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Monday, May 30, 2005

State of the State Secrets

Larry Franklin wanted to sway policy, not just spill intel.

The circumstances surrounding the arrest of Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin for passing classified information to two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would make a good thriller. Acted out against a backdrop of war and terrorism, it’s a cloak-and-dagger tale swathed in mystery, pregnant with political implications, and hinting at a subtext of hostility beneath the “special relationship” binding the U.S. to Israel. It has all the elements of good fiction—a strong plot, a fascinating set of characters, and a theme that will have the audience buzzing long after they leave the theater. Better yet, it looks like the dramatic climax will come in the form of a courtroom drama in a legal battle pitting the watchdogs of America’s vital secrets against a shadowy fifth column.

For years the FBI’s counterintelligence unit has been tracking a major espionage cell operating on behalf of Israel. Franklin stumbled into it one summer day in 2003, when he showed up at Tivoli restaurant outside Washington and met with two AIPAC officials—Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s longtime foreign-policy director, and Keith Weissman, AIPAC’s top Iran specialist. Franklin, described by his colleagues as a naïve ideologue who, as Ha’aretz put it, “believes wholeheartedly in the neo-conservative approach,” revealed classified information about possible Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Franklin was apparently worried that U.S. policymakers were insufficiently alarmed over the alleged Iranian threat to our interests in Iraq and was looking to enlist AIPAC—and the Israeli government—in pressuring policymakers to take a harder line on Tehran.

What he didn’t know, as he spilled U.S. secrets, was that the FBI was recording his every word. It would be a while before he found out. Until then, he was watched, his phone conversations were recorded, and agents observed him trying to pass classified documents to an individual already under surveillance. However, as Newsweek described it, the unidentified Israeli spy was “too smart” for that, and insisted Franklin relate the information verbally.

An analyst with the Defense Intelligence Agency, Franklin served in the Air Force Reserve and did several tours of duty attached to the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. As Iran desk officer with the Defense Undersecretary for Policy, Near East South Asia, Franklin later moved to Douglas Feith’s Office of Special Plans (OSP), where he and his fellow neocons cooked the intelligence on Iraq according to Ahmad Chalabi’s special recipe and then served it up piping hot to Dick Cheney’s boys, who delivered it straight to the White House. As Seymour Hersh relates, they called themselves “the Cabal”—a bit of self-mockery that, in retrospect, seems all too descriptive. OSP functioned, in effect, as a parallel intelligence agency. Its mission was to bypass the CIA, the DIA, and the mainline intelligence community and give the War Party the answers they wanted. The cabalists did not limit their activities to writing up talking points, however, but also engaged in field operations that caught the attention of the State Department and the CIA.

In December 2001, Franklin, along with Harold Rhode, a Middle East expert and Franklin’s colleague in Feith’s policy shop, and neoconservative writer Michael Ledeen—at the time working for Feith as a consultant—met with the infamous Manucher Ghorbanifar, of Iran-Contra fame, and a group of Iranians, including a former high official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Also in attendance: Nicolo Pollari, head of the Italian intelligence service, and Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino. As writer Laura Rozen tells it, “Ghorbanifar told me he has had fifty meetings with Michael Ledeen since September 11th, and that he has given Ledeen ‘4,000 to 5,000 pages of sensitive documents’ concerning Iran, Iraq and the Middle East, ‘material no one else has received.’”

In trying to discover how Iran had gotten its hands on vital U.S. secrets, including information on how the U.S. was eavesdropping on the Iranian government’s encrypted internal communications, the FBI must surely have taken some interest in these activities. Their chief suspect, after all, was Chalabi, whose Iraqi National Congress supplied much of the grist for the OSP’s mill.

A raid on Chalabi’s Baghdad headquarters brought the whole affair into the open, and the Chalabi investigation has reared its head again in the Franklin affair. The Washington Post reports that the initial stage of the inquiry into Chalabi’s activities as a double agent “focused on the activities of a US military reservist who was serving at the US Embassy in Israel.”

When the FBI confronted Franklin and searched his home and office—turning up 83 classified documents, spanning three decades—he agreed, at first, to help the investigation, presumably in return for a promise of leniency. By some accounts, notably those by pro-AIPAC writer Edwin Black, Franklin agreed to make a series of monitored phone calls to suspects in the investigation, including neoconservative supporters of Chalabi. They also supposedly planted information via Franklin that Israeli agents operating in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq were in danger of assassination by Iranian agents. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Franklin met with Weissman on July 21, 2004 outside Nordstrom’s at the Pentagon City mall in Arlington and warned him about Israel’s Kurdish problem. Alarmed, Weissman and Rosen passed this on to AIPAC, which raised the matter in meetings with NSC official Eliot Abrams. They also called Naor Gilon, top political officer at the Israeli embassy. This was followed shortly afterward by the FBI’s first raid on AIPAC’s Washington headquarters. (They would return four months later.)

