An expert on U.S.–Israeli relations reveals details from his recent visit with the FBI.
By Jason Vest and Laura Rozen
Prospect" In May, Stephen Green was hard at
work campaigning for a seat in Vermont's House of
Representatives when he got a phone call. The last person
the 64-year-old former United Nations official, then
preoccupied with health-care policy issues, expected to
hear from was an FBI agent, who asked if he could come to
Washington to chat with him about the history of Israeli
espionage efforts against the United States.
As the author of two books on U.S.-Israeli relations,
Green knew something about the subject. Still, the phone
call seemed to come out of the blue. Green quickly
discovered, however, that the FBI had a keen interest in
the subject. Federal agents were involved in an
investigation into an
alleged Israeli "mole" in the office of
Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy.
Early reports suggested that the FBI had wiretap
evidence that a veteran Iran analyst working in Feith's
office at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Larry Franklin,
may have passed a classified draft of a National Security
Presidential Directive on Iran to an official working for
the pro-Israel lobbying organization, the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Members of the
organization, in turn, were said to have passed the
document on to Israel. (AIPAC officials strongly deny the
But as Green spoke with investigators, he realized the
agents were investigating far more than Franklin.
"Larry Franklin's name never came up, but several
others did," he said.
Green, as the FBI agents knew, had a special expertise
in the field of Israeli espionage in the United States. In
the 1980s, he had taken time off from his job at the UN to
look into the U.S.–Israeli "special
relationship." He spent years combing through public
records, filing and litigating Freedom of Information Act
requests, and tracking down current and retired government
officials. He eventually wrote two books, Taking Sides:
America's Secret Relations With Israel and Living
By The Sword: America and Israel in the Middle East.
The Times of London and Foreign Affairs
commended his work, describing it as "praised by
those who believe the United States has damaged its own
security, and Israel's too, by uncritical and often secret
support of Israel's actions, no matter how extreme."
Yet, as Foreign Affairs reported, Green's work also
caused "sputter[ing] with indignation" among
"those who believe… that American and Israeli
interests are identical."
Green returned to the UN in 1990 and followed the
subject from there. Earlier this year, he published a piece
in the newsletter CounterPunch, recapping
previously reported -- though long-forgotten -- government
investigations of prominent neoconservatives for their
suspected espionage or improper information-sharing with
Israel. And that's where the FBI comes in.
According to the FBI agents who contacted Green, as he
recounts, the article had come to their attention when one
of Green’s sources -- a retired national security
official they were interviewing -- shared it with them.
And so on June 22, Green found himself sitting across
an oval-shaped conference table from two FBI agents at an
undisclosed northern Virginia venue. The meeting lasted
nearly four hours.
"They were extraordinarily well-informed; it was
apparent they've been at this for awhile," Green
says. "I asked them if there was a current reason for
them asking questions about things that go back over 30
years, and they sort of looked at each other and said,
'Yes, it's a present issue,' but wouldn't say specifically
what. Though they did ask very specific questions about
one individual in particular."
Green said the agents asked about several current or
former Pentagon officials such as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard
Perle, Douglas Feith, Michael Ledeen, and Stephen Bryen.
"The tenor of their questions was such that it
defined where these people were in terms of the nature of
their focus," Green says. "They also asked about
a couple other Office of Special Plans people, including
Harold Rhode. Ironically, about the only name that didn't
come up was Larry Franklin."
Regardless of the status of the investigation,
something seemed a bit fishy. After all, Israel -- one of
the United States’ closest allies, with deep support in
the Bush Administration and especially at the Defense
Department -- hardly needs a Pentagon-embedded spy to get
access to interagency debates about U.S. policy to Iran,
as observers have pointed out. And compared with the
information on arms shipments that former US Navy analyst
Jonathan Pollard passed on to Israel in the 1980s, a draft
of a document about U.S. policy toward Iran would hardly
seem like the crown jewels.
Yet, as Newsweek
has reported, Franklin had come to the FBI’s attention a
year and a half ago, when he walked in on a lunch with an
Israeli diplomat and an AIPAC lobbyist, both of whom were
under FBI surveillance for a year. In addition, Newsweek
reported that when news of the investigation surfaced,
Franklin had already been cooperating with the FBI for
several weeks and had reportedly led FBI agents to those
who may have received information from him.
The previous FBI investigation came into focus only on
September 1, when The
Washington Post reported that for two years, the
FBI has conducted a counterintelligence investigation into
whether AIPAC has forwarded “highly classified materials
from the National Security Agency . . . to Israel.” The Post
piece describes Franklin’s alleged role as merely
“coincidental” to the larger FBI probe of alleged
intelligence-passing through AIPAC to Israel.
Both AIPAC and Tel
Aviv vehemently deny any wrongdoing. And indeed, the
Israeli diplomat who acknowledges meeting with Franklin
and AIPAC -- Naor Gilon, the Israeli embassy’s No. 3
official and a specialist on Iran’s nuclear program --
returned to Washington on August 29 from a summer vacation
in Israel. He admits that he met with Franklin, but
insists he’s done nothing wrong.
A source familiar with the investigation told The
American Prospect that when news of the investigation
broke, the Justice Department had been preparing a request
to the State Department to have an Israeli diplomat -- by
implication Gilon -- declared persona non grata for
allegedly having received classified U.S. intelligence
from AIPAC sources.
Furthermore, a September 1 report by NBC
speculated that the reason the Israelis may have broken
their declared post-Pollard policy of not spying on the
United States is because of Israel’s preeminent concern
about Iran’s nuclear program, and its view that the
United States may not be prepared to act assertively
enough to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Post piece seems to imply that Franklin is
more of an anti-Tehran zealot than anything else and
wasn’t engaging in espionage per se. But as the Post
article and the June meeting between Green and the FBI
seem to indicate, the FBI is looking into the possibility
there's been communication between Israeli elements and
U.S. officials, including several who work for Feith and
have access to sensitive intelligence on Iran and its
Jason Vest is Prospect senior correspondent. Laura
Rozen reports on national security issues from Washington,
D.C. and for her weblog, War