By Debbie Maimon – Yated Ne’eman
Allegations of anti-Semitism surfaced recently about a 2004 FBI sting that entrapped two Jewish members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in espionage-related charges.
The allegations raised fresh concerns about the FBI’s true motives in the case which, to the government’s embarrassment, collapsed after four years of pre-trial maneuvers due to lack of evidence.
Because the FBI operation invoked an archaic law to indict the men, attempting to criminalize activities that are acceptable and routine for lobbyists, the Bureau’s actions invite suspicion that its real aim in the bizarre sting was to curb the influential pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.
By falsely discrediting some of its most prominent members, many now think the FBI was really seeking to weaken and discredit the entire organization.
The allegations of anti-Semitism were made by former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin, an expert on Iranian affairs. Franklin, who is not Jewish, served as a key player in an FBI operation that targeted AIPAC members Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman.
Last week, Franklin broke a silence of many years, telling the Washington Times that anti-Semitism tainted the entire affair and may have been an “incitement in the investigation.”
DANGLING THE LIVES OF JEWS AS BAIT
As an FBI “cooperating witness,” Franklin was wired with FBI recording devices during staged meetings with Rosen and Weissman that were aimed at trapping them with irresistible bait: he told them that Israelis in Iraq were being targeted for assassination by Iran, and begged them to help.
Rosen and Weissman fell into the trap. Hoping to save lives, the men hurried with the classified information to an Israeli embassy official and to the Washington Post. They also tried to alert the National Security Council. Not long afterward, the two were arrested and indicted for conspiracy.
The arrests astounded the political and journalism community in Washington. In singling out the two AIPAC staffers and prosecuting them for information-sharing that is routine between lobbyists, government officials and reporters, the FBI clearly seemed to be trying to strike a blow at AIPAC.
The men were fired from their jobs, and endured four years of exhausting litigation leading up to their trial. Then, following a relentless pre-trial battle, involving dozens of hearings, depositions, rulings and appeals, the Justice Department came to the conclusion that despite all its efforts, it was not going to win a guilty verdict. With just 30 days to go before the trial began, the government dropped the charges.
By then, the ten-year investigation and prosecution case, costing the federal government millions of dollars, had destroyed the reputations and livelihoods of two innocent men. As the reaction to Larry Franklin’s testimony suggests, the affair has also prompted suspicion of religious bias and an abuse of power in the top echelons of the FBI.
“FRANKLIN WAS SENTTO TEMPT JEWS”
Franklin’s claims of an anti-Semitic agenda driving the FBI’s campaign against AIPAC were backed by Rosen in the Jerusalem Post. “Within the counterintelligence bureaucracy of the United States government, there is a virulent ideology about Israel and Jews,” he said. “These guys believe there’s a Jewish cabal, a Jewish conspiracy.”
Rosen said that some insiders feel that the FBI’s real target was not Franklin, but his superiors, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, outspoken advocates for Israel. Several Jews held prominent positions in the defense department at the time. Many, like Wolfowitz and Feith, were associated with the “neoconservative” faction in the Bush administration that supported close U.S. ties with Israel.
Stereotypes about Jewish power mushroomed in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, giving rise to conspiracy theories about excessive Jewish influence over President Bush and U.S. foreign policy.
These theories infected the State Department, a branch of government that has traditionally been pro-Arab and has manifested hostility to Israel. Some point to the near-obsession on the part of numerous State Department officials with the notion that American Jews hold “dual loyalties.”
“The anti-Zionist concept [pervading parts of this department],” writes the Washington Post, “holds that Israeli objectives run contrary to U.S. national interests; that many American Jews, including those in senior policymaking positions, suffer from divided loyalties; and that pro-Israel political influence holds sway over U.S. government decisions.”
Franklin was apparently sent out by his FBI handlers to tempt Jews, the article notes. “He tried Adam Ciralsky at CBS News, who had once sued the CIA for anti-Semitism, and Richard Perle, who was on his way to vacation in France, as well as Pentagon employees who had done nothing more than work with Franklin. All turned down the offer of classified information.”
He then went to work on the AIPAC lobbyists, using tastier bait – the prospect of saving Jewish lives – and here he succeeded.
USING ‘DEAD LAWS’ TO PROSECUTE
The Justice Department prosecutors decided to indict Rosen and Weissman under the Espionage Act, a law which has never previously been invoked. As Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz notes, it is not even clear if the statute, so long ignored, actually remains law! In his words, “It is a well-established norm in the U.S. that when a law is not enforced for many years, it ceases to be considered law.”
The reach of this law, which dates from the World War I era, has never been clear. By its terms, it would seem to require every U.S. citizen to protect the government’s secrets – a principle completely at odds with the American system of full disclosure and public debate.
The decision to prosecute Franklin, Rosen and Weissman under the articles of the Espionage Act, says Dershowitz, was “selective prosecution” at its worst. “If every administration official who did what Franklin did were prosecuted as he has been, there would be more government officials in prison than at the State Department, the Defense Department or the White House,” he argued.
Franklin ended up being double-crossed by the FBI, who had him arrested for spying for Israel. He ended up admitting in a plea bargain to breaking the law by passing classified information to outside parties, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. To win a reduced sentence, he agreed to cooperate in the FBI operation against Rosen and Weissman.