Whoever leaked details of the case to CBS News, including Franklin’s identity, nixed the FBI’s efforts to trace the transfer of sensitive materials from the spy nest embedded in our government to Israeli officials. FBI officials were furious: the leaker had effectively sabotaged their investigation, at least for the moment. Franklin stopped co-operating with the authorities, dismissed his court-appointed lawyer, and hired the high-priced law firm of Plato Cacheris.

The recent kickstarting of the prosecution, however, has seen a sea change in AIPAC’s defense strategy. Rosen and Weissman have been handed their walking papers, and AIPAC is backpedaling furiously on its previous statements denying any wrongdoing by its employees, although the group is still paying the duo’s legal bills. JTA reports indicate they are both to be indicted shortly, and Rosen anticipates the trial may begin as early as January 2006. He has pledged to fight the charges.

When this case comes to trial, it won’t be only three spies for Israel who stand accused: the whole nexus of organizations and interests that came together in the War Party will be put in the dock.

When Franklin walked in unexpectedly on that luncheon meeting, he stumbled onto one of the biggest, most far-reaching espionage investigations since the Cold War. The crime committed in this case involves not only the theft of vital U.S. secrets but a concerted effort to influence American foreign policy on behalf of a foreign power. This is indicated, for one example, by the FBI’s recent interrogation of Uzi Arad, formerly director of research for the Mossad and now head of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at Israel’s Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. According to The Forward, the FBI wanted to know why he had sent Franklin a research paper by Eran Lerman on how to re-invigorate America’s relationship with Israel. Lerman, a former IDF intelligence officer, is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s office in Israel. They also asked Arad about two conversations he had with Franklin: one at the December 2004 Herzliya Conference, which Franklin attended, and the other in the Pentagon cafeteria.

The Lerman paper argues that the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” has fallen into “maintenance mode” in recent times and that America’s grand democratization project in the Middle East calls for what Lerman dubs “the Special Relations Initiative of 2005.” Whether this more assertive policy includes such activities as spying is a matter for conjecture, but the FBI’s interest in a top AJC official shows that the scandal is widening.

It is also embracing more than lobbying groups like AIPAC and the AJC. The affidavit supporting Franklin’s arrest noted that Franklin may have disclosed classified information to reporters, and the New York Times reports that federal agents have begun questioning journalists who may have written articles based on Franklin’s revelations—the Times puts the number so far at four, “among them at least one newspaper journalist and others whose work has been published on the Internet.” The JTA has named the newspaper reporter: Glenn Kessler, the State Department correspondent for the Washington Post.

The FBI is said to have taped a July 21, 2004 conversation that Weissman and Rosen had with Kessler. According to the JTA report, they joked about “not getting in trouble” over the exchange of information. “At least we have no Official Secrets Act,” said Rosen, referring to laws on the books in Britain and elsewhere prohibiting receipt of classified information. The joke, however, is on them. If the prosecution proves that they knew they were passing on classified information, including to an official of a foreign nation, they could wind up in the next cell over from Jonathan Pollard.

AIPAC’s defenders lamely claim “mishandling” classified information is not the same as espionage. Franklin is charged with violating Title 18, Section 793(d) of the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime to pass to unauthorized persons “information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation.” But Rosen and Weissman, who handed over classified information to Gilon, could face charges under Section 794, which carries a punishment of either death or life imprisonment for the crime of communicating information relating to the national defense “to any foreign government.” According to a report in the New York Sun, the charges are so classified that AIPAC lawyer, Nathan Lewis, was required to get a security clearance to hear them.

The mystery at the heart of this investigation is how and when it began. Warren Strobel of Knight Ridder reported in 2004 that the probe “has been going on for more than two years,” and UPI’s Richard Sale cites a “former senior U.S. government official” as saying, “In 2001, the FBI discovered new, ‘massive’ Israeli spying operations in the East Coast, including New York and New Jersey,” and they began watching Gilon, who eventually led them to Franklin. The JTA dates the genesis of the inquiry more precisely: “information garnered during the investigation into alleged leaks from a Pentagon analyst to the two former AIPAC staffers suggests the FBI began probing AIPAC officials just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.”

Like a dorsal fin poking just above the water, the Franklin spy trial promises us a glimpse of a creature much larger than appears at first sight. Whether the trial will draw it up to the surface remains to be seen. In any case, the magnitude of the problem posed by the covert activities of our ally—heretofore ignored or covered up—is all too clear.

Justin Raimondo is editorial director of Antiwar.com.

Why Did Feith Resign?

Could it have had something to do with the Larry Franklin spy scandal?

The headline of this New York Sun article by Eli Lake on the progress of the case [.pdf] against Lawrence A. Franklin, a Pentagon analyst accused of handing over sensitive information to Israel, has got to take the cake for sheer gall: "Pentagon Analyst In Israel Spy Case Is Called a 'Patriot'"!

You can't make this stuff up.

Franklin was recently arrested and charged with revealing top secret information to two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who then informed Israeli officials. It turns out that the person calling Franklin a "patriot" is none other than his lawyer, the famed Plato Cacheris, whose clients have included Russian spy Robert Hanssen, Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes, and Monica Lewinsky, but even so: Come on!

Yeah, he's a "patriot" all right – but on behalf of which country? Surely not the United States of America.

As the Franklin spy scandal metastasizes from what his defenders were earlier calling a "kerfuffle" into a major deal, the news of his arrest bodes ill for Israel's amen corner in the U.S. In spite of a lot of palaver about how AIPAC is weathering the storm, the lobby's legendary power – once touted as among the top five most powerful lobbies in Washington – is permanently crippled. Until recently, AIPAC stoutly denied that any of their employees had engaged in illegal activities: it was only when the apparent scope of the charges against Steve Rosen, AIPAC's longtime policy director, and foreign policy specialist [.pdf] Keith Weissman was made known to AIPAC's legal counsel that they stopped denying the obvious and threw Rosen and Weissman overboard. They still insist that AIPAC itself is not under investigation, a delusion that may evaporate as quickly as their protestations on behalf of their two former employees.

Even more damaging, however, is the revelation that Franklin was maintaining a storehouse of top secret information in his West Virginia home, the basis for a second charge for which he was arraigned on May 27. We didn't hear much about that arraignment for unlawful possession of 83 classified documents spanning three decades – 38 of which were classified "top secret" – but a few local news outlets carried the story:

"The criminal complaint was based in part on the following six documents:

Terrorist Threat Integration Center, terrorism situation report – top secret/sensitive compartmented information (SCI), dated June 8, 2004.

Central Intelligence Agency document concerning Al-Qaida – top secret/SCI, dated June 9, 2004.

CIA document concerning Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaida – secret/SCI, dated Oct. 7, 2003.

CIA document concerning Al-Qaida – secret, dated May 12, 2004.

CIA memorandum on Iraq – secret, dated June 4, 2004.

CIA defense executive intelligence view concerning terrorists – secret, dated June 10, 2004."

In disdaining the severity of the charges against Franklin, neocon ideologue David Frum described the information passed on to Israel via AIPAC as something "which anyone, even the Israelis, can purchase a copy of for 35 cents" – the price for a single copy of the Washington Post, which supposedly had revealed the contents of a policy paper on Iran. It now turns out that the policy paper was the least of it. One wonders if Frum is willing to reconsider his judgement. Somehow, I tend to doubt it.

Similarly, Michael Ledeen, writing in the same formerly conservative publication – where else but National Review? – screeched "McCarthyism!" (an odd charge to issue from the pages of a magazine whose founding editor authored a book defending Tailgunner Joe as heroic, albeit misunderstood). Ledeen challenged the investigators:

"Put up or shut up."

Now that they have put up, it is Ledeen and his cohorts who have apparently shut up. The usually loquacious defenders of Israel, especially in the right-wing precincts of the "blogosphere," are inexplicably silent, too. Or perhaps their having been suddenly struck dumb is all too explicable: after all, what is there to say about Franklin's treasure trove of American secrets except that it could not be more incriminating? However, the question of who and what is being incriminated here goes way beyond Franklin.

As Matt Yglesias points out, Franklin, even with his intelligence background, would not have had access to highly sensitive compartmented information: the material dealing with al-Qaeda would certainly seem to fit into this category.

We have to ask: On whose behalf was Franklin storing a "terrorism situation report" labeled "SCI" – the second highest category of classified information, several degrees above "classified," "secret," and "top secret" – and, even more intriguingly, where did he get it?

The resignation of Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, Franklin's boss, as investigators close in on the Israeli spy nest embedded in his department now has to be seen in a new light. As Professor Juan Cole pointed out back in January, when Feith's departure was announced:

"Feith has been questioned by the FBI in relation to the passing by one of his employees of confidential Pentagon documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which in turn passed them to the Israeli embassy. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating Feith. There seems little doubt that he operated in the Pentagon in such a way as to produce false and misleading 'intelligence,' that he created an entirely false impression of Iraqi weapons capabilities and ties to al-Qaeda, and that he is among the chief facilitators of the US war in Iraq.

"Feith is clearly resigning ahead of the possible breaking of major scandals concerning his tenure at the Department of Defense, which is among the more disgraceful cases of the misleading of the American people in American history."

Will the Franklin-Rosen-Weissman investigation implicate Feith – or someone higher up in the Washington food chain?

Get out the chips-and-dip, pull up a chair, and get ready for the trial that is going to rock the War Party to its very foundations. It's going to be quite a show. As a prelude, go and check out my article on the Franklin affair in the June 20 issue of The American Conservative: the editors have put up a link to give readers a preview of what promises to be yet another blockbuster issue.


