AIPAC's Overt and Covert Ops
[American Israel Public Affairs
by Juan Cole
www.antiwar.com, August 30, 2004
CBS is reporting that a Defense Intelligence
Agency analyst detailed to Undersecretary of Defense for Planning
Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans is under FBI investigation
for spying for Israel. The person passed to the American Israel
Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) confidential documents, including
those detailing Bush administration policy toward Iran, and AIPAC
then passed them to Israel. There are wiretaps and photographs
backing up the FBI case (the FBI agents involved are extremely
brave to take this on).
But this espionage case is too narrow.
Consider what journalist Jim Lobe wrote about Feith's Office of
Special Plans (OSP) and the Pentagon Near East and South Asia
"[K]ey personnel who worked in
both NESA and OSP were part of a broader network of neoconservative
ideologues and activists who worked with other Bush political
appointees scattered around the national-security bureaucracy
to move the country to war, according to retired Lt. Col. Karen
Kwiatkowski, who was assigned to NESA from May 2002 through February
2003. The heads of NESA and OSP were Deputy Undersecretary William
Luti and Abram Shulsky, respectively. Other appointees who worked
with them in both offices included Michael Rubin, a Middle East
specialist previously with the neoconservative American Enterprise
Institute (AEI); David Schenker, previously with the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP); and Michael Makovsky;
an expert on neocon icon Winston Churchill and the younger brother
of David Makovsky, a senior WINEP fellow and former executive
editor of pro-Likud Jerusalem Post.
Along with Feith, all of the political appointees have in common
a close identification with the views of the right-wing Likud
Party in Israel."
Karen Kwiatkowski was an eyewitness in
NESA, and Lobe reports:
"[S]he recounts one incident in
which she helped escort a group of half a dozen Israelis, including
several generals, from the first floor reception area to Feith's
office. 'We just followed them, because they knew exactly where
they were going and moving fast.' When the group arrived, she
noted the book which all visitors are required to sign under special
regulations that took effect after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
'I asked his secretary, "Do you want these guys to sign in?"
She said, "No, these guys don't have to sign in."' It
occurred to her, she said, that the office may have deliberately
not wanted to maintain a record of the meeting."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee
is a lobbying group that used to support whatever government was
in power in Israel, and used to give money evenhandedly inside
the U.S. My perception is that during the past decade AIPAC has
increasingly tilted to the Likud in Israel, and to the political
Right in the United States. In the 1980s, AIPAC set up the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy as a pro-Israeli alternative to
the Brookings Institution, which it perceived to be insufficiently
supportive of Israel. WINEP has largely followed AIPAC into pro-Likud
positions, even though its director, Dennis Ross, is more moderate.
He is a figurehead, however, serving to disguise the far right
character of most of the position papers produced by long-term
WINEP staff and by extremist visitors and "associates"
(Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer are among the latter).
WINEP, being a wing of AIPAC, is enormously
influential in Washington. State Department and military personnel
are actually detailed there to "learn" about "the
Middle East"! They would get a far more balanced "education"
about the region in any Israeli university, since most Israeli
academics are professionals, whereas WINEP is a "think tank"
that hires by ideology.
I did some consulting with one U.S. company
that had a government contract, and they asked me about WINEP
position papers (many of them are just propaganda). When I said
I would take them with a grain of salt, the guy said his company
had "received direction" to pay a lot of attention to
the WINEP material! So discipline is being imposed even on the
Note that over 80% of American Jews vote
Democrat, that the majority of American Jews opposed the Iraq
war (more were against it than in the general population), and
that American Jews have been enormously important in securing
civil liberties for all Americans. Moreover, Israel has been a
faithful ally of the U.S. and deserves our support in ensuring
its security. The Likudniks like to pretend that they represent
American Jewry, but they do not. And they like to suggest that
objecting to their policies is tantamount to anti-Semitism, which
is sort of like suggesting that if you don't like Chile's former
dictator Pinochet, you are bigoted against Latinos.
As can be seen by Lobe's list, WINEP supplies
right-wing intellectuals to Republican administrations, who employ
their positions to support Likud policies from within the U.S.
government. They have the advantage over longtime civil servants
in units like the State Department's Intelligence and Research
division, insofar as they are politically connected and so have
the ear of the top officials.
So, passing a few confidential documents
over is a minor affair. Pro-Likud intellectuals established networks
linking Defense and the national security advisers of Vice President
Dick Cheney, gaining enormous influence over policy by cherry-picking
and distorting intelligence to make a case for war on Saddam Hussein.
