AIPAC trial could expose ways information is gathered in D.C.
By Ron Kampeas
11/03/05 "JTA" -- -- WASHINGTON — It’s a classified leak case that
could rattle U.S. foreign policy and fundamentally alter how
Washington does business. But while the world watches the implosion
in the vice president’s office, this case is proceeding quietly
across the Potomac.
Motions filed in recent weeks in the case against two former senior
staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee have gone
virtually unnoticed in the mainstream media, but their implications
could be as explosive as the perjury indictment last week against
Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and a principal
architect of the Iraq war.
Defense motions suggest that the trial, now scheduled to start April
25, could expose the extent of covert U.S. surveillance of an ally,
Israel, and how Israeli diplomats gather information about the
It also could shed light on how journalists use intermediaries like
AIPAC to gather information, on how U.S. officials selectively leak
information to manipulate public perception of U.S. policy and on
the inner workings of AIPAC, an organization famed for its media-shy
At a hearing Wednesday on pre-trial motions in the case charging
Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman,
its former Iran analyst with illegally transmitting classified
information, U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis determined that
prosecutors may withhold evidence from the defense. Ellis said
prosecutors persuaded him that it was in the national interest to do
Ellis said he would determine what material the defense can use and
what material it cannot access. Because that process is likely to be
long and involved, Ellis pushed back the trial date from Jan. 2 to
Rosen’s lawyer said that despite the ruling, Ellis showed
sensitivity to the defense’s concerns.
“We’re pleased that the court understands the complexities involved
in providing our clients with the right to a fair trial in the midst
of all these classified procedures,” Abbe Lowell said.
Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst, pleaded guilty last month to
leaking classified information relating to Iran.
Two defense motions filed Oct. 21 seek to subpoena as witnesses
Israeli and U.S. diplomats, raising the possibility that the case
will expose how the countries share information and how U.S.
diplomats try to manipulate public perception through strategic
The diplomats are not named in the documents, but JTA has
established that one of the three Israelis sought in the case is
Naor Gilon, who was chief political officer at the Israeli Embassy
in Washington until this summer. Two of the four U.S. officials
sought are David Satterfield, currently the deputy ambassador in
Iraq and formerly an assistant deputy secretary of state, and
Kenneth Pollack, a member of President Clinton’s national security
council, JTA has established.
David Siegel, the Israeli Embassy spokesman, acknowledged receipt of
the defense request for Israeli diplomats’ cooperation. He would not
comment further, but Israel already has offered limited cooperation
to the prosecution.
Lowell previously described the Israelis as uncooperative with the
Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles,
likened the case to that of Zacarias Moussaoui, allegedly involved
in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. A judge in the same Alexandria, Va.
courthouse where Rosen and Weissman will be tried expressed sympathy
for Moussaoui’s claim that the government’s refusal to allow him to
see testimony of other Al-Qaida suspects held at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, unfairly prejudiced his case.
“The more the defendants show it’s not their fault that the Israeli
witnesses are not available, the likelier it is they will get relief
from the court,” Levenson said.
The State Department refused to make Satterfield available for
comment. A spokesman said that the decision about whether or not to
testify was Satterfield’s alone, and the department would not compel
him to do so. Pollack did not return calls.
One motion also seeks to subpoena the FBI agents in the case.
Sources close to the defense have suggested that the strategy is to
show how little the FBI came up with during a broad, six-year
The strategy also is reflected in the separate exchange of motions
on how much of the transcripts and tapes of tapped phone
conversations the prosecution must share with the defense that
preceded Ellis’ ruling on Wednesday. The prosecution is offering
only nine hours of what could amount to hundreds of hours of
recordings. Ellis may add to that in coming months.
Should Ellis eventually allow the publication of a substantial
portion of the transcripts, it could expose the breadth of covert
attention that U.S. agencies pay to Israel and to AIPAC, a respected
domestic lobbying organization. The prosecution hopes to stymie that
exposure with its own motion that seeks not only to suppress most of
the tapped conversations, but even their quantity. Ellis did not
indicate whether he would suppress information about the quantity.
