A spy goes to work for a thinktank
by Justin Raimondo
November 28, 2008
Of course there's nothing all that unusual about a spy going to work
for a Washington thinktank. Ex-CIA employees do it all the time: so
do all sorts of other spooks, who would otherwise be haunting the
world's darkest corners. No big deal. But what I've never seen, and
don't recall ever hearing about, is the spectacle of a spy for a
foreign country being hired by any organization that hopes to
influence U.S. foreign policy. Well, here's one for the record books:
The Middle East Forum has hired Steve Rosen, once the head of policy
development for the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Rosen is accused of stealing highly classified information from the
U.S. government and passing it on to Israeli government officials.
Rosen was the sparkplug of AIPAC, known for implementing – with
notable success – the powerful lobbying group's efforts to influence
the executive branch. The very effective modus operandi of this
behind-the-scenes wheeler dealer was summed up by his reported
A lobby is like a night flower. It thrives in the dark and dies in
Slinking about in the shadows, Rosen and his sidekick Keith Weissman –
an Iran expert – cultivated one Larry Franklin, the Pentagon policy
department's top Iran analyst, and pried top secret intelligence from
him, including information on al Qaeda, the Khobar Towers terrorist
attack, and Iranian armaments. Before the FBI descended on him,
Franklin had been passing information to the AIPAC espionage team for
over a year, planning to advance his career using the influential
lobby as his sponsor: he hoped for a spot on Bush's National Security
Council. In return, he gave his handlers access to some of America's
most closely guarded secrets. When FBI agents finally paid him a
visit, he led them to a treasure trove of stolen top secret dossiers
kept in his Alexandria,0 Virginia home – a veritable library of
classified information, 83 documents in all, spanning three decades.
The arrest was prefigured by two FBI raids on AIPAC headquarters in
Washington: federal law enforcement descended on the building early
in the morning, without warning, surrounded the place and carted away
loads of evidence. Four AIPAC officials were handed subpoenas.
Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in a federal
prison and a $10,000 fine, agreeing to testify for the prosecution.
Rosen and Weissman pleaded innocent, and their top-flight lawyers
have kept pretrial maneuvering ongoing for four years this past
August. Their very effective method: greymail. Apparently, the
purloined information is so sensitive that it cannot be revealed
without compromising America's national security interests in a major
way: the defense has delayed the trial by insisting that all this
information be discussed in open court, or else the defendants will
not be able to get a fair hearing.
What is amazing about this case isn't just the long delay in the
legal proceedings, but the brazenness of the accused: they openly
proclaim their guilt – that is, they admit to the actions detailed in
the indictment – while maintaining that they did absolutely nothing
wrong. Spying? Who – us? Why, we were just exercising our "First
Amendment rights" like any journalist out to get a scoop.
With one big difference, though: legitimate journalists don't report
their findings – classified sensitive purloined information – to the
intelligence agencies of foreign nations.
The contempt the defendants and their lawyers have for the very
concept of American national security permeates this case like a bad
smell, and is enough to make any patriot – heck, any ordinary
American – sick to his or her stomach. To give some further
indication of the unsavory flavor of this case, I'll only note the
latest wrinkle: in a recent court session, defense lawyers argued
that the information their clients are accused of stealing was
already known to the Israelis. This has been another of what I call
the "chutzpah defense" mounted by Rosen and Weissman's legal team:
the Israelis don't need to steal our secrets, they aver, because they
already know everything worth knowing anyway. As Josh Gerstein, a
former writer for the now-permanently-set New York Sun, puts it on
"Both sides in the case seemed to agree that if information came from
Israel, even if it passed through U.S. Government hands, it could not
be a basis for the charges against Rosen and Weissman. That seemed
puzzling, since the mere fact that information came from a foreign
government is usually a good enough reason to get it classified."
The government has gone easy on the AIPAC defendants, and their
former employers. An apparent attempt was made by some in the Justice
Department to indict not only Rosen and Weissman, but AIPAC itself.
