Dropping the AIPAC Spying Case

On August 4, 2005 American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) operatives Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman were arrested on charges relating to espionage on behalf of Israel.

This had a lot to do with Iran. It followed the arrest in May 2004 of Larry Franklin, the Pentagon’s top Iran analyst by the FBI after he had been caught turning over secret documents (including ones pertaining to Iran) to Israeli Embassy staffers including Mossad Station Chief Naor Gilon.

(Franklin had worked in the Office of Special Plans under neocons Douglas Feith and Abram Shulsky and participated in the Rome meeting in December 2001 with Michael Ledeen that likely hatched the Niger uranium forged letters plot.) He was given a reduced sentence of 12 ½ years for cooperating with prosecutors in January 2006.

You might suppose that Israeli intelligence officers would have intimate access to U.S. intelligence without resorting to espionage.  According to retired Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski, Israeli officials didn’t even need to sign in when visiting Feith’s Office of Special Plans in the Pentagon when she worked there in 2002.This whole affair is testimony to the extraordinary concern of the Jewish state with Iran, with knowing whatever the  U.S. knows about Iran’s nuclear program, and with influencing U.S. plans to “deal with” Iran.

Sometime after the Rosen-Weissman arrests Jane Harman had a telephone conversation with a “suspected Israeli agent” under NSA wiretap. The agent asked her, as a California Representative and member of the Intelligence Committee to use her influence to reduce the charges against the indicted men.  She agreed to “waddle in” to the matter, “if you think it would make a difference” but thought she might have more influence with an unnamed official at the White House.

This would be done in exchange for the Israeli agent arranging for an AIPAC fundraiser (widely identified as California billionaire Haim Saban) to put pressure on Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat expected to become House speaker after the 2006 election, to select Harman as head of the Intelligence Committee.  Justice Department lawyers upon hearing the tape felt that they had caught the congresswoman in a “completed crime” demanding investigation.

The Congressional leadership including Pelosi was subsequently notified of the wiretap, although Harman only became aware of it last week. But Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez declined to even authorize such an investigation, because, according to Stein and others, the Bush administration appreciated her services to date in supporting the administration’s program of illegal surveillance and expected her to provide further services in future. (Okay, their reasoning apparently went, so she was wheeling and dealing politically with an Israeli agent. But she was helping them persuade the New York Times to sit on its story about their warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens. “We need Jane,” Gonzalez reportedly declared.)

So several years went by. “Blue Dog” Democrat Harman performed dutiful service to the Bush administration. In December 2005, Harman urged the Washington bureau chief of the New York Times to sit on a story about wireless wiretapping, and she was a consistent defender of the Iraq War. When the Democrats won the 2006 election, Pelosi, who had been informed about the wiretap of her colleague, declined to appoint Harman to the intelligence post.

Meanwhile the Rosen-Weissman trial was delayed by an appeals court ruling that allowed the defense to use classified information in proceedings and a lower-court judge’s decision ruling that prosecutors must show that the two men knew that the information they allegedly disclosed would harm the U.S. or aid a foreign government and that they knew what they were doing was illegal. And no doubt, behind the scenes, high-powered politicians were waddling in on behalf of Rosen and Weissman.

The Israel Lobby of which AIPAC is the highest expression suffered little damage from the arrests. It continued to muster huge congressional majorities for resolutions targeting Syria and Iran and supporting Israel, even at the height of the Gaza blitz. On the other hand, the political fortunes of the neoconservatives, as a faction within the Bush administration actively promoting “regime change” throughout Southwest Asia for the security interests of Israel, declined significantly during Bush’s second term.

Recall how two years ago neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz  was praying for Bush to bomb Iran in an address to AIPAC, op-ed in the New York Times, and longer piece in Commentary, and meeting with Bush and Cheney to privately to make the case. George Bush had embraced the most paranoid language of the Lobby in referring to the Iranian regime. Ahmadinejad had supposedly threatened to “wipe Israel off the map” (no matter how many time journalists and scholars pointed out that, no, he was quoting Ayatollah Khomeini, about the occupation of Jerusalem passing from the pages of time like the Soviet Union, like the rule of the Shah…) From August 2007 Bush deliberately intimated that Iran, with no nuclear weapons, threatened Israel, a country with over 100 nuclear weapons, with “nuclear holocaust.” He thus—very explosively—joined the memory of the Nazi  slaughter of European Jewry with the Iranian civilian nuclear program.

However, the hopes of the Israeli government, the Lobby and the neocons within the administration and media cheering section were dashed when Bush failed to authorize the sale of bunker busting bombs to Israel in 2008. The administration left office with the mullahs still in power in Tehran.

The atmosphere of confrontation with Iran has somewhat receded; now Roger Cohen’s New York Times columns give us a realistic look at the state of Jews in Iran. (Of course it draws fire from the likes of  Jeffrey Goldberg who, having disseminated disinformation justifying war prior to the attack on Iraq calls Cohen “a Jewish apologist for an anti-Semitic regime…[who] has debased himself.”) The drive to get the U.S. to bomb Iran, and the broader campaign to irrationally vilify Iran, has stymied somewhat.

For years, and up until very recently, the Israelis have been saying that if the U.S. does not take care of the Iranian nuclear problem, they will take military action themselves. So Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman raised some eyebrows April 26 when he told the Austrian Kleine Zeitung that Israel would not attack Iran. “We are not talking about a military attack. Israel cannot resolve militarily the entire world’s problem. I propose that the United States, as the largest power in the world, take responsibility for resolving the Iranian question.” Earlier he’d told a Russian paper that Israel’s main strategic threat was now Pakistan anyway. (That, I could have told you, is the one Muslim country with nuclear weapons.) Isn’t it odd how that resembles Obama’s view of the world?

Soon thereafter Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress that bombing Iranian nuclear sites would have only temporary, ineffective results, and that imposing sanctions made more sense. Obama is indeed focusing on Pakistan, or “Af-Pak” as his advisors are unfortunately calling Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he may want Iran’s cooperation in pursuing his objectives there. There appears to be complete unity of purpose in support of the governments of both countries and in opposition to the Taliban groups. So the threat of a U.S. bombing attack on Iran has indeed receded somewhat.

I think we should see the dismissal of the Rosen-Weissman case by the Justice Department in this context. It’s a sop to the Lobby, and apparently the president had a personal hand in it. If the U.S. will not bomb Iran for Israel, neither will it prosecute AIPAC members for spying for Israel. Fair enough?

Last month an indignant official in the Justice Department, thinking, “Oh no, they’re going to dismiss this case,” decided to leak the Jane Harman transcripts to Jeff Stein just so to educate the public, in the absence of a trial, about how politics work in this country.  Rosen, Weissman, Harman, and Gonzalez all walk free as AIPAC gears up for its annual conference (with Harman a featured speaker) and for a campaign around passage of  HR 1985 (the “Iran Diplomatic Enhancement Act”) which, despite its name, is all about provoking war.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

More articles by:

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out