A close analysis of the indictment shows that FBI tracking of Rosen
and Weissman did not begin in earnest until 2002. Yet there is much
in the indictment preceding that date, suggesting that the FBI might
have had other targets, including Israeli diplomats, journalists and
even U.S. officials.
Another government practice with the potential for embarrassment, as
the Libby case has shown, is the tendency for administration
officials to selectively leak information to manipulate public
Satterfield and Pollack, neither of whom has been charged in the
case, allegedly leaked information related to Iran and al-Qaida. If
required to testify, they likely would be asked why it was important
to get this information to the pro-Israel lobby.
In previous hearings, Ellis has expressed sympathy for defense
arguments that much of the evidence the prosecution hopes to
withhold would meet a relevance standard that would require sharing
it with the defense. But it’s not just the U.S. government that
stands to be embarrassed should Ellis lean toward defense arguments,
and release more material.
“Any and all statements made by the defendants to the following
people are relevant,” says a defense motion filed Oct. 21. “Their
employees, supervisors or co-workers at AIPAC; their alleged
co-conspirators; anyone referred to in the superseding indictment;
any government official of Foreign Nation A,” a reference to Israel;
“any employee or official of the United States; and/or any
That list threatens to blow open a number of Washington practices.
Diplomats of all countries in Washington avidly mine government
officials and lobbyists for unclassified tidbits.
Journalists, increasingly denied access to the Bush administration,
have taken in recent years to soliciting information from groups and
lobbies close to the White House. AIPAC is known among journalists
as a premier conduit for hard-to-get information, and two such
incidents are cited in the indictment. JTA has learned that the
incidents involve The Washington Post and The Nation.
Additionally, defense sources say they have reason to believe that
the defendants’ relationship with a New York Times reporter might
have been monitored.
Finally, the defense will argue that the practices alleged were
routine for AIPAC.
AIPAC has insisted that Rosen and Weissman overstepped bounds. The
group fired the two in April because of what its spokesman said was
information arising out of the FBI investigation. It is obligated to
pay their legal fees under AIPAC’s bylaws, however.
AIPAC also says that none of its current staff has been involved in
any wrongdoing, and the lead prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney
Paul McNulty, has said as much as well.
Still, the prospect of AIPAC officials taking the witness stand to
prove or disprove whether Rosen and Weissman hewed to routine cannot
be a happy one for a group known in Washington for closely guarding
its lobbying practices.
Defense sources have suggested that they will show that Rosen and
Weissman relayed information that the government says was classified
to Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, as soon as they
allegedly got it from Franklin in July 2004.
That information supposedly will establish that such practice was
part of AIPAC’s routine, though no one is suggesting that Kohr knew
the information was classified or that he shared it with anyone
The argument that Rosen and Weissman’s practices were routine got
unexpected support last week from none other than Patrick
Fitzgerald. He’s the U.S. attorney who won the perjury indictment
against Libby for allegedly leaking the name of a CIA operative who
is married to Joseph Wilson, a prominent critic of the Iraq war.
In an extended news conference, Fitzgerald sought to explain why he
was prosecuting a cover-up — the alleged perjury — and not the
underlying alleged crime, the leaking of Valerie Wilson’s name.
“That would violate the statute known as Section 793, which is the
Espionage Act,” Fitzgerald said. “That is a difficult statute to
interpret. It’s a statute you ought to carefully apply. I think
there are people out there who would argue that you would never use
that to prosecute the transmission of classified information,
because they think that would convert that statute into what is in
England the Official Secrets Act.”
Indeed, Section 793 rarely is used to prosecute the transmission of
classified information. Experts can’t think of a single case since
the mid 1980s — until this year, when it was used to charge Rosen
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)