctor the intelligence and stovepipe lies in two directions: to the general public, and to the White House (as well as funnel U.S. secrets to Israel).
The "Office of Special Plans" (OSP) – created by Wolfowitz‘s command and presided over by Feith – was the locus of lies when it came to rationalizing the invasion of Iraq. Not trusting the CIA or any of the other intelligence-gathering agencies to come up with the required "proof" of nonexistent Iraqi WMD and "links" to Osama bin Laden, the War Party did an end run around the U.S. intelligence community and built up their own parallel agency, one capable of churning out the "right" answers. The INC, on the take for millions, fed them a steady diet of fables, forgeries, and the tall tales of phony "defectors." Julian Borger of the Guardian, Robert Dreyfuss (writing in the Nation), and Karen Kwiatkowski, a former Pentagon analyst who worked alongside many of these people, including Franklin, have all pointed to direct Israeli involvement with the OSP.
Franklin was caught trying to hand over a copy of a draft presidential directive on Iran to Israeli agents, but the other threads of this investigation involve the decision to go to war in Iraq. November was the worst month yet in terms of the U.S. casualty rate, and as the ugliness of this war takes on new and more grotesque dimensions, the question of who lied us into war is increasingly on the minds of Americans.
The wives and mothers of the dead and horribly wounded lift up their eyes to heaven and raise their voices in a plaintive cry:
Who gained from this war – aside from Osama bin Laden, that is? It’s a valid enough question to ask in trying to determine how policy was formed, and how we came to fall into the Iraqi quagmire. But it’s less than half the story: and that’s the significance of the AIPAC spy scandal.
For the first time, we have solid evidence that the Israeli government has actively sought, with some success, to penetrate the policymaking apparatus that steers the U.S. ship of state. The neocons have often been accused – including in this space – of hijacking American policy in the Middle East and utilizing U.S. military power to Israel’s advantage. Now we are beginning to get the full picture of exactly how – with the full knowledge and active collaboration of the Israeli government – this was done.
The implications of the AIPAC affair are enormous. For instance: we are told that Condoleezza Rice, our putative Secretary of State, was briefed on this investigation when the Bush II crowd first came to Washington, along with her aide, Stephen Hadley – now slated to take her place as the president’s national security chief. While Hadley’s position doesn’t require confirmation, Condi will face the Senate, and we wonder if there isn’t just one senator who will ask her how this knowledge colored her handling of intelligence matters when it came to "evidence" of Iraqi WMD. How did so much get by her – and what did she know about the sources of alleged "intelligence" that was being fed to the White House by various interested parties?
We know what she knew, although the exact contours of that knowledge have yet to be fully revealed, and we know when she knew it. What inquiring minds want to know is why she didn’t act on her knowledge, and take measures to counteract the covert cabal whose tentacles had slithered into the White House.
There are all sorts of other angles to this tale of spy vs. spy, and I don’t have space to cover them all in one column. In any event, the AIPAC affair – in the course of its slow but steady development from a dark suspicion to a grand jury investigation and finally to a full-blown court case and cause célèbre – is going to reveal some hard truths about the recent course of our disastrous foreign policy, and may even motivate some radical changes, in the long term. In the short term, however, it’s going to be an awful lot of fun watching the cockroaches scramble for cover, skittering across the floor in a frantic effort to avoid being squished.
The jailing of the War Party – they said it couldn’t be done. I can’t tell you how many wacked-out letters I’ve gotten telling me that "they" will never let this happen, that the investigation into the AIPAC spy nest – and the Plame affair, the Niger uranium forgeries, etc., etc. – would sink like so many stones, never to be seen or heard of again. To them I say: you’re wrong. There is no all-powerful conspiracy that controls the U.S. government and has the power to bury this treason forever. There are patriots, yet, in our midst – yes, even in the government! – who will not stand idly by as traitors run rampant in the corridors of power.
And they have just begun to fight….
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The sinister history of Israel’s secret war against America didn’t start with the Franklin Affair, or AIPAC passing off classified materials to Israeli government agents: it reaches all the way back to the origins of our seemingly endless "war on terrorism." My short book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection, chronicles the story behind the "official" narrative of the worst terrorist attack in American history – and exposes the dark secret at the core of the U.S.-Israeli "alliance." The Terror Enigma will help you understand how and why Israel launched a major covert operation on American soil – and change the way you think about 9/11. Buy it today.