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Indictment of Former Aipac Staffers Raises the Prospect of a Day in Court

August 5, 2005
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Two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee traded classified information for much longer and with a broader array of U.S. and Israeli officials than was previously known, according to a U.S. indictment. At the same time, Paul McNulty, the U.S. Attorney for eastern Virginia who handed down the indictment here Thursday, decisively counted out AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, as a target in the inquiry.

Still, the broad scope of the charges was sure to send a chill through Washington’s lobbying community.

The indictment charges Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former policy director, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, with “conspiracy to communicate national defense information to people not entitled to receive it,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Rosen is also charged with actual communication of national defense

information, also punishable by 10 years in prison.

The charges against the former AIPAC staffers do not rise to the level of

espionage, which the defendants and their supporters had feared.

Weissman and Rosen are expected to appear in an Alexandria, Va., federal court on Aug. 16.

Attorneys for Rosen and Weissman expressed confidence that they would handily beat the charges.

“The charges in the indictment announced today are entirely unjustified,”

said a statement from Rosen’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.

“For 23 years, Dr. Steve Rosen has been a passionate advocate for America’s national interests in the Middle East. He regrets that the government has moved ahead with this indictment but looks forward to being

vindicated at trial.”

Weissman’s lawyer, John Nassikas, said he looked forward to challenging the charges “vigorously in court.”

Previously disclosed government documents have focused only on activity dating back to 2003. Those documents outlined interactions with only one

midlevel government official, former Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin, who has already been indicted in the case, and one Israeli diplomat, political officer Naor Gilon, who ended a three-year tour of duty in early August.

The indictment lists charges involving incidents dating back to 1999, four years before the AIPAC staffers met Franklin. The charges are related to information on Iran and terrorist attacks in central Asia and Saudi

Arabia that was allegedly exchanged with three U.S. government officials and three staffers at Israel’s Embassy in Washington.

A source close to the defense said that one of the U.S. officials involved, who has not been indicted, was recently appointed to a senior Bush administration post. The source, who asked not to be identified, would not name the official.

The indictment for the first time acknowledges that the FBI used Franklin in a sting operation against Rosen and Weissman. It includes five charges against Franklin in addition to those against the two former AIPAC staffers.

In indicting all three with “conspiracy to communicate national defense

information to persons not entitled to receive it,” McNulty made it clear that the target was much broader: those in Washington who trade in classified information.

“Those entrusted with safeguarding our nation’s secrets must remain faithful to that trust,” McNulty said. “Those not authorized to receive

classified information must resist the temptation to acquire it, no matter what their motivation may be.”

The charges against the two former AIPAC staffers do not rise to the level of the crime committed by Jonathan Pollard, who plead guilty in 1985 to

spying for Israel. Pollard plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

The indictment against Rosen and Weissman does not anywhere allege that Israeli officials ever solicited the information, nor does it say that Israel compensated them for the information.

McNulty suggested he would argue that the intent was critical. He described Franklin, Rosen and Weissman as “individuals who put their own interests and views of American foreign policy ahead of America’s national


Lowell, Rosen’s attorney, described the charges as a “misguided attempt to criminalize the public’s right to participate in the political process.”

The indictment includes a laundry list of contacts Rosen and Weissman had

with U.S. government officials and Israeli Embassy officials.

It notes that Rosen had security clearance when he was an official at the Pentagon-allied Rand Corporation think tank in the late 1970s and early 1980s, apparently to underscore that Rosen would have known the implications of receiving classified information.

The indictment also lists conversations Rosen allegedly had with an Israeli diplomat in 1999 about terrorist acts in central Asia, which Rosen allegedly described as “an extremely sensitive piece of intelligence.” It does not name the official.

Also outlined is a conversation that Weissman had in 1999 with the same

official about a 1996 attack on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, in which Weissman discussed what he allegedly called a “secret FBI, classified FBI report.”

In 2000, the indictment alleges, Rosen relayed classified information from a U.S. government official to the media. The information, according to the

indictment, concerned U.S. strategy in the Middle East.

In 2002, Rosen relayed information about the terrorist group Al-Qaida from another government official — the official a defense source says was

recently promoted to a senior government position — to other AIPAC officials, the indictment alleges.

In March 2003, Rosen and Weissman allegedly received classified information from Franklin on U.S. policy on Iran and relayed it to another Israeli diplomat. He also allegedly disclosed the information to a “senior fellow at a Washington, D.C., think tank” and to the media, the indictment said.

In June of the same year, Franklin allegedly relayed to Weissman and Rosen classified information about Iranian activity in Iraq, newly occupied by a U.S.-led force.

In that operation, Franklin allegedly warned Weissman that Iranian agents planned to kidnap, torture and kill U.S. and Israeli agents in northern Iraq.

By July 2004, the indictment said, the government had co-opted Franklin and used him to set up Weissman and Rosen in a sting.

The indictment alleges that Franklin made clear that the information was

“highly classified.”

According to well-placed sources, Weissman relayed this information to Rosen, who relayed it to Gilon at the Israeli Embassy; Glenn Kessler, the State Department correspondent at The Washington Post; and Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, identified in the indictment as “another AIPAC employee.”

McNulty made it clear Thursday that neither the AIPAC organization nor any of its other employees were targets.

“We have no basis for charging anyone else for unlawful disclosure of classified information,” he said. “And I might add also that AIPAC as an organization has expressed its concern on several occasions with the allegations against Rosen and Weissman, and, in fact, after we brought some of the evidence that we had to AIPAC’s attention, it did the right thing by dismissing these two individuals.”

McNulty would not comment on what prompted the initial investigation into the AIPAC officials, but sources close to the defense believe Israeli officials in Washington were being monitored in 1999.

AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman this past April, eight months after the FBI probe came to light.

“AIPAC dismissed Rosen and Weissman because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs and because this conduct did not comport in any way with standards that AIPAC expects of its employees,” spokesman Patrick Dorton told JTA on Thursday, repeating the group’s previous position.

“AIPAC could not condone or tolerate the conduct of the two employees under any circumstances. The organization does not seek, use or request anything but legally obtained, appropriate information as part of its work.”

A source close to AIPAC said they were not concerned that the indictment

identifies two occasions — in 2002 concerning the Al-Qaida information and in 2004 concerning the sting — when Rosen allegedly shared information with AIPAC staffers.

“There was no indication by Steve Rosen within AIPAC that he was” obtaining classified information, said the source, who asked not to be identified.

AIPAC has already scaled back its lobbying of the executive branch of government — something the indictment pointedly notes was Rosen’s expertise.

Kohr, the group’s executive director, has said that AIPAC is instituting

changes in how it operates as a result of the investigation, without providing details.

Israeli officials have confirmed to JTA that the FBI is seeking an

interview with Gilon. It is not clear if the FBI also wants to talk with the two other Israeli Embassy officials cited in the indictment; they are not named.

“It’s premature to comment on the substance of the affidavit since we’ve just received it,” an Israeli official said. “We’re fully confident in the professional conduct of our diplomats who fully conduct themselves in accordance with diplomatic practice. We have seen no information that would suggest anything to the contrary.”

The FBI raided AIPAC’s offices on Aug. 27, 2004, the first time the investigation was made public.

One major question likely to come up in the trial is why the two U.S.

government officials listed in the indictment as leaking the information are not facing trial, as McNulty indicated.

“They should be going after all the guys who gave the information,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-president of the Conference of

Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Soliciting classified information is hardly unusual in Washington, Hoenlein said. “Reporters do it every single day.”

JTA intern Avi Mayer in Washington contributed to this report.)

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