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2008-12-16

Israel's 'Get Out of Jail Free' Card


Philip Giraldi

The powerful Israel Lobby, with its support of the Iraq war and its insistence that Iran be denuclearized, by force if necessary, is a major constituent of the War Party in the United States. Some Americans who wish to remake the Middle East also believe that supporting Israel includes providing its government with U.S. defense secrets to augment its military superiority over its Arab neighbors. They might be encouraged in so doing because, in truth, it is difficult to see how spying against the United States on behalf of Israel entails any risk at all. The FBI suspected that leading neocons Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and Stephen Bryen were guilty of providing classified information to Israel, but they all avoided prosecution and were later rewarded with senior positions in the Pentagon.

Israel's best-known spy, Jonathan Pollard, was certainly an exception to the rule when he was tried, convicted, and imprisoned expeditiously in 1986. It just might be that the scale of Pollard's activity, in which he stole more than 360 cubic feet of documents, including some of the most sensitive information available to the United States, might have angered enough people in enough places to force the Justice Department to proceed with unaccustomed vigor. Since Pollard's richly deserved incarceration, there has been an energetic movement to free him so he can be rewarded after emigrating to Israel, which has never admitted unambiguously that Pollard was their man. American supporters of Pollard have been joined by the Israeli government itself in an effort that nearly successfully importuned President Bill Clinton to grant a presidential pardon in 2000, when Clinton also pardoned fugitive felon and Israeli government protégé Marc Rich. The Washington rumor mill is now suggesting that Pollard could well be one of the recipients of George W. Bush's impending exercise in mercy, together with a host of faceless government officials who kidnapped, tortured, and wiretapped.

If you have been wondering what has happened to the other Israeli spies who are currently in court or facing trial at some future point, you are not alone. The trial of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman has been dragging on for more than three years. The two men were arrested together with Pentagon official Col. Lawrence Franklin under the Espionage Act of 1917, which defines espionage in legal terms as "injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign country." Franklin had taken classified Pentagon documents dealing with Iran policy and had shared them with the two AIPAC officials, who in turn provided them to the Israeli embassy in Washington and to the media to support the case for going to war with Tehran.

Predictably, many in the media and the neocon establishment criticized the arrests, commenting that such exchanges of "information" are routine in Washington and that Israel is a good friend that needs the classified intelligence for its own security. Israel and its lobby do, in fact, enjoy a unique status among foreign lobbies operating in the United States. President John F. Kennedy tried to force the lobby to register in the early 1960s under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, but his efforts foundered with his death. Since that time, attempts to make AIPAC and other Israeli lobbies register have been repeatedly stymied due to unwillingness to proceed on the part of the Justice Department.

Larry Franklin pleaded guilty to unauthorized disclosure of classified information in January 2006, was sentenced to 151 months in prison, and paid a $10,000 fine. He is now doing time in a federal prison. Rosen and Weissman, whose legal fees are being paid by AIPAC, are free on bail. Their case winds on, seemingly interminably, confirming the old adage that justice delayed is justice denied. The media is no longer reporting on the trial, and many believe that it will be allowed to drag on and eventually will be dismissed on procedural grounds to avoid embarrassing either AIPAC or the Israeli government. The court in Alexandria presided over by Judge Thomas Ellis has frequently ruled in favor of the accused and seems content to let the process drag on indefinitely. Ellis is currently seeking to determine what classified information will be allowed as evidence, a key judgment that will affect both the defense and the prosecution.

An unrepentant Steve Rosen has recently resurfaced as a blogger on Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum. Many have questioned the ethics of providing space for someone who has been charged with espionage, but Pipes appears to be unimpressed by the controversy. Rosen's blog, "Obama Mideast Monitor," assesses Obama political appointments based on how good they are for Israel. He has sharply criticized the naming of Gen. James Jones as national security adviser because the general is "harshly critical of Israel." Rosen has also hit the speaker circuit for Middle East Forum with his "Wishful Thinking and Iran," a skeptical view of the possibility of negotiating with the Islamic Republic. Rosen is also active on The American Thinker Web site offering his refutation of the numerous credible accounts that the U.S. turned down an Iranian offer to come to an understanding on all outstanding differences in 2003.

The case of Ben-Ami Kadish is in some ways even more intriguing than that of the two AIPAC staffers. Kadish was arrested in New Jersey on April 22, 2008. A Department of Justice press release described how he was charged with "conspiracy to disclose to the government of Israel documents related to the national defense of the United States and … that he participated in a conspiracy to act as an agent of the government of Israel." Kadish allegedly provided to the same Israeli intelligence officer who ran Jonathan Pollard numerous classified documents obtained while working at the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center at Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, N.J. Some of the documents were related to nuclear weapons research, while others described classified aspects of the Patriot anti-missile defense system. Israel subsequently developed its own Arrow antimissile system, possibly using proprietary information relating to the Patriot, thereby reducing its own development costs and enabling it to market the Arrow internationally at a lower price than its American competitors.

Kadish appeared in court before Judge Douglas F. Eaton in Manhattan. He was released on the same day after putting up a $300,000 bail bond. Kadish also had to turn in his passport, because there was considerable risk that he would flee to Israel, but he was allowed to return home. He was supposed to reappear at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on May 22, which is where the tale more or less ends. Kadish did not go to court on that day, and his whereabouts and prospects are unknown. The U.S. District Court has a Web site with a search feature that enables one to look for active or past court cases. Typing in "Kadish" produces no results, as if the case were erased. Calling the court to attempt to find out the status of the Kadish trial is also a dead end. Direct telephone inquiries resulted in a complete stonewall. Promises to call back with information on the case were made by court officials, but no one ever did so. Calls to the Department of Justice about Kadish were likewise not returned. It is as if Kadish has vanished.

Predictably, no one in the mainstream media wants to report on Rosen and Weissman or follow up on the story of Ben-Ami Kadish. Nor has the Department of Justice made any public statements, though federal prosecutors claim to have a continuing interest in convicting the two AIPAC ex-officials. In the U.S. media, stories that are critical of Israel, particularly if they challenge the fundamentals and reciprocity of the "special relationship" between Washington and Tel Aviv, tend to die immediately and, in some cases, are even expunged from Web sites and archives. The tales of Rosen, Weissman, and Kadish are all too typical, reflective of a judicial system that is selective in its application of law combined with a political and media oligarchy that is willing to compromise every operating principle if Israel is involved. Perhaps Obama will do better, but one would be right to be skeptical, as he has already bowed to the power of AIPAC. If Rosen and Weissman are convicted, as they should be, and if Kadish suddenly appears for trial and sentencing it would be a remarkable indication that change has indeed finally come to Washington.

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  • Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and a fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance.

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