Rosen charged that Franklin was rail-roaded into pleading guilty and playing along with the FBI by threats to harm his family by cutting off his pension. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, he said federal prosecutors used the same type of tactics against him.“
The [FBI] wanted to destroy me,” he said. “They forced AIPAC to fire me. They forced AIPAC to cut off my attorneys’ fees,” he said. “They tried to isolate me, to put me in a situation of desperation where I would have to plead guilty to something I did not do. This happens all the time.”
“After years and millions of dollars spent investigating the nefarious ‘Israel Lobby,’ the case produced no stolen secrets, no money changing hands, no covert meetings, no high-level, dual-loyal officials, no harm to the national interest and no spies. Pardon me, but where’s the corned beef?” wrote the Washington Post.
Notwithstanding the collapse of the case and the indications of an abuse of power behind the entire affair, Rosen warned that other officials in Jewish organizations may become targets for similar charges. “They still believe there are Jewish spies under every bed,” he said.
RUNNING FOR COVER
The response of the Jewish community to the prosecution of the two AIPAC lobbyists, specifically in the case of AIPAC itself, was to run for cover.
AIPAC did not immediately dismiss the two men, but initially used the charges against them as a fundraising opportunity, raising a record $45 million. But soon, under government pressure, intimidated AIPAC leaders fired the two lobbyists, cut off their legal fees at times and distanced themselves, and their allies on the Hill, from even verbal support.
AIPAC also made it difficult for others within the Jewish community to employ Rosen and Weissman. Thus, for more than five years from indictment to the dropping of charges, their lives were on hold, their resources depleted and financial survival imperiled. They were sidelined and virtually silenced. Only belatedly did some Jewish officials speak out in their defense.
AMCHA was the only Jewish group that filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief in the case. The 2007 submission, in response to a government request that the trial be closed to the public, compared the case to the Dreyfus affair, and insisted that the men were entitled to an open trial.
AIPAC and the American Jewish community as a whole were not the only ones who abandoned two of their own, whose only crime was caring enough about Jewish lives to overstep the bounds of convention. The government of Israel refused to cooperate with the defense in any way.
A good part of the government’s case revolved around charges that Rosen and Weissman shared classified information with Israeli government officials. Being able to prove that Israeli officials already had learned of the information directly from their own contacts with U.S. officials, or that they themselves had been the original source of the information, was critical to the defense.
Yet, according to attorneys for Rosen and Weissman, request after request to the Israeli Embassy in Washington and to officials in Israel were denied. They would not agree to an interview, even in Israel; they would not agree to an exchange of information, even through attorneys. They refused to help in any way.
PARALLELS WITH THE RUBASHKIN CASE
If an inside view of the AIPAC affair lifts the veil on an anti-Semitic mindset driving some quarters of the State and Justice Departments, it also throws a spotlight on a number of disturbing parallels in the government’s case against Sholom Rubashkin.
As in the AIPAC affair, prosecutors in the Rubashkin case have invoked an arcane law to prosecute the defendant, ignoring the fact that this law is not only outmoded, but vague, undefined and never before applied.
The law in question is the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act that requires meatpackers to make “prompt” payment to livestock owners, or suffer a penalty of six months imprisonment along with a massive fine.
Included in the 169-count indictment against Sholom Rubashkin of Agriprocessors are 19 counts of failing to keep this 88-year-old law’s ambiguous, outdated provisions.
Although the Packers and Stockyards Act calls for the prosecution of all employees at the meatpacking plant who were directly or indirectly responsible for the delayed payments, prosecutors invoked the law against Rubashkin exclusively.
An indictment singling out one individual for actions for which everyone else gets a pass is discriminatory and should be dismissed, Rubashkin’s attorneys argued.
The lawyers have petitioned the judge in the case to dismiss the charges, calling the Packers and Stockyards Act “defective” and the draconian penalty of six months imprisonment “cruel and unusual punishment.”
SUPREME COURT: “IDENTITY THEFT CHARGES MISAPPLIED”
In light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling “that one of the most widespread charges against plant employees, aggravated identity theft, was wrongfully applied,” some have begun to question the accuracy and honesty of the charges against Rubashkin.
This Supreme Court ruling was cited in a newly released book that examines how Postville, Iowa, home of Agriprocessors, has all but collapsed in the wake of last year’s massive raid by immigration authorities. The book, “Postville, USA,” questions the legality of the raid and the methods used to extract plea bargains from hundreds of illegal aliens.
Authors Mark Grey and Michelle Devlin paint an incriminating picture of the government’s immigration arm, which conducted the raid, as well as the federal court that cooperated with it. “They railroaded nearly 300 illegal aliens into plea bargains which the authors believe were obtained under false pretenses,” JTA wrote.
Although Rubashkin’s trial is not scheduled to begin until September, in the courtroom of public opinion, many have already convicted him. The media onslaught, taking its cue from the government’s relentless pre-trial maneuvers, has influenced a good portion of the American Jewish community.
Perhaps American Jews, instead of marching in lock-step with the steady drumbeat of media assault, should heed some of the lessons of the AIPAC affair that pertain to American Jewry and its tendency to leave a soldier alone on the battlefield.
“Whether it realizes it or not, American Jewry today hovers near a precipice,” writes Caroline Glick in Jerusalem Post. “It can force its way back onto stable ground, or it can fall. The basic question it faces is whether Jews in America have found a permanent, stable home in America where they are free to be Jewish, or whether they will begin to act as though they are guests in their own country.”