In 2005, Col. Lawrence Franklin was indicted alongside
two executives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for allegedly
violating the 1917 Espionage Act. Franklin later pled guilty to passing AIPAC
a classified presidential directive and other secrets concerning America's Iran
policy. AIPAC then allegedly forwarded the highly sensitive information to Israeli
government officials and selected members of Washington's media establishment.
This covert leaking appears to be just one of many AIPAC programs designed to
encourage tougher U.S. policies toward Iran, from financial boycotts to naval
blockades and possibly even military strikes.
It hasn't worked out very well for Franklin. He was sentenced to 12 years in
prison. Curiously, Franklin remains free pending the outcome of the repeatedly
postponed criminal trial against AIPAC's Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. On
Oct. 28, 2008, the prosecution is scheduled to appeal the ruling judge's order
that it prove the alleged leaks harmed
the United States. This is a far tougher standard of proof than the Espionage
Act actually requires. Nevertheless, observers and critics hope the trial
will provide insight into Middle East policy formulation – but there is diminished
reason for this hope. A passel of musty documents from an earlier, long-secret
Department of Justice attempt to hold the Israel lobby accountable was declassified
on June 10, 2008. The files reveal that stalling tactics – and most critically,
regime change in Washington – provide ample opportunity for the Israel lobby
to subvert due process.
In 1962, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee investigated foreign lobbyists
active in the United States. The committee hired tough investigators, including
Walter Haskell Pincus, now the Washington Post's national
security journalist. These investigators played hardball with the American
Zionist Council (AZC) by going after its hidden financial flows. The Senate
investigators rifled through the filing cabinets of the Israeli government's
colonization and charitable fundraising partner, the Jewish Agency, American
Section, based in New York. This raised howls of protest from Isaiah L. Kenen,
then editor of a lobbying newsletter, the Near
The Senate investigation forced the Jewish Agency, American Section, regulated
since 1938 under the Foreign
Agents Registration Act (FARA), to file more detailed biannual activity
declarations.[i] FARA is a disclosure law requiring all
agents of foreign principals to detail their activities in reports filed at
a public office within the
U.S. Department of Justice. The Jewish
Agency functioned as a quasi-governmental organization whose executive board
was composed of Israelis (including government officials) and Americans. It
not only received government funding, but had influence over internal policy
and legal matters before they went to the Knesset under a 1953 "covenant"
agreement with the Israeli government.
Sen. Fulbright, who led the investigation, was outraged at the idea that U.S.
foreign aid and tax-preferential charitable funds were being funneled back into
the U.S. to multiply foreign aid through lobbying and a massive stealth public
relations campaign. At the time, Israel was far from the only violator. The
Senate committee also caught the Philippines playing the same game through Washington
lobbyists doling out campaign contributions in exchange for enormous WWII reparations
payments funded by U.S. taxpayers. But Israel's covert lobbying and public relations
venture was truly massive. By the time Fulbright's public Senate hearings ended
in 1963, it had been established that the Jewish Agency laundered over $5 million
(around $35 million today) into U.S. public relations and lobbying initiatives
over a two-year period. The true scope of the campaign was never revealed, in
spite of diligent attempts at law enforcement.
As in the Rosen and Weissman espionage incident, the FBI and Justice Department
initially pressed the case forward. Their law enforcement efforts and internal
deliberations work were largely invisible to the American public, but many sent
letters urging that the American Zionist Council be registered as a foreign
agent. On Nov. 21, 1962, before the full extent of the stealth PR and lobbying
campaign was publicly exposed in Senate hearings, the head of the DOJ's Internal
Security Section, J. Walter Yeagley sent
a two-page letter and foreign agent registration forms [.pdf] to the American
Zionist Council by certified mail.[ii] The
DOJ formally demanded that the Israel lobby's top umbrella organization openly
register and disclose all of its U.S. activities as an agent of influence.
The AZC at the time – as the nonprofit umbrella corporation for the Zionist
Organization of America, Hadassah, and other elite Zionist organizations in
the United States – was the Israel lobby. It was almost completely dependent
upon Jewish Agency-directed funds, some with special earmarks from the executive
in Jerusalem to AIPAC founder Isaiah L. Kenen. Other recipients of the funding
included New York Times media personalities, exiles from the shah's regime
in Iran living in the U.S., tenured professors at Harvard, and authors active
in churning out hundreds of "scholarly" books about Arab terrorism
and Israel's special role as an ally to the U.S. in the Cold War.[iii]
The Justice Department, directed by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (RFK),
insisted that the AZC register as the Jewish Agency's American foreign agent.
