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

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and 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 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu