Bigger than AIPAC
Important new details of the U.S.-Israeli espionage case involving Larry Franklin, the alleged Pentagon spy, two officials of the American- Israel Public Affairs Committee, and an intelligence official at the Embassy of Israel emerged last week. Two AIPAC officials-who have left the organization-were indicted along with Franklin on charges of "communicat[ing] national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it." In plain English, if not legal-speak, that means spying.
But as the full text of the indictment makes clear, the conspiracy involved not just Franklin and the AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, but at least several other Pentagon officials who played intermediary roles, at least two other Israeli officials, and one official at a "Washington, D.C. think tank." It's an old-fashioned spy story involving the passing of secret documents, hush-hush meetings and outright espionage, along with good-old-boy networking.
But the network tied to the "Franklin case"-which ought to be called the "AIPAC case," since it was AIPAC that was really under investigation by the FBI-provides an important window into a shadowy world. It is clear that by probing the details of the case, the FBI has got hold of a dangerous loose end of much larger story. By pulling on that string hard enough, the FBI and the Justice Department might just unravel that larger story, which is beginning to look more and more like it involves the same nexus of Pentagon civilians, White House functionaries, and American Enterprise Institute officials who thumped the drums for war in Iraq in 2001-2003 and who are now trying to whip up an anti-Iranian frenzy as well.
Needless to say, all of this got short shrift from the mainstream media when it was revealed last week.
The basic facts of the case have been known for a while. Lawrence Anthony Franklin, a Department of Defense official, was caught red- handed giving highly classified papers to two officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, of AIPAC-in part, concerning U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and the war on terrorism. But from the carefully worded indictment, it is clear that a lot more may have been going on. All in all, along with revealing tantalizing new information, the indictment raises more questions than it answers. To wit:
First, the indictment says that from "about April 1999 and continuing until on or about August 27, 2004" Franklin, Rosen and Weissman "did unlawfully, knowingly and willfully conspire" in criminal activity against the United States. So far, no one has explained what triggered an investigation that began more than six years ago. But it reveals how long the three indicted conspirators and "others, known and unknown to the Grand Jury," engaged in such criminal activity. In any case, what appeared at first to be a brief dalliance between Franklin and the two AIPAC officials now-according to the latest indictment, at least-spans more than five years and involves at least several other individuals, at least some of whom are known to the investigation. What triggered the investigation in 1999, and how much information has FBI surveillance, wiretaps and other investigative efforts collected?
Second, the indictment makes it absolutely clear that the investigation was aimed at AIPAC, not at Franklin. The document charges that Rosen and Weissman met repeatedly with officials from a foreign government (Israel, though not named in the indictment) beginning in 1999, to provide them with classified information. In other words, the FBI was looking into the Israel lobby, not Franklin and the Defense Department, at the start, and Franklin was simply caught up in the net when he made contact with the AIPACers. Rosen and Weissman were observed making illicit contact with several other U.S. officials between 1999 and 2004, although those officials are left unnamed (and unindicted). Might there be more to come? Who are these officials, cited merely as United States Government Official 1, USGO 2, etc.?
Third, Franklin was introduced to Rosen-Weissman when the two AIPACers "called a Department of Defense employee (DOD employee A) at the Pentagon and asked for the name of someone in OSD ISA [Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs] with an expertise on Iran" and got Franklin's name. Who was "DOD employee A"? Was it Douglas Feith, the undersecretary for policy? Harold Rhode, the ghost-like neocon official who helped Feith assemble the secretive Office of Special Plans, where Franklin worked? The indictment doesn't say. But this reporter observed Franklin, Rhode and Michael Rubin, a former AEI official who served in the Pentagon during this period and then returned to AEI, sitting together side by side, often in the front row, at American Enterprise Institute meetings during 2002-2003. Later in the indictment, we learn that Franklin, Rosen and Weissman hobnobbed with "DOD employee B," too.
Fourth, Rosen and Weissman told Franklin that they would try to get him a job at the White House, on the National Security Council staff. Who did they talk to at the White House, if they followed through? What happened?
Fifth, the charging document refers to "Foreign Official 1," also known as FO-1, obviously referring to an Israeli embassy official or an Israeli intelligence officer. It also refers later to FO-2, FO-3, etc., meaning that other Israeli officials were involved as well. How many Israeli officials are implicated in this, and who are they?
Sixth, was AEI itself involved? The indictment says that "on or about March 13, 2003, Rosen disclosed to a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C., think tank the information relating to the classified draft internal policy document" about Iran. The indictment says that the think tank official agreed "to follow up and see what he could do." Which think tank, and who was involved?
The indictment is rich with other detail, including specific instances in which the indicted parties lied to the FBI about their activities. It describes how Franklin eventually set up a regular liaison with an Israeli official ("FO-3") and met him in Virginia "and elsewhere" to communicate U.S. secrets.
It is an important story, arguably one that has greater implications for national security than the scandal involving the churlish outing of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. So far, at least, the media frenzy attending to the Plame affair is matched by nearly total silence about the Franklin-AIPAC affair? Can it be true that reporters are more courageous about pursuing a story that involves the White House than they are about plunging into a scandal that involves Israel, our No. 1 Middle East ally?
Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone.