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Friday, April 22, 2005

2 Senior AIPAC Employees Ousted

FBI Investigating if Pair Gave Classified Information to Israel

Two senior employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of Washington's most influential lobbying organizations, have left their jobs amid an FBI investigation into whether they passed classified U.S. information to the government of Israel, a source close to the organization said yesterday.

The source characterized the departures as firings.

Lawyers for the two men, policy director Steve Rosen and senior analyst Keith Weissman, released a statement strongly denying any wrongdoing.

"Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman have not violated any U.S. law or AIPAC policy," said the statement, issued by Abbe Lowell and John Nassikas. "Contrary to press accounts, they have never solicited, received, or passed on any classified documents. They carried out their job responsibilities solely to serve AIPAC's goal of strengthening the US-Israel relationship."

The attorneys declined through a spokesman to comment further. An AIPAC spokesman also declined to discuss details, but disputed portions of the statement issued by the men's attorneys.

"The statement made by Rosen and Weissman represents solely their view of the facts," said AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton. "The action that AIPAC has taken was done in consultation with counsel after careful consideration of recently learned information and the conduct AIPAC expects of its employees."

The exit of Rosen and Weissman marks a dramatic about-face for AIPAC, which in previous public statements has strongly defended the actions of all its employees as the FBI conducted its probe.

The developments also come as federal prosecutors in Alexandria are considering filing criminal charges in the case, according to two law enforcement officials. The probe centers on whether a Defense Department policy analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, provided a draft presidential directive on Iran and other information to AIPAC, and whether AIPAC then passed the material on to Israel, officials have said.

"Things are moving quickly," one of the officials said in a recent interview. "It is definitely moving closer to some conclusions."

Franklin has been cooperating with authorities at times but so far has not reached any agreement with prosecutors, officials said. Franklin is now back working at the Defense Department, but not in the Pentagon and without his previous security privileges, officials said.

Franklin's attorney, Plato Cacheris, did not return a telephone message left at his office late yesterday.

The FBI raided AIPAC's offices in Washington twice last year, obtaining computer files and serving grand jury subpoenas on four senior executives. The grand jury handling the case sits in Alexandria.

AIPAC has demonstrated an ability to provide large amounts of campaign contributions to congressional friends of Israel. In Fortune magazine's now-discontinued survey of groups with clout in the capital, AIPAC regularly was ranked in the top five, along with AARP and the National Rifle Association.

AIPAC and its affiliates also annually take members of Congress and their staffers on tours of Israel, cementing relations between the leaders of both countries and ensuring continued high levels of foreign assistance from the United States to Israel.

The brewing scandal at AIPAC has caused an uproar in the Jewish community, especially among wealthy political donors. Many of the group's supporters fear that the turmoil could undercut U.S. backing of Israel at a critical time for that nation.

Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.

More on AIPAC
Dan Eggen and Jerry Markon
Copyright: Washington Post.

Thank Heaven For Little Girls...

She was born with a passion to help somebody, and she never wavered." Clifford Ruzicka

For Marla, No Sacrifice Too Great

There was always a tendency to stereotype Marla Ruzicka. People couldn't seem to help themselves. She was young. And she had the blond hair and fresh-faced California-girl look that is widely viewed as an American ideal. On that score she was great cheerleader material. No reason, at first glance, to take her too seriously.

Or even at second glance, for that matter. Because, face it, she did like to party.

So if you were into stereotyping, you might see her, even admire her, and still miss the fact that in her short life she gave us a stunning example of what it means to function full time, and with all one's energy, at the highest level of humanity.

With a cellphone (that she had a tendency to misplace), a backpack and an apparent genius for working with very different types of individuals and organizations, she would head off to the most dangerous spots on the globe, determined to bring aid and comfort to the afflicted, wherever she found them. This meant, of course, that her constituency was impossibly large. The world is filled with people who have nowhere to turn.

"I think going to Afghanistan and seeing the innocent victims of the war had a particular impact on her," said Medea Benjamin, a close friend of Ms. Ruzicka's who traveled with her to Afghanistan, and later to Iraq. "We were all stunned when we actually saw the widows that had no way to feed their families because their husbands had been killed when a bomb fell on their neighborhood by mistake. Or a little boy who picked up a cluster bomb and had his arm blown off, and nobody was helping him get a prosthetic limb. Or people whose homes had been destroyed and were living in the cold, literally just living outside."

That trip, and subsequent trips to Iraq, inspired Ms. Ruzicka's last big campaign. She would try to do what her government had refused to do. She began personally gathering as much information as possible, often going from door to door in the war zones, sometimes covered by an abaya and a hijab, in an effort to document the destruction and the suffering.

Her goal was twofold: First, to secure compensation for the relatives of innocent victims who were killed, and for the many thousands of noncombatants who have been wounded or displaced. And, second, to get the U.S. government to establish an office or agency, perhaps within the State Department, to collect data and report on the civilian casualties of war.

For an individual with so few obvious resources - she established a tiny organization called the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (Civic) and had very little money - Ms. Ruzicka's reach was tremendous. She worked tirelessly over the past three years with the office of Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, to get millions of dollars in compensation for civilian victims in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tim Rieser, an aide to the senator, said: "She came here as a very sort of naïve antiwar protestor, really, and became someone who was extraordinarily effective at putting politics aside - not trying to cast blame, but rather working with everyone from U.S. military officers to the Congress and others on how to actually help people. She was out there doing something that all of us knew was really needed, but that was too dangerous for most people to want to do, or be willing to do."

Ms. Ruzicka, 28, was killed on Saturday in the chaos of Iraq. She and an Iraqi colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, were trapped in their car on the airport road in Baghdad when a suicide bomber attacked a convoy that was passing nearby. Ms. Ruzicka's vehicle was engulfed in flames. She and Mr. Salim burned to death.

I interviewed many people who were grief-stricken but anxious to share memories of Ms. Ruzicka. None were as eloquent as her dad, Clifford, a civil engineer from Lakeport, Calif. When I asked if he and his wife, Nancy, both rock-solid Republicans, had been surprised by their daughter's intense commitment to humanitarian causes, he said: "No. She's been like that all her life.

"She had this calling and she pursued it with vigor. She didn't do it for political gain or monetary gain. She did it out of love. I think her legacy will be to forever change the attitude of the U.S. government and the U.S. military on how they deal with collateral damage."

E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com