Monday, August 30, 2004

AIPAC/Franklin Spy Scandal - Worse than Pollard

The Daily Star - Politics - New spy scandal comes as major blow to Israel, AIPAC: "New spy scandal comes as major blow to Israel, AIPAC
Serious implications can lie ahead for US-Jewish ties

By Hussein Ibish
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, August 31, 2004
WASHINGTON: Washington was rocked late last week by allegations that a Pentagon policy analyst on Iran, Laurence A. Franklin, had passed classified information to Israel through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby group in the US. He is also said to have had extensive meetings with Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran's nuclear weapons program.

While both AIPAC and the Israeli government have issued categorical denials of any espionage activities, most observers say that law enforcement officials would not leak the accusations if they did not have the evidence to prove their charges. Franklin is said to have provided the Israelis with a secret presidential directive on Iran related to its ongoing nuclear program.

The New York Times reported on Aug. 30 that, "news reports about the inquiry compromised important investigative steps, like the effort to follow the trail back to the Israelis."

The leak seems less designed to pressure Franklin, who is said to have been cooperating with federal agents for several weeks, than to stymie the investigation, which is said to be far broader than the allegations made public at this stage. If the allegations are true, they could have serious implications for both US-Israel relations and for the reputation of AIPAC, which is regarded as one of the most powerful and effective lobby groups in the US.

Journalist Steven Green, a long-time observer of Israeli espionage efforts in the United States, told the Daily Star that he had spoken extensively with individuals involved in the investigation, and that "I know from personal experience that its scope is much wider in terms of the targets than we have been told so far."

He said that more senior officials than Franklin "should be extremely nervous about this." Green speculated that the scandal might involve exchanges of information between "sophisticates in the intelligence communities of Israel and Iran at the expense of the United States. ... There is a possible quid-pro-quo involved in Iran receiving US intelligence codes through the neocon favorite Ahmed Chalabi and the Israelis getting our latest thinking on Iran's nuclear program. ...You can see how that would benefit both parties, but not the US."

USA Today reported Monday that law enforcement officials said "there may be some crossover" between the Franklin and Chalabi investigations.

The scandal has already drawn comparisons to the Jonathan Pollard affair, in which a Jewish American was caught spying for Israel in 1985. Israeli officials have said that after the Pollard incident, the country made a firm decision not to spy on the United States in order to preserve its relationship with Washington. Several newspapers have quoted unnamed Jewish American leaders as expressing grave concern about the impact this brewing scandal could have on the reputation of AIPAC and Israel, but the Israeli daily Haaretz described one as being "positively relieved" that Franklin is not Jewish.

"The insinuation that AIPAC, an American Jewish lobby, is engaged in espionage is in some ways worse than Pollard, who as a single individual could be described as off-balance," Yossi Alpher, a former Mossad official told the Washington Post.

These are not the first allegations of Israeli spying in the United States involving AIPAC, but none have led to indictments, which are expected in this case. In an article in the online journal Counterpunch in February, Green detailed a 1979 investigation of Stephen Bryen, then a staff member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Bryen had been overheard in the Madison Hotel Coffee Shop, offering classified documents to an official of the Israeli Embassy in the presence of the director of AIPAC," Green wrote. In spite of strong evidence, the investigation was dropped but Bryen was asked to resign from his Senate committee post. Bryen has close ties to Richard Perle and other key neocons in and around the Bush administration.

Jason Vest, a journalist who has written extensively on US military and intelligence issues, told the Daily Star: "I would describe the reaction to this scandal in the intelligence community as one of anger and of contempt, but not of surprise. No one believes, at all, that Israel does not spy on the United States, and no has believed that since Pollard. ... Of course."

He added that "this could be an 'off-the-books' operation - like the Iran-Contra affair for example - a project without official status but that was run at a senior level. Every country's intelligence operations involve such unofficial activities, which this very well may be." The allegations are also likely to fuel questions about possible Israeli influence on US policy toward Iran and, more significantly perhaps, the build-up to the invasion of Iraq last year. Franklin, who was once stationed in Israel, works under Deputy Under Secretary William J. Luti and, ultimately, Undersecretary for Policy Douglas J. Feith.

Neoconservative hawks, Feith and Luti oversaw the work of the Office of Special Plans and the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, two offices set up in the Pentagon which sought

to provide alternative analysis of intelligence on the former Iraqi regime's allegedly weapons of mass destruction programs and links to the Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

The OSP is said to have had extensive links to a similar ad hoc intelligence analysis unit set up in the office of Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon, both dedicated to countering assessments by official US and Israel intelligence agencies that cast doubt on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities and ties to Al-Qaeda.

The investigation of Franklin appears to have been sparked by unauthorized meetings he helped set up between US officials and Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms-dealer who played a central role in the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s in which the US supplied Iran with missiles through Israel. Franklin and his superiors are understood to have helped arrange for the unauthorized meetings with Ghorbanifar, according to some analysts in order to sabotage an agreement between the White House and Iran to exchange Mujahideen-e Khalq prisoners captured by the US in Iraq for Al-Qaeda suspects in Iranian custody. Ghorbanifar allegedly provided highly suspect allegations that Iraq had transferred nuclear materiel to Iran.

Vest, whose work has covered some of Franklin's activities in the past, said "Franklin is not an unfamiliar figure to those of us who have been covering these issues, yet he is still somewhat enigmatic. He is known to be a career intelligence analyst who apparently specializes in Iran, but it is very difficult to find anyone in intelligence and policy circles who can describe the highlights of his career. The only thing for which he is well-known is that he was instrumental in setting up these bizarre meetings with Ghorbanifar."

James Bamford, a leading observer of the US intelligence community and author of the recent book "Pretext for War," said, "These allegations don't surprise me at all, since Franklin works for Feith, who is essentially a pro-Israel extremist. It certainly should encourage another look at the influence of Israel in the motivations for the Iraq war. Sharon was pushing the US very hard to go to war in August, 2002." Bamford added: "The neoconservatives surround themselves with people who are fanatically pro-Israel, and maybe they were too over confident, or felt that no one would notice or no one would care, or that they were running things so it wouldn't matter, but luckily the FBI is independent of the Pentagon." Bamford said it is significant that while the FBI had informed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, it had not told Feith about the investigation.

Some observers warned that, while it is important for all the facts to be uncovered in this case, there is the danger that if the scandal develops further it could lead to unfair accusations of "dual loyalty" against Jewish Americans. Vest said that, in the past, his work on pro-Israel neoconservatives had never raised issues of dual loyalty, although his neocon critics falsely alleged this.

Ziad Asali, President of the American Task Force on Palestine, also warned that, "Arab and Muslim Americans are often unfairly accused of disloyalty because of their ethnic and religious affiliations, and it has got to stop. The last thing we need is for Jewish Americans to now face a similar stigma. ... On the other hand," Asali said,adding that "these allegations against AIPAC serve as an object lesson for all ethnic American organizations about the need to be absolutely scrupulous in our conduct.""


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