Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Washington Jewish Week: AIPAC Shaken while Spies Prepare Their Cover

Washington Jewish Week Online Edition: "

Groups back AIPAC; FBI setup alleged
by Matthew Berger
and Ron Kampeas

Jewish Telegraphic Agency

A revived federal investigation of Washington's top pro-Israel lobby has barely shaken Jewish confidence in the group, but some organizations worry about the road ahead.

FBI investigators searched the Washington headquarters of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last week, the second time in five months.

Meanwhile, agents subpoenaed four top officials to appear before a grand jury in Virginia later this month.

The four are executive director Howard Kohr, managing director Richard Fishman, communications director Renee Rothstein and research director Raphael Danziger

A new report also suggests two of the probe's alleged targets -- Steve Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, an Iran specialist -- may have been set up by the FBI.

The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that the FBI directed a Pentagon official to give the two AIPAC staffers intelligence about alleged dangers facing Israeli agents in northern Iraq, which Rosen and Weissman later allegedly shared with Israeli officials in Washington.

AIPAC continues to defend its integrity.

"Neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified," a statement from the group said.

AIPAC's support on Capitol Hill and among U.S. Jews has been steadfast since the controversy first erupted in August.

Hannah Rosenthal, executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella group for Jewish community relations councils, said JCRCs around the country have not received calls about the latest developments -- in contrast with August, when JCPA conference calls on the matter drew hundreds of participants.

Still, Jewish leaders voiced anxiety at a seemingly long haul facing AIPAC.

"A lot of people thought, when nobody followed up, that they were going to just let it die," Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said of the FBI probe. "But you know when people bring charges to a grand jury, chances are this will be the tip of the iceberg."

A former top Justice Department official suggested that use of a grand jury meant the investigation had turned adversarial.

"You can't automatically sound the alarm, but more often than not it means that they don't believe" that those under investigation have been "totally cooperative," said Bill Mateja, a former U.S. attorney in Texas who until last month was the top federal corporate fraud official.

Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former prosecutor, noted that Weissman and Rosen were not among those subpoenaed -- targets of a probe almost never appear before a grand jury in the early stages of the investigation.

"Usually the people who are brought in at the initial stages are designated as witnesses, rather than targets," she said. "You work from the outside in. The targets are the people in the middle of the bull's-eye."

Since an August search of AIPAC'S offices by investigators -- who seized computer files and interviewed Rosen and Weissman -- insiders say the probe has seemed be moving away from Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin and toward Rosen and AIPAC.

Making things even murkier was The Jerusalem Post account, which alleged that Franklin, already under FBI investigation, cooperated with authorities and, at the FBI's request, detailed for Rosen and Weissman presumed threats to Israelis in northern Iraq.

The AIPAC staffers allegedly passed that information on to Israel.

But sources close to those investigated insisted that whatever information Rosen and Weissman passed on, it did not involve an exchange of documents, classified or otherwise.

Even if Weissman and Rosen passed on information they knew to be classified, it is not clear that it was illegal.

Two former federal prosecutors said that government officials are obliged not to disclose classified information, but the rules for civilians are not as clear.

If an outsider bribes or otherwise induces a government official to give him classified information, he could be guilty of conspiracy, one of the former prosecutors said. According to The Jerusalem Post account, that was not the case.

Some former AIPAC employees suggested the group could be under investigation for acting as an agent for Israel. Under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a foreign agent is any individual or group that works under the direction of a foreign government.

But AIPAC maintains that it represents U.S. supporters of the Jewish state, not Israel itself.

Some Jewish leaders suggested that AIPAC -- with its reputation for caution -- was the least likely group to walk into a trap.

"They have always been scrupulous about the rules and not stepping over the line," said Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Reform movement's Religious Action Center.

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) suggested the FBI was creating a "moral dilemma" for AIPAC officials, trying to entrap them to tell Israelis about information that could save innocent lives.

Wexler wrote President George W. Bush last Friday, asking him to investigate media leaks and other ethical lapses in the AIPAC probe.

Jewish organizational leaders say their biggest concern now is how negative media attention on AIPAC will affect broader perceptions of American Jews and Israel advocacy.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the community will stand together, albeit with some anxiety.

"People get impatient," Foxman said, noting ADL was subject to its own investigation a decade ago by the Justice Department. "Some will be less confident in standing together."

But he noted that both Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke to AIPAC during the two years the FBI investigation has presumably been going on, and that AIPAC officials met Rice at the White House late last month.

AIPAC was eager to underscore such successes, saying that membership and fund raising have only increased since the case first made headlines in August.

"On Capitol Hill in the last three months alone, several measures that strengthen America's policies in the Middle East have been passed with overwhelming support," AIPAC said in a statement.

Still, the grand jury deliberations will preoccupy key AIPAC staffers at a critical time for Israel, when its government is seeking U.S. support for renewed talks with the Palestinians and ahead of a planned, controversial withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

If the grand jury probe leads to indictments and convictions of senior AIPAC staffers, the group could suffer damage, a top Washington lobby watcher said.

What ensues depends on whether those at the center of any emerging scandal acted as rogues or were part of a pattern, said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics.

"AIPAC is a powerful lobbying group, it does have a certain amount of capital, but that can be used up quickly in a really damaging situation," Noble said.

Steve Pomerantz, a former FBI investigator who consults for Jewish groups, said the subpoenas suggest that FBI investigators know what they're looking for.

"This is not a fishing expedition," he said. "It's clear to me they have some specific information which is leading them in a specific direction.""


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