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AIPAC Comes Under Scrutiny as FBI Intensifies Israeli Espionage Probe

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2004

It has been widely reported that the FBI is investigating the possibility that Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst , passed classified material to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who then handed the information over to the Israeli Embassy in Washington.  

The Economist (Sept, 4, 2004) reports that, “The unfolding saga surrounding Lawrence Franklin is ... that he gave classified, documents on Iran to Israel. But there is growing speculation that the FBI investigation of Mr. Franklin is the tip of an iceberg. The reported anger of federal agents at the leaking of the story indicates a bigger probe that may have been under way for at least a year. ... Mr. Franklin allegedly passed draft documents on American policy towards Iran to AIPAC, a hugely influential lobbying group in Washington, which in turn allegedly passed them to Israeli officials. Both AIPAC and Israel have denied any wrongdoing. The Israelis maintain that they have been ultra-careful since the huge embarrassment in 1985 when Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst, was caught spying for Israel. ... The scandal is difficult for Israel, which wields considerable influence on American foreign policy ... It is hard to put a positive spin on a spy in the Pentagon, even if he is talking to your friends.”  

Writing in The American Conservative (Oct. 11, 2004), Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, notes that, “The Franklin case stems from investigations of Israeli diplomats that developed from the prosecution of spy Jonathan Pollard. Pollard’s conviction in 1987 provided little in the way of a resolution; the Israeli government never cooperated in the inquiry and did not provide an inventory of the documents that Pollard had stolen. The FBI also knew that a second spy, believed to be in the Pentagon, passed Pollard classified file numbers that were desired by the Israelis. Hoping to catch the second spy, the FBI continued its probe. Two years ago, the investigators began to suspect that highly sensitive National Security Agency documents were winding up in Israeli hands, possibly with the connivance of AIPAC. In the judgment of counterintelligence specialists, the Israelis did not wish a repeat of the Pollard case, so they decided against recruiting another U.S. official and turning him into a salaried spy. Instead, they opted to establish relationships with friends in the government who would voluntarily provide information. ... AIPAC would have served as a useful intermediary or ‘cut out’ in such an arrangement, limiting the contact between the American government official and the Israeli embassy.”  

The entire affair, writes Ori Nir in The Forward (Sept. 3, 2004) “has cast light on the fine line that AIPAC walks between advocating a strong American-Israeli alliance and acting as the representative of a foreign government . Both activities are legal , but serving a foreign government requires registration with the Department of Justice and entails severe legal restrictions, not applied to pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC. AIPAC’s defenders ... insist that no evidence has emerged suggesting that AIPAC either violated American espionage laws or even crossed the line requiring it to register as a representative of a foreign agent. AIPAC enjoys the support, admiration and even awe of Jewish organizational officials, many of whom raced to AIPAC’s defense. Still, some pro-Israel activists in Washington are privately suggesting that the current scandal provides AIPAC with a chance, in the words of one communal official, for ‘some soul-searching and reappraisal’ regarding its general modes of operation.”  

According to Nir, “some critics in the Jewish community say that AIPAC’s leadership is too closely identified with Israel’s ruling Likud Party ... Critics also have accused AIPAC of adopting an agenda that too closely mirrors the hawkish agenda of neo-conservatives in the Bush administration, thereby fueling conspiratorial notions that President Bush was duped into invading Iraq in order to advance Israeli interests. Now, critics say, with its increasing focus on Iran, AIPAC risks fueling the claims of those who would accuse the Jewish community of working with Washington neoconservatives to convince the White House to pursue regime change in Tehran.”  
Several Jewish communal leaders complain that AIPAC officials have not done enough to maintain a clear wall between the lobbying group and Israel. AIPAC officials have left the organization to serve in the Israeli government. Lenny Ben-David, formerly known as Leonard Davis, for example, worked at AIPAC for 25 years — first in Washington, then in Jerusalem — before he was tapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1998 to be the deputy chief of mission in Israel’s Washington embassy.  

Many Jewish leaders have risen to AIPAC’s support. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says: “The leaks are more serious than the charges because once you look at the charges, they don’t amount to anything. When things quiet down, we would be calling for hearings and investigations into the leaks.”  

AIPAC and some of its supporters have suggested that the FBI and the CIA are pursuing a vendetta against Israel, the Pentagon, neoconservatives, and possibly Jews in general. The neoconservatives have lashed out in a memo drafted by Michael Rubin, of the American Enterprise Institute, alleging that the probe is motivated by anti-Semitism.  

The Forward (Sept. 10, 2004) reports that, “Several Jewish activists, speaking on conditions of anonymity, cautioned against what they described as a defiant reaction on the part of some communal leaders who raised the specter of anti-Semitic conspiracy. ‘If every single time we get into trouble we cry anti-Semitism, no one is going to believe us when we confront the real problem of anti-Semitism,’ a senior official of a Jewish organization said. Another organizational official said: ‘It’s ridiculous to react like that before you know what happened there. In the absence of accurate knowledge, any comment is just silly.’”  

The fallout for AIPAC, writes Doug Bloomfield in Washington Jewish Week (Sept. 9, 2004) could be serious: “There have been persistent charges ... that AIPAC directs the network of pro-Israel political action committees (PAC), campaign finance bundlers and individual contributors. AIPAC has successfully fought such accusations all the way to the Supreme Court to avoid being designated a PAC because of the impact that would have on the way it operates and raises money. The current probe could renew calls from the organization’s critics for new investigations by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and demands to know what has been uncovered by the FBI. ... There will be questions about AIPAC’s operations and internal accountability. A penchant for hubris and institutional mindset of secrecy — reflected in its hostile and contentious relationship with the media — add to the suspicion that there is something to hide. ...”

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