AIPAC spy case fallout

Article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Convictions in the trial of ex-AIPAC officials Steve Rosen and Kenneth Weissman on charges of passing classified information to Israel, scheduled to begin in Washington on April 29, could significantly reduce the influence of lobbies in Washington, according to one of the defense lawyers. Abbe Lowell, who is representing former AIPAC foreign policy director Rosen, thinks that a conviction could shut down the exchange of ideas that the U.S. administration has with experts and interest groups when formulating policy. That could have a significant negative impact on the influence Israel has through AIPAC on Middle East policy-making in Washington. Rosen and Iran analyst Weissman are under indictment for allegedly passing information that is harmful to the U.S. national defense to Israeli diplomats and The Washington Post. If convicted they could go to jail for 12-20 years. The two were fired from their AIPAC positions in April, 2004, in the wake of an FBI investigation. Lowell, a top criminal lawyer who served as a Democratic counsel during the impeachment trial of former president Bill Clinton, argues that government officials do not communicate only with embassies and diplomats when they formulate foreign policy. They commonly use back channels, among them lobbyists and journalists, to try out policy ideas. "You want Condoleezza Rice to have discussions with people who have experience. That kind of discussion results in better policy. That is the way ideas are formulated, proposals tested and drafts circulated," he told The Jerusalem Report in an interview in his Washington office. "This is essential for the formulation of American foreign policy." And that is, he argues, the role that Steve Rosen played for AIPAC. Lowell plans to paint what he calls "the big picture" - the way the market of information and ideas, public and secret, works in Washington. In order to show how the process works, the defense has subpoenaed a number of present and former high-level officials, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; National Security Adviser Steven Hadley; former deputy secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage; William Burns, U.S. ambassador to Russia; Marc Grossman, former undersecretary of State for political affairs; David Satterfield, now the State Department's coordinator for Iraq; Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser; and Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of Defense. Lowell will argue that all of them have at one point or another discussed sensitive information with Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, in order to promote an American interest, such as informally testing an idea with the Israeli government. Lowell warns that it may be not in the national interest to have all those individuals expose the complexity of U.S.-Israel relations, and suggests that it could lead to some embarrassing disclosures for Washington. But the trial has implications that reach far beyond the role that Israel, AIPAC and other lobbies play, says Lowell, contending that it could also curtail freedom of the press. "This trial is a terrible precedent for the media," he said. "The media inform the public of a lot of classified information. The books Bob Woodward [of the Washington Post] writes are a prime example." Many Washington insiders are puzzled as to why the prosecution has brought a case against officials of AIPAC, a key ally of the Bush Middle East policy. In a recent interview with The Washingtonian monthly, former intelligence officer Vincent Cannistraro offered a possible explanation. Cannistraro, who worked for the Pentagon and the White House, was quoted as saying that there has been, for some time, serious concern about Israeli espionage in the U.S. "The FBI puts Israel up alongside China as espionage threats," Cannistraro said. He maintained that this is a result of the Pollard case (in which navy analyst Jonathan Pollard was convicted in 1985 of selling military secrets to Israel). There was and is a suspicion within the counterintelligence community that Pollard did not work alone, and that there is still an Israeli mole loose in Washington. Indeed, the counterintelligence division of the FBI has monitored Israeli officials and their friends for years. When former U.S. attorney Paul McNulty announced the indictments against the former AIPAC employees in August 2005, he argued that "there is a clear line in the law when it comes to classified information. Today's charges are about crossing that line." But the defense will contest that argument by pointing out the difficulty of establishing a criminal case when there are no classified documents involved. When there are such documents, the receiver knows that they are classified because they have a clearly visible "classified" stamp. But things are different with orally transmitted information, as in this case. Lowell gives an example: "Someone tells you that in Pakistan there is a dangerous situation, that it has nuclear weapons and that Al-Qaeda members are hiding in X. By the way: This is classified. What part of this statement exactly is classified?" he asks. "That there is a dangerous situation in Pakistan? We all know that. That they have nuclear weapons? That is a well known fact." Or that they are hiding in X? In other words, it is hard to prove in court that you reveal classified information only because the messenger says "this" is classified, without specifying what "this" is. Moreover, Lowell says, prosecutors will have to show not only that Rosen and Weissman knew that revealing information would be harmful to U.S. national security, but also that those who revealed the information had criminal intent. That is another reason why the testimony of high officials is crucial for the defense, which wants to show how normal it was to discuss the type of sensitive matters that the defendants are accused of having revealed. Another weak link in the government's case is that it has selectively prosecuted officials who have passed on the classified information. Mid-level Pentagon official Larry Franklin has been convicted, but the indictment also mentions two other leakers, known only as "Government Official 1" and "Government Official 2." Their names were subsequently revealed in the media: David Satterfield, one of the closest advisers of the secretary of state, and Kenneth Pollack, in those days a CIA official, and now a Middle East analyst at the Brookings Institution. All of them revealed secrets. Franklin was punished; Satterfield was promoted. Lowell, who is critical of AIPAC for giving in to pressure to fire the two men, contends that the lobby group will look bad no matter how the trial ends. If Rosen and Weissman are acquitted, AIPAC will have to explain why they fired the officials. If they are convicted, the defense will have shown that AIPAC was aware of and a party to what their employees did. Article in Issue 21, February 4, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.