This was quashed by the chief prosecutor, Paul J. McNulty – who has
since gone on to graze in greener pastures – and the case was limited
from the outset: only Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman were charged.
As Grant F. Smith shows in his recent book, AIPAC's organizational
forerunner as Israel's Capitol Hill amen corner – the AZC, American
Zionist Council – was financed almost entirely by overseas sources,
i.e. Israel, and yet was not required to register as an agent of a
foreign government. Particularly fascinating is his original research
into the findings of Senator J. William Fulbright, remembered today
as an acerbic critic of the Vietnam war, who investigated and
uncovered financial conduits running from Israeli government agencies
to AIPAC in its AZC incarnation.
Everybody knows AIPAC is indeed an agent of a foreign government,
i.e. the Israelis. What most don't know, however, is that, unlike all
others, it is exempt from complying with the Foreign Agents
Registration Act. This immunity – the legal genesis of which Grant
traces in his fascinating account – created an opening for the
Israeli government and its various overseas agencies to act with
impunity within our borders. This includes not just advocacy, but
also providing the organizational mask behind which intelligence-
burglars like Rosen, Weissman, and god-knows-who-else are hiding.
AIPAC quickly threw Rosen and Weissman overboard, the apparent price
for avoiding a wider prosecution, and Rosen's quest to reemerge found
limited sympathy on his old stomping grounds, the Washington policy
wonk circuit. The Forward reports:
"Rosen has been looking for his way back to the foreign policy scene
for a long while, but he found that in most cases, doors of think
tanks and advisory groups were closed. "They'd pat me on my back and
say it is not fair, but there are only a few that agree to stand up,"
Rosen said, praising the Middle East Forum for 'having the courage'
to reach out to him."
While the presumption of innocence is obligatory in a narrow legal
sense, one has only to read the indictment to see that Rosen and
Weissman not only stole classified information, but knew perfectly
well they were breaking the law, and went to great pains to avoid
detection. At one point, the indictment has the defendants shifting
meeting locations three times, going from restaurant to restaurant in
the clear knowledge that they were likely being followed. Document
exchanges were avoided: Franklin briefed his handlers verbally.
Recordings of these conversations are the core of the government's
case, and their substance is highly sensitive. Wrangling over what to
play in open court has delayed the trial for four years. In playing
for time, the defense is hoping that the incoming administration will
rein in the Justice Department and quash the case, and there is good
reason to suspect that this is true.
In any case, what kind of a public policy organization would hire
Rosen, in hopes of influencing U.S. foreign policy? The Middle East
Forum is a hate-the-Muslims "educational" organization, run by Daniel
Pipes. Pipes and his pals have followed the time-honored traditions
of smear artists everywhere in maintaining an academic
blacklist, "Campus Watch," which keeps tabs on college professors
deemed insufficiently friendly to Israeli government policies. Pipes
believes a "substantial" number of American Muslims are plotting to
overthrow the government and establish an Islamist theocracy in
America, and that this represents a real threat: it's all downhill
from there. In one of his recent screeds, Pipes attacks Barack Obama
for his supposed "links" to … Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy's
M. J. Rosenberg, blogging at Talking Points Memo, asks: "Are these
people crazy?" and concludes they're "crazy/irrelevant rather than
crazy/dangerous," and yet Rosen wielded enormous influence in
Washington, at one point. Jeffrey Goldberg, over at the New Yorker,
relates a conversation with Rosen:
"He pushed a napkin across the table. 'You see this napkin?' he
said. 'In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy
senators on this napkin.'"
Rosen may have personally fallen on hard times, having to take up
with a loony like Pipes, but one has to remember that the
organizational framework that spawned his treason is not only alive
and well – but it could still deliver those 70 senatorial signatures
on a napkin with the greatest of ease.
Crazy, yes – and dangerous, too.