Spy Scandal's Roots are Deep

Juan Cole

09/01/04 --Jim Lobe argues that the FBI investigation that caught up Pentagon Iran expert Lawrence Franklin is much wider than initially thought, and focuses on the unauthorized transfer to Israel of highly sophisticated military software and designs. Since many Israeli arms merchants connected to the government in Tel Aviv sell to the black market, some of this military technology has ended up in the hands of countries that have poor relations with the US, and some may have ultimately been resold to al-Qaeda.

Lobe writes,

According to knowledgeable sources, who asked to not be identified, the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) has been intensively reviewing a series of past counter-intelligence probes that were started against several high-profile neo-cons but never followed up with prosecutions, to the great frustration of counter-intelligence officers, in some cases.

Some of these past investigations involve top current officials, including Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Douglas Feith, whose office appears to be the focus of the most recently disclosed inquiry; and Richard Perle, who resigned as Defence Policy Board (DPB) chairman last year.

All three were the subject of a lengthy investigative story by Stephen Green published by Counterpunch in February. Green is the author of two books on U.S.-Israeli relations, including Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, which relies heavily on interviews with former Pentagon and counter-intelligence officials.

Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post reports that the FBI raided the offices of Steve Rosen, the director of foreign policy issues for the American Israel Public Affairs Committe, an enormously influential lobby.

Earlier, rumors swirled of an FBI investigation of how the Pentagon Office of Special Plans, set up by Doug Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, skewed intelligence on Iraq and may have illegally engaged in intelligence-gathering. In fact, that investigation was being conducted by the Senate Intelligence and House Judiciary Committee staffs, not by the FBI. They are also looking at the possibility that Pentagon employees pursued unauthorized contacts aimed at preparing the way for overthrowing the governments of Iran and Syria. This according to the Boston Globe:

' Senate Intelligence and House Judiciary Committee staff members say inquiries into the Near East and South Asia Affairs division have found preliminary evidence that some officials gathered questionable information on weapons of mass destruction from Iraqi exiles such as Ahmed Chalabi without proper authorization, which helped build President Bush's case for an invasion last year.

The investigators are also looking into a more serious concern: whether the office engaged in illegal activity by holding unauthorized meetings with foreign nationals to destablize Syria and Iran without the presidential approval required for covert operations, said one senior congressional investigator who has longtime experience in intelligence oversight. '

A pattern of illegal payments for such information is also at issue. Laura Rozen says she
has evidence that Pentagon officials paid Manuchehr Ghorbanifar for documents he provided.

By the way, I personally do not expect any dramatic developments from all these investigations. AIPAC has powerful protectors on Capitol Hill, and past charges that it was involved in espionage for Israel have always been buried. As for the Neocon cult in the Pentagon, even if they did something illegal, they will not suffer much because of it. Look at where the Iran-Contra criminals are, who subverted the US Constitution and stole arms from the Pentagon to sell illegally to Khomeini. One Iran-Contra figure, who lied to Congress, now serves in the National Security Council as the person in charge of the Israeli-Palestine issue. That is Elliot Abrams, who was pardoned by Bush the elder and now sets White House policy on among the more important issues affecting US relations with the Muslim world. Bush may as well have just appointed Ariel Sharon to advise him on how to deal with Ariel Sharon (though to be fair, Sharon is probably more pragmatic than and to the left of Abrams).

Moreover, if Sharon and AIPAC decide that they need to US government to take military action against Iran, it is likely that the US government will do so. They can mobilize the US evangelicals in favor of this step, putting enormous pressure on Congress and the executive. Many Iranian expatriates are extremely wealthy and well connected, and they want such military action. And, firms like Halliburton, which find work-arounds allowing them to make money in Iran (and did so when Dick Cheney was CEO), would love to get rid of the mullas so they could make the big bucks, and more straightforwardly. So it isn't that AIPAC can snap its fingers and make something happen in Washington. But it can put together powerful coalitions and leverage its influence through policy allies, which does tend to make things happen.

I don't personally believe that the Iraq war has been good for Israel in reality, since there is now a great deal of instability on Israel's front porch, and the Fallujans have already declared solidarity with Hamas. I don't think US military action against Iran would be good for anyone, since it would further destabilize the Persian Gulf (the high oil prices, by the way, can't be good for the Israeli economy).

But American politics has become so dominated by single-issue lobbies that they far outweigh the concerns of a mere voter.

Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan.


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