RFK and his top advisers felt the documented funding flows had "compromised"
the lobby so much that they would quietly agree to file registration statements
and disclosures. They did not count on the lobby's response. The lobby saw the
registration demand as an "extinction-level event," like one of Hollywood's
massive asteroids cinematically falling toward Earth. The lobby's outside lead
counsel, Simon Rifkind of the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison,
was apoplectic: FARA registration would be a "noose around the neck of
his client" and "choke the very life out of it."[iv]
The lobby's response was quiet, asymmetrical, and successful. The parallels
with the 2005-2008 AIPAC espionage saga are uncanny.
In 2005, the Department of Justice's chief prosecutor on the espionage case,
Paul McNulty, was suddenly and inexplicably promoted within the DOJ after he
backed off on criminally indicting AIPAC as a corporation. That would have led
to AIPAC's immediate demise as a going concern, just as earlier indictments
doomed Enron and Arthur Andersen. A February 16, 2005 defense team communication
between Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and Nathan Lewin, AIPAC's legal counsel,
revealed that U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty "would like to end it with minimal
damage to AIPAC." Lewin further told Lowell that McNulty was now on AIPAC's
side "fighting with the FBI to limit the investigation to Steve Rosen and
Keith Weissman and to avoid expanding it."[v] After
discussing restricting the scope of the prosecution with AIPAC's lawyer and
shortly after handing down only individual indictments (Aug. 4, 2005), McNulty
was nominated to the position of deputy attorney general on Oct. 20, 2005. He
was sworn into office on March 17, 2006. Why McNulty fought so hard to restrict
the scope of the FBI's investigation is now less of a mystery. He was simply
following the successful career path first blazed by Deputy Attorney General
Nicholas Katzenbach 40 years earlier.
Back in the 1960s, Katzenbach had also suddenly risen within the DOJ, becoming
attorney general on Jan. 26, 1965, after he helped unwind the Israel lobby FARA
registration demand within the DOJ. During the calamitous period after the Cuban
missile crisis and John F. Kennedy's assassination, Katzenbach brokered an unprecedented
deal. The American Zionist Council could register a "sample" Foreign
Agent Registration Act declaration for a "representative" time period
of its own choosing. Unlike every other filing open for public inspection at
the FARA section, the AZC's would be kept in a special folder, with a secret
name key linking the individuals and entities receiving Jewish Agency funding
kept separate from the disbursement filing.[vi] This deal
was derisively referred to as "the caveat" within the FARA section.
It was the DOJ's and America's first and only "nonpublic" FARA disclosure.
Many dedicated members of the FARA section, such as Nathan Lenvin and Irene
Bowman, fought hard against this corruption of their transparency mandate. They
lost. The Israel lobby's meager disclosure and internal files about the incident
were classified and kept secret, only released under the Freedom of Information
Act on June 10, 2008.
This subversion of the very essence of FARA heralded its subsequent demise
as a serious buffer between Congress, the executive, and the American people
and Israel's stealth lobbying campaigns. Analysis of the core documents related
to the case reveals how seriously the Israel lobby managed to compromise the
U.S. Department of Justice's enforcement efforts while it was vulnerable – during
the Johnson administration's 1964 reelection campaign. FARA now serves only
to pick off the most tangential of foreign schemers out of favor with the administration,
such as those laundering Venezuelan
"campaign contributions" through the U.S. to Argentina. The showdown
with the Israel lobby and subsequent lobby-driven amendments gutted serious
FARA enforcement in the early 1970s.
This calamity also produced an unprecedented career opportunity for Isaiah
L. Kenen. Until the FARA battle, he was a long-term public relations operator
for the nascent Israel lobby. The investigation traumatized Hadassah and the
ZOA and exposed them to serious legal risks; it necessitated a corporate reshuffling
because the need for an elite organization to spearhead Israel lobbying was
still acute. Folding the AZC would leave a power vacuum in Washington. The AZC's
stealth lobbying programs and public relations activities were subsequently
transferred to a fledgling organization originally established as a unit within
the AZC that was internally referred to as "the Kenen Committee."[vii]
This became the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Its prerogatives have
expanded such that in light of history, trade secrets theft [viii]
and eventual run-ins with election law [ix], not to mention
the Espionage Act, now seem all but inevitable. The Justice Department's reticence
to prosecute AIPAC, given its painful but secret FARA experience, seems understandable,
though not necessarily forgivable.
