Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Jerusalem Post | Israel pushes cover-up of AIPAC/AEI/Franklin/Ciralsky Spy Case

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World: "Mar. 27, 2005 2:14 | Updated Mar. 27, 2005 6:39
AIPAC officials appear before grand jury
By JTA

WASHINGTON
Top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have appeared before a grand jury and two senior staffers have been placed on paid leave in the latest developments in the federal investigation of the pro-Israel lobby for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the case.

At the same time, the Pentagon staffer at the center of the allegations, accused of espionage by the FBI and then pressured into an alleged FBI "sting" against AIPAC, has been quietly rehired by the Pentagon, over the FBI's objections.

Sources close to the investigation, while confirming these details, say they do not foresee an imminent resolution before AIPAC's annual policy conference that begins May 22, squelching rumors swirling around Washington in recent weeks.

The investigation came to light last August with an FBI raid of AIPAC's Washington headquarters. Files belonging to two senior staffers, policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, were confiscated.

News of the raid was leaked to CBS News as it was happening, igniting worldwide media coverage and speculation about a "nest of Pollardites," a reference to an American Jewish naval analyst who was convicted in 1986 of spying for Israel.

Allegations soon surfaced that Rosen and Weissman had accepted classified information on Iran in 2003 from Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst for the Pentagon.

The FBI launched another raid on AIPAC headquarters in December 2004.

They also issued grand jury subpoenas to four top staffers: Howard Kohr, the group's executive director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; Renee Rothstein, the communications director; and Raphael Danziger, the research director.

In late January or early February, sources say, at least several of the four testified before the grand jury. AIPAC would not comment on the proceedings of the grand jury, which was convened by US Attorney Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia.

Rosen and Weissman were placed on paid leave in January. At around the same time, Franklin returned to the Pentagon in a "non-sensitive position," sources said.

Franklin, who had been threatened with an espionage indictment by FBI assistant director David Szady's counterintelligence division, was pressured into acting as an FBI informant against AIPAC, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI's tactics against Franklin. In a previous case involving a CIA staff attorney, Szady had been publicly accused of targeting Jews with security investigations.

"I think that shows that Franklin was never any sort of espionage threat," a source close to Franklin said. Franklin has been described as over-eager but intensely patriotic.

"Franklin was obviously more of a victim than a threat," said one source intimately familiar with the government's case against Franklin.

Szady told a contact that Franklin's rehiring by the Pentagon was not "our call," and was done over the FBI's strenuous objections. An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the rehiring.

Franklin has not been called to testify before the grand jury, nor have there been significant discussions or even contacts about a plea or a resolution, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department's case against Franklin.

"Nothing is happening, and Franklin is back at work," said a source familiar with the FBI's investigation.

Rumors have swirled that something was about to happen in the case before AIPAC's policy conference, but key sources familiar with the case say no resolution of the case "seems possible" by then – barring an unforeseen development.

Scheduled out-of-state travel for key individuals could make settlement negotiations difficult, sources say. Multiple sources associated with Franklin and the prosecution's cases confirm that genuine settlement discussions are not yet even under way.

AIPAC also was clamping down on any speculation about the latest developments.

Earlier statements from the organization, repeated as recently as December, asserted that "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." Under a new gag order by defense attorneys, AIPAC spokesmen have declined to repeat the original statement. The standard reply now is, "It is not appropriate for AIPAC to comment on any issue related to any on-going investigation." An AIPAC spokesman added that the statement should "not be construed as a no-comment." The FBI and prosecutor McNulty refused comment.

Senior FBI officials stung by criticism of Szady are trying to understand exactly what conduct the agency is investigating. Two FBI agents recently contacted a senior Jewish communal leader, not to extract potential evidence but "simply to understand how AIPAC works," according to one participant.The leader explained how the American Jewish community relates to its ancestral homeland. The conversation was characterized by the participant as "extremely congenial." It remains to be seen whether Rosen, Weissman and AIPAC will emerge from the investigation intact.

The entire Jewish community is watching closely. As one Jewish leader who asked not to be identified said, "If AIPAC is targeted in this fashion, it is not good news for the rest of us. AIPAC would be only the beginning.""