Press reported a major victory for defendants in the AIPAC espionage trial
on April 17, 2007: "Prosecutors suffered a setback yesterday in their case against
two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused of violating the 1917 Espionage Act
when a federal judge rejected the government's proposal for conducting much
of the trial in secret." The presiding judge, T. S. Ellis III underscored the
gravity of the situation: "If the prosecution decline[s] to submit any substitutions
[for classified evidence] that you would ever make public, then maybe … I have
to decide whether to dismiss the indictment, if that's the case."
As various elements of the Israel lobby trumpet the ruling as a victory
for free speech, it is useful to review not only the involvement of mainstream
corporate media in trafficking classified information in the AIPAC espionage
case, but also their past record on secret evidence in other high-profile criminal
Mainstream media's formal legal foray into the AIPAC case was triggered by
a government motion. On Feb. 16, 2007, federal prosecutors filed a Classified
Intelligence Procedures Act (CIPA) motion with the contents sealed from public
view. CIPA is an established process under which courts operate when classified
information is expected to be used at trial. In response, defendants Rosen and
Weissman filed a sealed motion to strike the CIPA requests and the government's
motion to close the trial.
On March 13, 2007, attorney Jay Ward Brown filed a motion
[.pdf] to intervene and argue against the Department of Justice prosecutors'
proposal to "limit public access to classified portions of the trial proceedings."
Brown filed the motion on behalf of elite media clients, including the Newspaper
Guild, Communications Workers of America, the Radio-Television News Directors
Association, Reuters America LLC, the Society of Professional Journalists, Time
Inc., the Washington Post, the Hearst Corp., the Reporters Committee
for Freedom of the Press, ABC, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the
Associated Press, Dow Jones & Company, and the Newspaper Association of
America. The collective pressure and implicit threat brought to bear on Judge
Ellis was implicit in the motion: Any attempt to introduce classified evidence
or protect sources and methods with closed proceedings would be widely reported
on as Soviet-era secrecy in a kangaroo court.
Titled an "Emergency Motion for Leave to Intervene," the filing sought to
keep the trial completely open, ostensibly in the interest of press coverage.
The motion also subtly expresses mainstream media preconceptions about the trial,
stating in the filing the case is worth coverage because of the "unusual factual
circumstances that gave rise to their [Rosen and Weissman] indictment" and that
the case involves an "unprecedented application of the Espionage Act."
The court docket [.pdf]
reveals this is only the latest skirmish in a legal battle that has been raging
for well over a year and a half, though the trial is scheduled to begin on June
On the surface this seems to be a triumph of a free press over government
secrecy. However, the involvement of the elite media in the AIPAC espionage
trial goes far beyond the motion or what they routinely report. A few of the
same corporate news outlets filing the motion were willingly used by Weissman
and Rosen to disseminate classified information to further AIPAC's policy objectives.
On July 21, 2004, Weissman and Rosen called
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler to pass information that they
said was from "an American intelligence source." That source is now known
to be Col. Lawrence Franklin, a DoD employee sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Israel lobbyists were hoping to influence U.S. policy on Iran. In 2003 Rosen
relayed classified information to Reuters correspondent Carol Giacomo and Washington
Post reporter Michael Dobbs about the contents of confidential drafts of
a U.S. presidential directive advocating a more aggressive U.S. posture toward
Iran. Dobbs included the classified information in a story two weeks later.
Another motion-to-intervene filer, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of
the Press, clarified the mainstream corporate media's collective desire to continue
serving as a willing
conduit for selectively released classified information. According to Lucy
Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,
"Journalists who cover national security and defense receive classified information
all the time. It's virtually routine. If that were the standard for bringing
an espionage case, we'd be locking up a lot of people in this town, and there
would be fewer sources of information."
Notwithstanding the press's apparent willingness to be used to further AIPAC
or any other lobbies' policy objectives by selective disclosure of classified
information, secrecy in trials raises questions. Does the elite media's own
reporting record reveal a consistent industry-wide commitment calling for disclosure
of secret evidence in all high-profile criminal trials? It does not.
The New York Times chided the Iran-Contra trial defense of Oliver North
in an article titled "North's
Lawyers Trying to Derail Prosecutor's Plan" published in 1989. Reporter
Michael Wines reported, "The federal judge in the Iran-contra case today rejected
the bulk of Oliver L. North's demand to use 30,000 pages of secret documents
as evidence in his defense, accusing Mr. North of making the request in a calculated
effort to 'frustrate the prosecution.''' Another motion filer, Time Inc., also
had a different take on classified evidence in an earlier era. Time reporter
George J. Church wrote in a piece called "Top-Secret
Strategy" that the North defense appeal for public access to classified
information was despicable "graymail."
Church elaborated: "North's strategy, it seems, is to threaten to disclose embarrassing
secrets if the government will not drop the trial. In the bitter words of Robin
Ross, chief aide to Attorney General Thornburgh, 'This great American hero is
graymailing the government. This is the guy who stood up in his Marine Corps
uniform and all his medals, and now he is sticking it to the government with
an advantage (knowledge of secrets) he got through service to his country.'"
What about spies for foreign countries like Russia? According to the case
docket of FBI spy for Russia Robert
Hanssen, the mainstream corporate press did not at any time file urgent
briefs, even though the bulk of the evidence trafficked by Hanssen to be used
against him in court would have been highly classified.
In the rarefied world of the elite, mainstream, corporate media, if a defendant
like Oliver North attempts to introduce classified information as evidence,
it is "graymail." If defendants Weissman and Rosen attempt to similarly force
the revelation of classified information, possibly "outing" sources and methods
used to protect the U.S. against Israeli espionage, well that's simply freedom
of the press. This double standard is unfortunate.
The stakes in the AIPAC espionage case could not be higher. The AIPAC espionage
case, if it comes to trial, could redefine the role of lobbies, the mainstream
press, and think-tanks operating in Washington, D.C. It is not yet clear whether
average Americans approve of Washington's hidden world of selective third-party
disclosure and trafficking in classified information. It is also not known whether
selectively disclosed and leveraged classified information fed to the "free
press" has played a wider, unknown role in promoting misguided war, wasteful
military spending, and perpetuating the influence of the Israel lobby. The Washington
Post's own Walter Pincus, who has been rather sloppy
in bringing facts about the case to his readership, now gloats
that the prosecution now has only two weeks to find effective substitutes for
reams of classified transcripts. We must ask whether, thanks to the legal intervention
of the corporate media, we will ever obtain the answers to dire and burning
questions of public interest.
Reprinted courtesy of the IRMEP.