[Mb-civic] NYTimes.com Article: Spy Case Renews Debate Over
Pro-Israel Lobby' s Ties to Pentagon
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Mon Sep 6 10:34:32 PDT 2004
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Spy Case Renews Debate Over Pro-Israel Lobby's Ties to Pentagon
September 6, 2004
By JAMES RISEN and DAVID JOHNSTON
WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 - It began like most national security
investigations, with a squad of Federal Bureau of
Investigation agents surreptitiously tailing two men,
noting where they went and whom they met. What was
different about this case was that the surveillance
subjects were lobbyists for the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, and one of their contacts turned out to
be a policy analyst at the Pentagon.
The ensuing criminal investigation into whether Aipac
officials passed classified information from the Pentagon
official to Israel has become one of the most byzantine
counterintelligence stories in recent memory. So far, the
Justice Department has not accused anyone of wrongdoing and
no one has been arrested.
Aipac has dismissed the accusations as baseless, and Israel
has denied conducting espionage operations in the United
Behind the scenes, however, the case has reignited a
furious and long-running debate about the close
relationship between Aipac, the pro-Israel lobbying
organization, and a conservative group of Republican
civilian officials at the defense department, who are in
charge of the office that employs Lawrence A. Franklin, the
Their hard-line policy views on Iraq, Iran and the rest of
the Middle East have been controversial and influential
within the Bush administration.
"They have no case,'' said Michael Ledeen, a conservative
scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a friend
of Mr. Franklin. "If they have a case, why hasn't anybody
been arrested or indicted?''
Nearly a dozen officials who have been briefed on the
investigation said in interviews last week that the F.B.I.
began the inquiry as a national security matter based on
specific accusations that Aipac employees had been a
conduit for secrets between Israel and the Pentagon. These
officials said that the F.B.I., in consultation with the
Justice Department, had established the necessary legal
foundation required under the law before beginning the
A half dozen people sympathetic to Aipac and the civilian
group at the defense department said they viewed the
investigation in different terms, as a politically
motivated attempt to discredit Aipac and the Pentagon
group. Supporters of Aipac have said the organization is
being dragged into an intelligence controversy largely
because of its close ties to a Republican administration
and the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Friends and associates of the civilian group at the
Pentagon believe they are under assault by adversaries from
within the intelligence community who have opposed them
since before the war in Iraq. The Pentagon civilians, led
by Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, and
Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary for policy, were among
the first in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11
attacks to urge military action to topple the regime of
Saddam Hussein in Iraq, an approach favored by Aipac and
Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Feith were part of a larger network
of policy experts inside and out of the Bush administration
who forcefully made the case that the war with Iraq was
part of the larger fight against terrorism.
The Pentagon group circulated its own intelligence
assessments, which have since been discredited by the
Central Intelligence Agency and by the independent Sept. 11
commission, arguing that there was a terrorist alliance
between the Hussein regime and Al Qaeda.
The group has also advocated that the Bush administration
adopt a more aggressive policy toward Iran, and some of its
members have quietly begun to argue for regime change in
Tehran. The administration has not yet adopted that stance,
however, and the Pentagon conservatives have been engaged
in a debate with officials at the State Department and
other agencies urging a more moderate approach to Iran.
To Israel, Iran represents a grave threat to its national
security. Pushing the United States to adopt a tougher line
on Tehran is one of its major foreign policy objectives,
and Aipac has lobbied the Bush administration to support
Mr. Franklin was an expert on Iran in the office of Mr.
Feith and among the material he is suspected of turning
over to Aipac is a draft presidential policy directive on
Iran, which would have provided a glimpse at the Bush
administration's early plans.
But skeptics of the case have said that the United States
and Israel routinely share highly sensitive information on
military and diplomatic matters under an officially
sanctioned understanding. In addition, most of the contents
of policy drafts affecting either country are well known to
people outside the government who follow American-Israeli
As a result, some of Mr. Franklin's associates regard his
efforts as an attempt to obtain Aipac's help to influence
the Bush administration rather than an effort to provide
Israel with information. They believe the case is the
latest in a series of assaults by intelligence and law
enforcement agencies, who they believe are determined to
diminish the influence of conservative civilians at the
In their view, there have been other attempts to embarrass
them. In May, American officials said that Ahmed Chalabi,
the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a longtime
ally of the Pentagon conservatives, had told Iranian
intelligence officials that the United States had broken
Iran's communications codes.
The F.B.I. began a still-open investigation to determine
who in the government had told Mr. Chalabi about the secret
code-breaking operation. The investigation, which has
included the use of polygraph examinations, has focused on
Defense Department employees who both knew Mr. Chalabi and
knew of the highly classified code-breaking operation.
The F.B.I.'s inquiry of the Chalabi leak may overlap with
the Franklin case because some of the same Defense
Department officials had access to information that was
believed to be compromised.
But officials who have briefed on the case say they remain
two separate inquiries being conducted by separate teams of
investigators, one with jurisdiction over Iranian matters
and one with jurisdiction over Israel issues.
The focus and direction of the Franklin investigation,
which was publicly disclosed Aug. 27, remains unclear. The
officials said the inquiry first focused on Aipac, but
later became more intense after F.B.I. agents gathered
evidence indicating that Aipac officials had obtained
classified information from Mr. Franklin, which was turned
over to Israel.
But it is unclear who, if anyone, is likely to be charged
with wrongdoing and whether the government is more
interested in Aipac, Mr. Franklin or the Israelis who may
have received the classified material. Officials say Mr.
Franklin has been cooperating with the F.B.I. since being
confronted by agents several weeks ago.
Two officials at Aipac, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman,
have also been interviewed by the bureau.
"I know that this is part of a campaign against us,'' said
Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon analyst who worked in a
special-intelligence unit created by Mr. Feith after Sept.
11. Mr. Maloof lost his security clearances because of an
investigation that he believed was unfair.
He now believes that Mr. Franklin is being unfairly
targeted as well. "They are picking us off, one by one,''
Mr. Maloof said.
But leading critics of the Pentagon hard-liners have
repeatedly argued that Mr. Wolfowitz, Mr. Feith and others
have used the Sept. 11 attacks as a pretext to pursue
issues that in some ways mirror the interests of Israel's
conservative Likud government.
One piece of evidence repeatedly cited by the critics is a
1996 paper issued by the Institute for Advanced Strategic
and Political Studies, an Israeli think tank, calling for
the toppling of Saddam Hussein in order to enhance Israeli
security. Entitled "A Clean Break," the 1996 paper was
intended to offer a foreign policy agenda for the new Likud
government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
The paper argued: "Israel can shape its strategic
environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by
weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria. This
effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in
Iraq - an important Israeli strategic objective in its own
right - as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions."
Among those who signed the paper were Mr. Feith; David
Wurmser, who later worked for Mr. Feith at the Pentagon and
now works for Vice President Dick Cheney; and Richard
Perle, a leading conservative who previously served as
chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a group of outside
consultants to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
In the Reagan administration, Mr. Feith served as Mr.
Perle's deputy at the Pentagon.
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