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The Justice Department’s Misbegotten AIPAC Prosecution

Two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee will go on trial for something that is a regular occurrence in Washington.

by
Clarice Feldman

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March 14, 2009 - 12:00 am
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From time to time I’ve written about some of the more preposterous aspects of the government’s case against former AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) officers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman. 

The government alleged that at a June 26, 2003, lunch, a Department of Defense employee, Lawrence Franklin, disclosed classified national defense information related to potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq to Rosen and Weissman, who were then employed by AIPAC. Franklin admitted that he’d told the AIPAC employees about Iranian participation in terrorism, asked them to pass the information on to the National Security Council, and sought their help in obtaining a position there from which to make his views known to the administration. He has argued, and there is no evidence to the contrary, that he never intended to harm U.S. interests.

The press has not covered the case extensively — especially after the early lurid accounts of espionage (such charges were never brought) and the guilty plea by Franklin. But I have been watching the blogs of Secrecy News, which has covered the case extensively and has, for the readers’ use, conveniently published the key public documents, including the rulings in the case.

Explaining all the ins and outs of this convoluted case seemed more effort than it was worth. That’s because the case is silly, and it was my expectation that after working so hard at the task the government would finally do what it should have long ago — dismissed the damned thing. Unfortunately, that may not happen. I am informed that the defense counsel presently does not believe that the case will be dropped, because he sees no sign of it. There are few people in place at Justice even to look at it, and they have other, higher priorities. He believes there will be a trial, and that it really will begin on May 27.

Why has this nonsensical case — so harmful to U.S.-Israel relations — continued? Because like the sorcerer’s apprentice, once that first bucket of water is drawn by the first apprentice, it takes real courage for someone to exercise adult supervision and pull the plug on a losing case. So in the long tradition of Washington bureaucrats, the apprentices are allowed to keep doing what they are doing until they lose — even at the expense of wasting ever more resources and creating hard to live with new precedents for the government which employs them.

(Ignoring the sorcerer’s apprentice rule has consequences for the adult involved. See slanders like these against Philip Heymann — former assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division — that made their way via such apprentices to the press when he wisely dropped a meritless case against then Department of Defense employee Stephen Bryen.)

So in light of that information and the animus against the “Israel lobby” stirred up anew by the withdrawal under fire of Chas Freeman, I will try to explain why this case should not have been brought and why the Department of Justice is stupid to continue it.

1.  Why was this case brought?

It has always been a mystery to me that the case which so besmirched the most vocal American Israeli lobbying organization was brought by an administration which proved itself repeatedly as Israel’s best friend. There are indications that the prime mover in this prosecution (the first apprentice in the chain of water bucket carriers) was a man named David Szady, the FBI counterintelligence boss at the time. (Szady’s less than stellar career in that position has been well-documented. After the case was brought, he left government. When I last looked, he was president and CEO of Mixed Martial Arts. He appears to be no longer in the intelligence business.)

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