Last summer a flurry of press reports disclosed the FBI’s investigation of a man named Larry Franklin who works in the Defense Department under neo-conservative policy chief Douglas Feith. The supposed reason for the investigation was espionage for Israel. The neo-con buddies of Mr. Feith and Israel sounded off about the anti-Semitism that was obviously driving the witchhunt, and the reports soon faded from the press.
Now they’re back, at least partly, but the focus of the probe no longer seems to be Mr. Franklin. The focus is AIPAC—the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the principal arm of what is generally (but not too loudly) called the “Israeli lobby.” On Dec. 1, the FBI raided the Washington offices of AIPAC and subpoenaed four of its top officials.
This time almost no one paid any attention except the Jewish Timesand the Forward, which have carried some very good accounts of what’s going on. What is going on is important for several reasons, in addition to the usual interest in spy stories. Not the least of what’s interesting is that Israel and its friends are supposed to be allies of the United States, not spies on it.
Defenders of Israel will say (as they said back when Jonathan Pollard was nabbed for espionage for Israel in the 1980s) that friendly countries spy on their friends all the time. Well, maybe they do, but I’ve never heard of it in recent decades.
I have never heard that the United States spied on Great Britain or France or Germany since the end of World War II or those countries on us, nor has there ever been any espionage case in this or other countries involving Americans spying on them or their spying on us. With the Pollard case, you can’t say that about Israel.
As for AIPAC, the original interest in the case was that Mr. Franklin was supposed to have met with AIPAC officials and an Israeli intelligence agent and handed over classified documents. What that might mean is that Mr. Franklin was not acting for himself but for his boss, Mr. Feith, or Mr. Feith’s boss, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, both of whom are known to be very pro-Israeli. And what that might mean is that the whole neo-conservative cadre in the Pentagon is and has been all along an Israeli espionage operation.
So far nobody has suggested that openly, and AIPAC itself insists it’s innocent. After the Dec. 1 raid, it released a public statement that read in part, “Neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law. We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities. We believe any court of law or grand jury will conclude that AIPAC employees have always acted legally, properly and appropriately.”
That’s swell, but AIPAC can’t possibly say such a thing truthfully. How can its leaders know that no “member of our staff” has broken the law? The very issuance of a statement impossible to substantiate is suspicious.
More recently, the Forward reported that Mr. Franklin may have been acting as a provocateur for the FBI in a sting operation, that the target was never (or is no longer) Mr. Franklin but AIPAC itself—as “an unregistered agent of a foreign power,” namely Israel.
AIPAC, it’s hardly a secret, zealously and faithfully defends Israel, but it does so ostensibly as the representative of American supporters of Israel, not as the agent of Israel itself. If in fact it is taking orders from the Israeli government, it has a problem. To act as an agent of a foreign power without registering as such with the government just happens to be a very serious federal felony in this country. Many foreign agents avoid such legal problems by registering. AIPAC doesn’t.
As the Forward commented last week,
“registering as a foreign agent would require AIPAC to provide significantly more detailed information about its aims and activities to the government—thereby robbing the group of a key weapon, the ability to operate behind the scenes.”
But, also according to the Forward account, Mr. Franklin, as part of the FBI’s sting operation,
“was involved in initiating contact with some neoconservative defense experts, several of them Jewish, who supported Ahmad Chalabi, president of the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi had deep ties to Bush administration officials.” [See here or here]
There’s a grand jury investigation of AIPAC going on right now, yet despite what has been a long-term investigation by the federal government, President Bush addressed an AIPAC meeting last May, and Condoleeza Rice addressed an AIPAC affiliate in Florida in October. That might suggest there’s no fire behind the FBI’s smoke.
Then again, it might also mean this administration is simply determined to smother the fire before its flames burn up some of its key officials.