Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Suppression of Witness Names Underlines Battle in Aipac Case

March 16, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Condoleezza Rice, Stephen Hadley, Anthony Zinni: For a few hours, the list of subpoenaed witnesses on the docket in the classified information case against two former staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee read like a Who’s Who of U.S. foreign policy. And that probably was precisely the point for defendants eager to prove that trading inside information with the most senior government officials was par for the lobbyists’ course.

Similarly, the suppression of the witnesses’ names within hours last Friday was consistent with a prosecution — and a court — that is keeping as much of the case under wraps as possible.

Lawyers for Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy director, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, subpoenaed 10 current and former administration officials ranging from Rice, the current U.S. secretary of state, and Hadley, the national security adviser to the White House, through Lawrence Franklin, the former mid-level Pentagon analyst whose guilty plea is the crux of the government’s case against Rosen and Weissman. JTA obtained an original copy of the docket with the names intact.

The court, the defense and the government would not comment about the subpoenas or their subsequent suppression on the docket, but the roll call reflects what sources close to the defense have said will be their case — that interactions of the kind described in the indictment last August were routine and above board.

“I presume it’s an attempt to provide some context for the information that was disclosed,” said Steven Aftergood, who directs the Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists and who has been following the case closely. “If such information was already in public circulation or widely disseminated, that could arguably mitigate anything the defendants did wrong by communicating it.”

The crux of the indictment is that Franklin leaked information on Iran to Rosen and Weissman on several occasions in 2003 and 2004.

In July 2004, Franklin joined the FBI in a sting against the two, telling Weissman that Iranian agents planned to kill Israeli and American agents in northern Iraq. Rosen and Weissman relayed the information — which, according to the indictment, Franklin made clear to Weissman was classified — to an Israeli diplomat, a Washington Post journalist and the executive director of AIPAC, Howard Kohr.

No evidence suggests that Kohr knew the information was classified, and the government has said that Kohr and AIPAC are not implicated in any wrongdoing.

Rosen and Weissman have been charged under a never-used 1917 statute that criminalizes the receipt and dissemination of classified information.

AIPAC fired the two men a year ago, saying their actions did not comport with AIPAC practices, but stopping short of accusing the men of anything illegal.

Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post journalist, said he had not been subpoenaed. AIPAC would not comment on whether Kohr or anyone else had been subpoenaed.

Israeli officials have confirmed in the past that they are negotiating the terms of testimony for Naor Gilon, the diplomat who received the information from Weissman and Rosen. Gilon returned to Israel last summer after completing a three-year term as a political officer.

In addition to Rice, Hadley and Franklin, the defense subpoenaed David Satterfield, the current U.S. deputy ambassador to Iraq; William Burns, the current U.S. ambassador to Moscow; Ken Pollack, research director at the Saban Center, a Middle East think tank; Michael Makovsky, another mid-level Pentagon analyst; Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security adviser; Zinni, formerly the top peace envoy to the Middle East; and Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state. Prosecutors and the witnesses themselves may challenge the subpoenas.

While not commenting on the suppression of the names, officials at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. pointed to court rules, which say that subpoenas to U.S. officials including “any member of the President’s Cabinet; any Ambassador or Consul; or any military officer holding the rank of Admiral or General” must be approved by the court.

That would mean that at least six of the subpoenas needed prior approval. It was not clear whether lawyers for Rosen and Weissman had sought approval for the subpoenas.

Satterfield and Pollack are significant, because — like Franklin — they appear in the indictment as alleged leakers to Rosen, but neither has been charged.

Pollack discussed Iraq policy with Rosen and Weissman over lunch in 2000, when he was on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council.

Pollack told JTA last year that he could not imagine having relayed classified information to them. He told JTA this week that he had yet to receive a subpoena, but would not be surprised if he did.

Satterfield was an assistant secretary of state in 2002 when, according to the indictment, he leaked classified information on Al-Qaida to Rosen.

No one on the list, aside from Pollack and Zinni, returned calls from JTA asking for comment.

Zinni, who said he also had yet to receive the subpoena, said he had met Rosen just once.

“I met Mr. Rosen once at a dinner while I was the envoy,” the retired Marines general and former head of U.S. Central Command wrote in an e-mail to JTA. “It was a casual event and we discussed the process I was then involved in. The dinner was with four others.”

Zinni, who now is a consultant in the private sector, served as an envoy to Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2001-2002.

The court and the government would not comment on the subpoenas, but Aftergood says it’s consistent with the secrecy that has enveloped the case. Judge T.S. Ellis III allowed the government to keep from the public and from the defense what apparently is the bulk of the transcripts of years of taps on Rosen and Weissman, although the recordings are principally of the defendants.

Ellis also has sealed pre-trial motions that principally argue established case law and do not reveal details of the case aside from those appearing in the already published indictment. The documents were eventually unsealed.

In contrast to Aftergood and a number of free speech groups that have weighed in on the case, Ellis made clear that he does not believe First Amendment issues have much bearing.

“Persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into unauthorized possession of classified information, must abide by the law,” Ellis said Jan. 20 when he sentenced Franklin to more than 12 years for his role. “That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever.”

Ellis turned down a friend-of-the-court brief from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, saying it was inappropriate.

“Secrecy seems to be the default here,” Aftergood said. “It appears the judge wants to discourage media coverage.”

Laurie Levenson, a legal expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the prosecution may move to quash the subpoenas, and could have requested the seal to keep the putative witnesses’ names out of the spotlight until the judge rules on the motion.

“This leaves the spotlight off the witnesses and leaves it on the defendants,” she said. “They’d rather keep the focus on the named defendants.”

Recommended from JTA