January 24, 2008

While the AIPAC spy case may never make it to court—the defense, which is the best money can buy, has so far succeeded in delaying the trial for over two years—some interesting details are coming out, anyway. A recent piece in The Washingtontonian has several interesting tidbits, including the news that:

“A search of AIPAC’s offices in 2002 that appears to have been surreptitiously conducted, because the offices”€™ entrance is monitored 24 hours a day and no one appeared with a search warrant around that time.”

Surreptitiously? Now that’s interesting: what did they do—pose as janitors and rifle through drawers? And why the secrecy?

No doubt they didn’t want to compromise an ongoing investigation—and they clearly had reason to believe that AIPAC, and not just two of its employees, was being used as a front for Israeli covert activities in the US. The extent of the AIPAC spy network, its long history and even longer tentacles, required a careful excavation, one that would pull the whole thing up by its roots rather than leave some of its various components buried in the national security bureaucracy.  That’s why they used Larry Franklin, the Pentagon’s top Iran analyst, as a lure, once they’d busted him for spillling secrets to AIPAC officials, and wired him up. The FBI had bigger fish to fry.

As David Szady, chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence unit, put it: “€œIt started a long time before I got there.” Just how long ago was revealed when the FBI tried to get access to the archives of columnist Jack Anderson, who died in 2005 and whose heyday was the late 1950s to the 1970s. At any rate, the indictment traces the treason of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman—the two top AIPAC employees charged with passing US secrets to Israel—back at least as far as 1999. The Washingtonian avers: 

“Why the probe began remains a mystery. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the case. Speculation centers on 1990s suspicion of an Israeli ‘mole’ in the national-security apparatus, ongoing surveillance of Israelis that turned up contacts with AIPAC, or a general law-enforcement search for leakers.”

Israel’s amen corner in the US inclines toward the latter explanation, and furthermore claims that the “free speech” rights of the defendants are being breached: their line is that “everyone does it.” Yet The Washingtonian article makes it clear that this case involves serious breaches of US national security, including the possibility that stolen secrets were passed on to more than just “friendly” Israel:

“On May 21, 2004,[Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin] disclosed what prosecutors described as ‘top secret/SCI’ information to journalists from CBS about what prosecutors would later cryptically claim concerned ‘meetings involving two Middle East officials.’ That evening, CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl reported on evidence that onetime Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi ‘personally gave Iranian intelligence officers information so sensitive that if revealed it could, quote, “€˜get Americans killed.”€™ ’ Later in the broadcast, she reported that the information Chalabi had allegedly passed was so sensitive that US officials ‘at the highest levels’ had prevailed on CBS not to broadcast it.”

The Chalabi affair, you’ll recall, shocked US investigators and provoked a raid on Chalabi’s Iraqi offices, and the launching of an investigation: “The Chalabi probe foundered,” The Washingtonian informs us, “but the AIPAC investigation gained momentum.” According to news reports, the neocons’ anointed Iraqi henchman had passed on to the Iranians that the US had broken their code and was listening in on their internal government communications.

Franklin, who pleaded guilty to espionage and was sentenced to 12 years in prison plus a substantial fine, was also implicated in a series of clandestine meetings with alleged Iranian “dissidents,” which took place in Rome: reportedly among the other attendees were Michael Ledeen and Harold Rhode, the former a major neoconservative guru and Iran-Contra figure, and the latter a fervent neocon ideologue who worked for the Office of Special Plans, which had so much to do with lying us into war.

We may never get to the bottom of this particular pit, on account of the judge in this case, T. S. Ellis, who has ruled that the defense may subpoena a platoon of top US government officials, including Condoleezza Rice. If recent trends hold, this White House is not likely to permit such testimony, and that could abort the trial—score one for the Lobby. Yet this case has been tremendously damaging for them, in that it exposes AIPAC—the premier lobby on behalf of the state of Israel—as not merely an agent of a foreign power, but one potentially engaged in activities that pose a direct threat to our national security.


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