And their ulterior motive was to remove the most powerful Arab
military from the scene, not because it was an active threat to
Israel (it wasn't) but because it was a possible deterrent to
Likud plans for aggressive expansion (at the least, they want
half of the West Bank, permanently).
It should be admitted that the American
Likud could not make U.S. policy on its own. Its members had to
make convincing arguments to Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush himself.
But they were able to make those arguments, by distorting intelligence,
channeling Ahmed Chalabi junk, and presenting Big Ideas to men
above them that signally lacked such ideas. (Like the idea that
the road to peace in Jerusalem ran through Baghdad. Ha!)
It was these WINEP and AIPAC-linked U.S.
Likud backers in the Defense Department who had the Iraqi army
dissolved as soon as Saddam was overthrown. This step threw Iraq
into chaos and led to the deaths of nearly a thousand U.S. servicemen
so far, since an Iraq without an army would inevitably depend
on the U.S. military. But with the Iraqi army gone, and with Egypt
and Jordan neutralized, Syria was left the only country anywhere
near Israel that could make active trouble for Sharon if he completely
screwed over the Palestinians. And Syria was now weak and isolated.
So Sharon has had a free hand in his expansionist aggression.
And, because the U.S. public has been preoccupied with Iraq, the
Likud could pursue its annexation of West Bank land and its expropriation
of even more Palestinians without anyone over here even noticing.
It is the best of all possible worlds for the heirs of Ze'ev Jabotinsky.
The Likud policies of reversing Oslo and
stealing people's land and making their lives hell has produced
enormous amounts of terrorism against Israel, and the Likudniks
have cleverly turned that to their political advantage. Aggression
and annexation is necessary, they argue, because there is terrorism.
Some of them now openly speak of ethnically cleansing the Palestinians,
using the same argument. But when the Oslo peace process looked
like it would go somewhere, terrorism tapered off (it did not
end, but then peace had not been achieved).
The drawback for the U.S. in all this
is that U.S. government backing for Sharon's odious policies makes
it hated in the Muslim world. (Note that Muslims who oppose Israeli
aggression are often tagged as "terrorists" by the U.S.
government, but right-wing Jews who go to Palestine to colonize
it, walking around with Uzi machine guns and sometimes shooting
down civilians, are not "terrorists.") This lack of
balance is one big reason that bin Laden and al-Zawahiri hit the
U.S. on Sept. 11. In fact, bin Laden wanted to move up the operation
to punish the U.S. for supporting Sharon's crackdown on the second
Likud apologists have carefully planted
the false story that al-Qaeda did not care about Palestine, but
that is absurd. Bin Laden always complained about the occupation
of the three holy cities (Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, the first
two because of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, and the third under
Israeli occupation). When bin Laden came back from Afghanistan
to Jidda in 1989, his first sermon at the local mosque was about
the Israeli repression of Palestinians during the first Intifada.
Now the U.S.' occupation of Iraq is making
it even more hated in the Muslim world. It is a policy hatched
in part by AIPAC, WINEP, and their associated "thinkers."
The cynical might suggest that they actively want the U.S. involved
in a violent struggle with Muslims, to make sure that the U.S.
remains anti-Palestinian and so will permit Israeli expansion.
All this can happen because there is a
vacuum in U.S. political discourse. A handful of special interests
in the United States virtually dictate congressional policy on
some issues. With regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee and a few allies have succeeded
in imposing complete censorship on both houses of Congress. No
senator or representative dares make a speech on the floor of
his or her institution critical of Israeli policy, even though
the Israeli government often violates international law and UN
Security Council resolutions (it would violate more such resolutions,
except that the resolutions never got passed because only one
NSC member, the U.S., routinely vetoes them on behalf of Tel Aviv.)
As the Labor Party in Israel has been eclipsed by the Likud coalition,
which includes many proto-fascist groups, this subservience has
yoked Washington to foreign politicians who privately favor ethnic
cleansing and/or aggressive warfare for the purpose of annexing
the territory of neighbors.
On the rare occasion when a brave member
of Congress dares stand up to this unrelenting AIPAC tyranny,
that person is targeted for unelection in the next congressional
campaign, with big money directed by AIPAC and/or its analogues
into the coffers of the senator's or congressman's opponent. Over
and over again, AIPAC has shaped the U.S. Congress in this way,
so successfully that no one even dares speak out any more.