For the real lowdown on the nature and extent of Israel's covert activities in the U.S., get yourself a copy of my short book, The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection. Buy it, read it, and then ask yourself: why would an Israeli spy want access to highly sensitive U.S. intelligence regarding al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden?

Justin Raimondo

Again, Vive Le France!

The EU Constitution;
Don't Believe the BS

The EU constitution is a Trojan horse slapped together by corporate and banking elites with the clear purpose of undermining national sovereignty and accelerating globalization. Thank God the French had the common sense to read the document and vote it down. Unlike their American counterparts, who have been the victims of a barrage of free trade agreements (NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA) which have sacrificed the environment, eviscerated national sovereignty, and savaged the middle-class; the French thumbed their noses at a plan that was designed to torpedo their economic system. If the constitution had passed, its neoliberal policies would inevitably put Frenchmen in direct competition with the lowest paid workers in Canton Province.

No thanks; that' a model that only works the corporate oligarchy and their friends in the "free press".

It doesn't take much research to figure out who was behind this EU turkey. A quick glance at Google News shows that every media outlet in the world, excluding the Socialist Worker and the International Herald Tribune, supported the treaty and is already bemoaning the election results, dismissing them as a sign of "French stubbornness" and "cultural arrogance". Most of the news completely eschews the facts; choosing instead to whimper about a "divided Europe" and the disgrace that Chirac's naughty children have heaped on his pristine reputation.

Just listen to the braying at the New York Times: "PARIS, May 29 - Turning its back on half a century of European history, France decisively rejected a constitution for Europe on Sunday, plunging the country into political disarray and jeopardizing the cause of European unity."

"Plunging the country into political disarray and jeopardizing the cause of European unity?" My Gawd, they never tire of hyperbole at 'the paper of record'.

First of all, it's a stretch just to call this neoliberal rag a constitution at all. Typically, we think of a constitution as a document that embraces the highest ideals of a people; laying out clear guidelines for safeguarding civil liberties and the rule of law; not a compendium of perks for big business and their cronies in high finance. The EU constitution simply hands over more power to an "unelected" class of euro-parasites who want to suck the life out of the social welfare system that has raised the standard of living for the middle class to the highest in the world. The French were smart enough to say, "non!"

The constitution poses an even greater threat to French national sovereignty. As George Will notes in his May 27 article, "The constitution says member states can 'exercise their competence' only where the EU does not exercise its. But the constitution gives EU institutions jurisdiction over foreign affairs, defense, immigration, trade, energy, agriculture, fishing and much more."

What?!? Control over "foreign affairs, defense, immigration, trade, energy, agriculture, fishing and much more"?

Why would any sovereign people transfer authority on these issues to bureaucrats and corporatists whose only interest is the bottom line? Even the conservative George Will admits that a "yes" vote "would accelerate the leeching away of each nation's sovereignty." (Ironically, Will's article was one of only two articles, out of 1,400, to criticize the EU constitution)

An article by America Vera Zavala "The French vote on the Constitution" further clarifies the sovereignty dilemma: "The constitution centralizes even more power in the hands of the undemocratic .EU commission. The EU commission gets a fast track in trade issues..The constitution clearly speaks about a military union and states that the nation states have to increase military expenses in their national budgets ..The neoliberal economic policy is fixed in the treaty; it gives priority to the fight against inflation over unemployment - an economic dogma creating problems in the entire world."

In other words, the same neoliberal straightjacket that has been used throughout developing world is now being tailored for Europe. It is a strategy that reliably transfers the lions-share of the wealth and resources to multi-national corporations and their colleagues in the banking establishment. Presumably, the resources that are directed into the military would go straight into NATO (not some alternative, European force) and remain under American control. The reason for this is that the US Military is a fully owned franchise of the corporate elite; a model that requires no fine-tuning.

The French vote is just the first volley in what will undoubtedly be a long war. The corporate moguls and their political underlings have sharpened their talons for a long and bloody conflict; they won't be discouraged by results of the democratic process. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker has already brushed aside the French vote saying the ratification process must, "go on"; and certainly it will.

The EU constitution provides an excellent example of the underlying dangers facing democracy in the modern world. The insidious influence of corporations far surpasses the danger of international terrorism; at risk, are the institutions that protect personal liberty and national independence. The EU constitution, bathed in the soft pastels of a massive public relations campaign, is just the latest malevolent scheme to undermine the nation state and establish the apocryphal "new world order".

George Will said it best, "Sovereignty is a predicate of self-government. The deeply retrograde constitution would reverse five centuries of struggle to give representative national parliaments control over public finance and governance generally." Amen.

Mike Whitney
05/30/05 "ICH"
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at: fergiewhitney@msn.com