The FBI's investigation of AIPAC

The extremely comfortable and secure American Jewish community is totally unaware of the deadly peril that is even now threatening the security that it takes for granted. But in the near future, this peril will become too visible and immediate to be ignored any longer. I speak of the FBI's ongoing investigation of the American—Israel Public Affairs Committee —AIPAC—— which has been ongoing for four years now and is very far from being over.

A low—ranking civilian employee of the Pentagon, Larry Franklin, was formally charged on May 4 with having given classified information two years previously to two high—ranking executives of AIPAC who were not legally entitled to the information.  The two former AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen, the Director of research about foreign policy issues for AIPAC, and Keith Weissman, the deputy director of policy research with responsibility for policy towards Iran, were dismissed from their positions in January as the investigation of them gathered momentum. Four even more senior AIPAC executives, Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Research Director Rafael Danziger and Communications Director Renee Rothstein, were grilled by a grand jury in December 2004. AIPAC's offices have been raided twice by the FBI, and computer discs belonging to the two suspects have been seized.

No one is sure exactly when the other shoe will drop. But both FBI and AIPAC 'sources' speaking off the record have said they expect that Rosen and Weissman will also be arrested and charged with having passed on the information, which they are alleged to have known was classified 'top secret,' to Israel. They are not suspected of having actually received or passed on secret documents to Israel—only information that Franklin had gleaned from reading such documents.

According to the complaint filed by the FBI against Franklin, the information he is supposed to have conveyed to the two AIPAC executives concerned possible terrorist threats to U.S. soldiers in Iraq from groups and individuals supported by Iran.

Why is any of this important to the American Jewish community? Polls taken by the Anti—Defamation League have shown that the prejudice held most widely by their fellow Americans against American Jews is the belief that they are more loyal to the state of Israel than to the United States. According to the ADL polls, fully half of the American public suspects their Jewish compatriots of 'dual loyalty.' One striking example of the practical consequences of this prejudice is the almost incredibly harsh sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole that was imposed on Jonathan Pollard for spying for Israel in 1985.  Pollard has already served twenty years of his sentence, with no end to it except his death in sight. By contrast, all individuals convicted of spying for other countries allied to, or even on reasonably cordial terms with, the United States have received sentences of less than ten years.

The investigation of AIPAC, if it leads to the conviction of AIPAC executives, is certain to greatly increase this prejudice and give it new respectability among America's elite classes—government officials, journalists, academics, think—tankers and all other decision—makers and opinion—makers.   AIPAC is widely perceived in the Washington 'beltway' as a representative of the American Jewish community as a whole.

AIPAC is sponsored and supported in one way or another by nearly all of the organizations represented on the board of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group that speaks for the American Jewish community to the U.S. government.  It is not a marginal group that has been denounced by all mainstream American Jewish organizations and leaders, like the Jewish Defense League, whose leader, Irving Rubin, was arrested for alleged conspiracy two years ago, and who then died under suspicious circumstances in prison. Nor are AIPAC's leaders like Jonathan Pollard, a low—ranking government employee without connections to the rich and powerful, who acted entirely on his own to provide Israel with intelligence about terrorist organizations and hostile Arab regimes. 

By contrast, AIPAC and its executives are perceived to be at the center of the American Jewish 'establishment,' the 'organized American Jewish community.' If AIPAC is discredited in the eyes of the American public as a nest of spies, then the loyalty of every single American Jew will be put in question.

But it is Israel itself that is probably the FBI investigators' primary target. The anonymous FBI 'sources,' speaking to LA Times and New York Times reporters, have claimed that Israel runs a larger espionage operation in, and against, the United States than any other foreign country except Russia. This allegation has been vehemently denied by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who says that Israel has not spied on the United States since the Pollard affair in 1985.

What will the AIPAC case mean for Israel? AIPAC has been the main advocate for Israel's interests with Congress and successive administrations in Washington for more than a generation. If Israel's principal American advocates in Washington are branded as Israeli spies, American friendship with Israel will be severely strained. And it is by no means certain that Israel and her six million Jewish inhabitants, surrounded by far more numerous enemies baying for their blood, can survive without at least one powerful friend somewhere in the world.

And what does the FBI's AIPAC probe mean for the United States? Clearly the four year investigation of one of America's closest allies in the war on terrorism and its American supporters must have consumed millions of dollars, and hundreds of hours of time put in by highly trained agents, that could have been better spent in fighting the war on terrorism.

Does America have anything to lose as a result of the AIPAC investigation? Potentially, a great deal. Far from being sympathetic to the terrorists who have attacked American civilians and soldiers over the past four years and have killed over four thousand Americans, Israel has provided the United States with massive assistance in fighting them. This assistance has included a constant flow of information gathered by Israeli intelligence to the United States, the training of American soldiers by their very experienced Israeli counterparts in counter—terrorist and counterinsurgency tactics, and logistical support for our troops in Iraq.

The United States military, according to many well—informed sources, quietly and without fanfare maintains supply bases in Israel for the war in Iraq and to meet other possible security threats in the region. American and Israeli forces have conducted joint maneuvers along Israel's Mediterranean coast.  Israeli engineers have developed much of the American military's cutting—edge weapons technology in recent years. A highly publicized show trial focused on supposed espionage by a loyal and very helpful ally of the United States would put this military and intelligence cooperation, and with it the national security of the United States, in the gravest jeopardy.

Are the accusations against Larry Franklin and the two AIPAC officials true? Does AIPAC engage in espionage against the United States? Does Israel? What are the motives behind the investigation? Who is spearheading it?

John Landau contributed research and reporting to this article.