AIPAC is not all that rich or powerful,
but politics in the U.S. is often evenly divided between Democrats
and Republicans. Because many races are very close, any little
extra support can help change the outcome. AIPAC can provide that
little bit. Moreover, most Americans couldn't care less about
the Middle East or its intractable problems, whereas the staffers
at AIPAC are fanatics. If some congressman from southern Indiana
knows he can pick up even a few thousand dollars and some good
will from AIPAC, he may as well, since his constituents don't
care anyway. That there is no countervailing force to AIPAC allows
it to be effective. (That is one reason that pro-Likud American
activists often express concern about the rise of the Muslim-American
community and the possibility that it may develop an effective
lobby.) Moreover, AIPAC leverages its power by an alliance with
the Christian Right, which has adopted a bizarre ideology of "Christian
Zionism." It holds that the sooner the Palestinians are ethnically
cleansed, the sooner Christ will come back. Without millions of
these Christian Zionist allies, AIPAC would be much less influential
The Founding Fathers of the United States
deeply feared that a foreign government might gain this level
of control over a branch of the United States government, and
their fears have been vindicated.
The situation has reached comedic proportions.
Congress is always drafting letters to the president, based on
AIPAC templates, demanding that lopsided U.S. policy in favor
of Israel be revised to be even more in favor of Israel. U.S.
policy recently changed to endorse the expansion of Israeli colonies
in Palestinian, West Bank territory.
Where Israel is in the right, this situation
obviously is innocuous. The United States should protect Israel
from aggressive attack, if necessary. United Nations members are
pledged to collective security, i.e., to protecting any member
nation from aggression at the hands of another. But given that
Israel is a nuclear power with a vast arsenal of weapons of mass
destruction; given that Egypt and Jordan have long-lived peace
treaties with Israel; and given that Syria and Lebanon are small,
weak powers, there is not in fact any serious military threat
to Israel in its immediate neighborhood. In contrast, Israel launched
wars against neighbors in 1956, 1967, and 1982 (all of which it
won so easily as to bring into question the necessity for the
wars in the first place if they were defensive), and has since
1967 been assiduously colonizing Palestinian land that it militarily
occupied - all the while attempting to avoid becoming responsible
for the Palestinian populations on that land. This latter policy
has poisoned the entire world.
AIPAC currently has a project to shut
up academics such as myself, the same way it has shut up Congress,
through congressional legislation mandating "balance"
(i.e., pro-Likud stances) in Middle East programs at American
universities. How long the U.S. public will allow itself to be
spied on and pushed around like this is a big question. And, with
the rise of international terrorism targeting the U.S. in part
over these issues, the fate of the country hangs in the balance.
If al-Qaeda succeeds in another big attack,
it could well tip the country over into military rule, as Gen.
Tommy Franks has suggested. That is, the fate of the Republic
is in danger. And the danger comes from two directions, not just
one. It comes from radical extremists in the Muslim world, who
must be fought. But it also comes from radical extremists in Israel,
who have key allies in the U.S. and whom the U.S. government actively
supports and against whom influential Americans are afraid to
If I had been in power on Sept. 11, I'd
have called up Sharon and told him he was just going to have to
withdraw to 1967 borders, or face the full fury of the United
States. Israel would be much better off inside those borders,
anyway. It can't absorb 3 million Palestinians and retain its
character, and it can't continue to hold 3 million Palestinians
as stateless hostages without making itself inhumane and therefore
un-Jewish. And then I'd have thrown everything the U.S. had at
al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and frog-marched Bin Laden off to justice,
and rebuilt Afghanistan to ensure that al-Qaeda was permanently
denied a base there. Iraq, well, Iraq was contained.
Fomenting a War on Iran
Here is my take on the Lawrence Franklin
espionage scandal in the Pentagon.
It is an echo of the one-two punch secretly
planned by the pro-Likud faction in the Department of Defense.
First, the United States would take out Iraq, and then Iran.
David Wurmser, a key member of the group, also wanted Syria included.
These pro-Likud intellectuals concluded that 9/11 would give them
carte blanche to use the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment,
fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv (not wars that really
needed to be fought, but wars that the Likud coalition thought
it would be nice to see fought so as to increase Israel's ability
to annex land and act aggressively, especially if someone else's
boys did the dying).
Franklin is a reserve Air Force colonel
and former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst. He was an
attaché at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv at one point, which
some might now see as suspicious. After the Cold War ended, Franklin
became concerned with Iran as a threat to Israel and the U.S.,
and learned a little Persian (not very much - I met him once at
a conference and he could only manage a few halting phrases of
Persian). Franklin has a strong Brooklyn accent and says he is
"from the projects." I was told by someone at the Pentagon
that he is not Jewish, despite his strong association with the
predominantly Jewish neoconservatives. I know that he is very
close to Paul Wolfowitz. He seems a canny man and a political
operator, and if he gave documents to AIPAC it was not an act
of simple stupidity, as some observers have suggested. It was
part of some clever scheme that became too clever by half.
