The first reaction from Washington insiders to news reports that the FBI was hot on the trail of an Israeli spy inside the Pentagon was to wonder what a spy could possibly tell the Israelis they don’t already know.
Since this administration, most of the Congress and its staff, and much of the media are all riddled with lobbyists for and friends, sympathizers and outright supporters of Israel, a spy for Tel Aviv would be rather like the Maytag repairman.
Who would bother to call him?
Nevertheless, the news stories about what turns out to have been an FBI counter-intelligence investigation that started two years ago have not gone away. Indeed, the more recent reports lend more credibility to the Israeli spy theory than the earlier ones.
Lawrence Franklin, the Pentagon analyst named as the subject of the investigation, works in the same office as his supervisor, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, who is himself part of the now-notorious “cabal” of neoconservative policy makers who promoted war with Iraq from at least the days after the 9/11 attacks.
Along with Mr. Feith’s own boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, former Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle and several others in the administration, they are all part of a group that has been extremely close to the Israeli government and especially to Ariel Sharon’s Likud government. It is now clear that the investigation is interested in all of the above.
And they are not alone. Yet another figure surfacing in the case is Michael Ledeen, also a prominent neoconservative, who was involved in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, when he served as the conduit between the Israeli and U.S. governments in kicking off the whole covert business. Now, Mr. Ledeen is reported to have held meetings with Mr. Franklin and his old buddy from Iran-Contra days, Iranian Manucher Ghorbanifar.
It all gets curiouser and curiouser.
Mr. Ledeen himself denies that the smoke pouring out of the Israeli spy case means there’s any fire. “They have no case,” he insists . “If they have a case, why hasn’t anybody been arrested or charged?” [Spy Case Renews Debate Over Pro-Israel Lobby's Ties to PentagonBy JAMES RISEN and DAVID JOHNSTON NYT September 6, 2004 ]
Well, there might be a number of reasons, ranging from the obvious (the investigation is far from complete) to the speculative (political interference by some very powerful people inside the administration).
What people exactly? Well, some of the very ones at whom the FBI is looking.
The Washington Post reports that FBI investigators “have specifically asked about a group of neoconservatives involved in defense issues,” including Mr. Feith, Mr. Wolfowitz and “Iraq and Iran specialist Harold Rhode and others at the Pentagon.” They also asked about Mr. Perle and Vice President Cheney’s assistant David Wurmser, also a neoconservative hawk. As Sherlock Holmes would say, the game’s afoot.[ Defense, Cheney Iran Specialists Questioned,Washington Post, Sep 3, 2004]
But the reaction to the whole story from both the subjects of the investigation and their buddies in the neoconservative media has been to deny everything and insinuate “anti-Semitism.”
“Friends and associates of the civilian group at the Pentagon,”the New York Times reports, “believe they are under assault by adversaries from within the intelligence community who have opposed them since before the war in Iraq.”
The anti-Semitism card, always a favorite with neoconservatives, was played almost immediately by neocon David Frum, the ex-speechwriter for President Bush who gave the world the phrase “axis of evil” and co-author of a recent book with Mr. Perle.
Until then no one had mentioned anything about Jews.
What Mr. Frum and the “friends and associates” of the usual suspects in the Pentagon are saying seems to be virtually identical — as Mr. Frum put it, it’s all those anti-Semites and “figures inside the US government who want to see Israel treated, not as the ally it is by law and treaty …but as the source of all the trouble in the Middle East and the world.”
Well, maybe — though it might be helpful if Mr. Frum or somebody could actually name someone inside the government who’s peddling “Jewish conspiracy” theories or anti-Israeli policies.
So far no one has. Their first and apparently only concern is not to examine whether American espionage laws have been broken and national security jeopardized by spies working for a foreign power, but to deny, exonerate and ignore the whole story, lobbing their usual smears along the way.
But the shoes that fit are leaving footprints that lead straight back to the Wolfowitz-Feith-Ledeen-Perle-Frum axis inside the Pentagon and perhaps to a massive foreign espionage operation on the scale of the Alger Hiss case of the 1940s.
It would not be surprising if some very powerful people don’t want those footprints followed too far.