The extremely comfortable and secure American Jewish community is totally unaware of the deadly peril that is even now threatening the security that it takes for granted. But in the near future, this peril will become too visible and immediate to be ignored any longer. I speak of the FBI's ongoing investigation of the American—Israel Public Affairs Committee —AIPAC—— which has been ongoing for four years now and is very far from being over.

A low—ranking civilian employee of the Pentagon, Larry Franklin, was formally charged on May 4 with having given classified information two years previously to two high—ranking executives of AIPAC who were not legally entitled to the information.  The two former AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen, the Director of research about foreign policy issues for AIPAC, and Keith Weissman, the deputy director of policy research with responsibility for policy towards Iran, were dismissed from their positions in January as the investigation of them gathered momentum. Four even more senior AIPAC executives, Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Research Director Rafael Danziger and Communications Director Renee Rothstein, were grilled by a grand jury in December 2004. AIPAC's offices have been raided twice by the FBI, and computer discs belonging to the two suspects have been seized.

No one is sure exactly when the other shoe will drop. But both FBI and AIPAC 'sources' speaking off the record have said they expect that Rosen and Weissman will also be arrested and charged with having passed on the information, which they are alleged to have known was classified 'top secret,' to Israel. They are not suspected of having actually received or passed on secret documents to Israel—only information that Franklin had gleaned from reading such documents.

According to the complaint filed by the FBI against Franklin, the information he is supposed to have conveyed to the two AIPAC executives concerned possible terrorist threats to U.S. soldiers in Iraq from groups and individuals supported by Iran.

Why is any of this important to the American Jewish community? Polls taken by the Anti—Defamation League have shown that the prejudice held most widely by their fellow Americans against American Jews is the belief that they are more loyal to the state of Israel than to the United States. According to the ADL polls, fully half of the American public suspects their Jewish compatriots of 'dual loyalty.' One striking example of the practical consequences of this prejudice is the almost incredibly harsh sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole that was imposed on Jonathan Pollard for spying for Israel in 1985.  Pollard has already served twenty years of his sentence, with no end to it except his death in sight. By contrast, all individuals convicted of spying for other countries allied to, or even on reasonably cordial terms with, the United States have received sentences of less than ten years.

The investigation of AIPAC, if it leads to the conviction of AIPAC executives, is certain to greatly increase this prejudice and give it new respectability among America's elite classes—government officials, journalists, academics, think—tankers and all other decision—makers and opinion—makers.   AIPAC is widely perceived in the Washington 'beltway' as a representative of the American Jewish community as a whole.

AIPAC is sponsored and supported in one way or another by nearly all of the organizations represented on the board of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the umbrella group that speaks for the American Jewish community to the U.S. government.  It is not a marginal group that has been denounced by all mainstream American Jewish organizations and leaders, like the Jewish Defense League, whose leader, Irving Rubin, was arrested for alleged conspiracy two years ago, and who then died under suspicious circumstances in prison. Nor are AIPAC's leaders like Jonathan Pollard, a low—ranking government employee without connections to the rich and powerful, who acted entirely on his own to provide Israel with intelligence about terrorist organizations and hostile Arab regimes. 

By contrast, AIPAC and its executives are perceived to be at the center of the American Jewish 'establishment,' the 'organized American Jewish community.' If AIPAC is discredited in the eyes of the American public as a nest of spies, then the loyalty of every single American Jew will be put in question.

But it is Israel itself that is probably the FBI investigators' primary target. The anonymous FBI 'sources,' speaking to LA Times and New York Times reporters, have claimed that Israel runs a larger espionage operation in, and against, the United States than any other foreign country except Russia. This allegation has been vehemently denied by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who says that Israel has not spied on the United States since the Pollard affair in 1985.

What will the AIPAC case mean for Israel? AIPAC has been the main advocate for Israel's interests with Congress and successive administrations in Washington for more than a generation. If Israel's principal American advocates in Washington are branded as Israeli spies, American friendship with Israel will be severely strained. And it is by no means certain that Israel and her six million Jewish inhabitants, surrounded by far more numerous enemies baying for their blood, can survive without at least one powerful friend somewhere in the world.

And what does the FBI's AIPAC probe mean for the United States? Clearly the four year investigation of one of America's closest allies in the war on terrorism and its American supporters must have consumed millions of dollars, and hundreds of hours of time put in by highly trained agents, that could have been better spent in fighting the war on terrorism.

Does America have anything to lose as a result of the AIPAC investigation? Potentially, a great deal. Far from being sympathetic to the terrorists who have attacked American civilians and soldiers over the past four years and have killed over four thousand Americans, Israel has provided the United States with massive assistance in fighting them. This assistance has included a constant flow of information gathered by Israeli intelligence to the United States, the training of American soldiers by their very experienced Israeli counterparts in counter—terrorist and counterinsurgency tactics, and logistical support for our troops in Iraq.

The United States military, according to many well—informed sources, quietly and without fanfare maintains supply bases in Israel for the war in Iraq and to meet other possible security threats in the region. American and Israeli forces have conducted joint maneuvers along Israel's Mediterranean coast.  Israeli engineers have developed much of the American military's cutting—edge weapons technology in recent years. A highly publicized show trial focused on supposed espionage by a loyal and very helpful ally of the United States would put this military and intelligence cooperation, and with it the national security of the United States, in the gravest jeopardy.

Are the accusations against Larry Franklin and the two AIPAC officials true? Does AIPAC engage in espionage against the United States? Does Israel? What are the motives behind the investigation? Who is spearheading it?

John Landau contributed research and reporting to this article.