The approaching criminal prosecution of Rosen and Weissman is no doubt again
considered an extinction-level event by AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby,
even in its highly robust present configuration. The lobby will have little
time in 2009 for another cumbersome reorganization to rebuild credibility, not
with soaring military aid demands, concerns over Iran, and its need to secure
a semi-permanent U.S. military presence in the heart of the Middle East . But
there is one problem. As years pass, it has become more difficult to score any
viable legal strategy for dismissing the criminal case against Rosen and Weissman
that would appear legitimate to the American public. The case
docket [.pdf] reveals many defense team attempts to throw the case out on
technical quibbling and how much classified U.S. national security information
Rosen and Weissman may expose in their defense. Time also reveals that presiding
Judge T.S. Ellis has been neither cowed by the potential graymail that typically
plagues cases involving classified information nor intimidated by the lobby's
allies in the news media.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties desperately need this case to go
away long before the next president is sworn in. From their standpoint, it would
be unseemly to have U.S. officials subpoenaed and actually put on the witness
stand to reveal how Middle East policy is really crafted in the height of an
election season dominated by narratives of hope, change, and restoring integrity.
But hiring away the U.S. attorneys prosecuting the case, always a viable strategy,
is now pretty much exhausted. One key member of the government's prosecution
team has already left for the private sector.[x] The Jewish
Telegraphic Agency, formerly a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jewish Agency,
recently called out for a popular uprising in
Rosen and Weissman's defense. But like the Wall Street Journal's own
page clemency plea directly to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, it has
produced no tangible results. It is now up to the president himself to pardon
Rosen and Weissman and end the trial before it can begin.
If President George W. Bush waits to pardon Weissman and Rosen until shortly
before leaving office, it would be too late for AIPAC's most precious asset:
its reputation as an entity engaged in lawful activities. The administration
also has an overriding self-preservation interest in seeing this case vanish:
it is the singular judicial process for determining whether AIPAC goes too far
in agitating for wars – whether in Iraq, Lebanon, or Iran. For Americans a trial
would be a very healthy process for determining whether powerful Washington
think tanks and corporate news personalities blithely trafficking in our most
sensitive national defense information for their own profit should ever be held
accountable. But in the waning days of the Bush administration, short-circuiting
public accountability for war decisions and the system that produces them is
now the overriding doctrine. The pressure is on. Judge Ellis approved subpoenas
for Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz as well as National Security Adviser Stephen
Hadley, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Richard Armitage to appear
as witnesses for the defense. Pardoning AIPAC would mean that Col. Lawrence
Franklin, a member of Douglas Feith's infamous Pentagon policy shop and a crucial
witness for the prosecution, walks free.
The decision to let the Israel lobby walk in 1965 was three years in the making.
The initiative quietly gained momentum through similar appeals, stalling, and
law enforcement delays. It was finalized during regime change in Washington.
The calendar's pages are now inevitably turning toward a brief, singular moment
for another special Israel lobby deal from a sitting U.S. president, a president
who has little to gain by such public exercises in justice, and much to lose.
However, unlike the secret Foreign Agents Registration Act deal of the 1960s,
a presidential pardon will be impossible to keep secret. The possibility that
a pardon could at last mass-mobilize the American people out of their unknowing
tolerance for the lobby's dangerous foreign subversions may even be reason to
[i] Senate Foreign Relations Committee Investigation
into the Activities of Agents of Foreign Principals in the United States,
Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, Aug. 1, 1963, pp. 1,704-1,709.
letter from Assistant Attorney General Internal Security Division G. Walter
Yeagley to the American Zionist Council Nov. 21, 1962 [.pdf], released under
Freedom of Information Act on June 10, 2008.
[iii] Smith, Grant F., America's Defense Line:
The Justice Department's Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a
Foreign Government, p. 173.
[iv] Memo from Thomas K. Hall, executive assistant,
Internal Security Division to Files, p. 2, Jan. 24, 1962, released under Freedom
of Information Act on June 10, 2008.
[v] Judge T.S. Ellis III, U.S. vs. Steven J. Rosen
and Keith Weissman, memorandum opinion, Aug. 9, 2006.
[vi] Smith, Grant F., America's Defense
Line: The Justice Department's Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents
of a Foreign Government, pp. 177-178.
[vii] Senate Foreign Relations Committee Investigation
into the Activities of Agents of Foreign Principals in the United States,
88th Congress, 1st session, Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, May
23, 1963, p. 1,343.
[viii] "FBI Investigates Leak on Trade to Israel Lobby,"
Washington Post, Aug. 3, 1984.
[ix] "Papers Link Pro-Israel Lobby to Political Funding
Efforts," Washington Post, Nov. 14, 1988.
[x] "Top Prosecutor in AIPAC Case Quits," Jewish
Telegraphic Agency, Feb. 28, 2008.