Franklin moved over to the Pentagon from
DIA, where he became the Iran expert, working for Bill Luti and
Undersecretary of Defense for Planning, Douglas Feith. He was
the "go-to" person on Iran for Deputy Secretary of Defense
Paul Wolfowitz, and for Feith. This situation is pretty tragic,
since Franklin is not a real Iranist. His main brief appears to
have been to find ways to push a policy of overthrowing its government
(apparently once Iraq had been taken care of). This project has
been pushed by the shadowy eminence grise Michael Ledeen for many
years, and Franklin coordinated with Ledeen in some way. Franklin
was also close to Harold Rhode, a longtime Middle East specialist
in the Defense Department who has cultivated far right pro-Likud
cronies for many years, more or less establishing a cell within
the Department of Defense.
The UPI via Dawn reports that "another
under-investigation official, Mr. Rhode, 'practically lived out
of [Ahmed] Chalabi's office.' Intelligence sources said that CIA
operatives observed Mr. Rhode as being constantly on his cell
phone to Israel, discussing U.S. plans, military deployments,
political projects and a discussion of Iraq assets."
Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen and Paul Glastris
have just published a piece in the Washington Monthly
that details Franklin's meetings with corrupt Iranian arms dealer
and con man Manucher Ghorbanifar, who had in the 1980s played
a key role in the Iran-contra scandal. (For more on the interviews
with Ghorbanifar, see Laura Rozen's weblog). It is absolutely
key that the meetings were attended also by Rhode, Ledeen and
the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, SISMI, Nicolo
Pollari, as well as Rome's Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino.
The right-wing government of corrupt billionaire
Silvio Berlusconi, including Martino, was a big supporter of an
Iraq war. Moreover, we know that the forged documents falsely
purporting to show Iraqi uranium purchases from Niger originated
with a former SISMI agent. Watch the reporting of Josh Marshall
for more on this SISMI/Ledeen/Rhode connection.
But journalist Matthew Yglesias has already
tipped us to a key piece of information. The Niger forgeries also
try to implicate Iran. Indeed, the idea of a joint Iraq/Iran nuclear
plot was so far-fetched that it is what initially made the Intelligence
and Research division of the U.S. State Department suspicious
of the forgeries, even before the discrepancies of dates and officials
in Niger were noticed. Yglesias quotes from the Senate report
on the alleged Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger:
"The INR [that's State Department
intelligence] nuclear analyst told the Committee staff that the
thing that stood out immediately about the [forged] documents
was that a companion document - a document included with the Niger
documents that did not relate to uranium - mentioned some type
of military campaign against major world powers. The members of
the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran and
was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the
Nigerien [note: that's not the same as Nigerian] Embassy in Rome,
which all struck the analyst as 'completely implausible.' Because
the stamp on this document matched the stamp on the uranium document
[the stamp was supposed to establish the documents bona fides],
the analyst thought that all of the documents were likely suspect.
The analyst was unaware at the time of any formatting problems
with the documents or inconsistencies with the names or dates."
Journalist Eric Margolis notes of SISMI:
"SISMI has long been notorious
for far right, even neo-fascist, leanings. According to Italian
judicial investigators, SISMI was deeply involved in numerous
plots against Italy's democratic government, including the 1980
Bologna train station terrorist bombing that left 85 dead and
200 injured. Senior SISMI officers were in cahoots with celebrated
swindler Roberto Calvi, the neo-fascist P2 Masonic Lodge, other
extreme rightist groups trying to destabilize Italy, the Washington
neocon operative, Michael Ledeen, and the Iran-Contra conspirators.
SISMI works hand in glove with U.S., British and Israeli intelligence.
In the 1960s and 70s, SISMI reportedly carried out numerous operations
for CIA, including bugging the Vatican, the Italian president's
palace, and foreign embassies. Italy's civilian intelligence service,
SISDE, associated with Italy's political center-left, has long
been a bitter rival of SISMI. After CIA rejected the Niger file,
it was eagerly snapped up by VP Dick Cheney and his chief of staff,
Lewis Libby, who were urgently seeking any reason, no matter how
specious, to invade Iraq. Cheney passed the phony data to Bush,
who used it in his January 2003 address to the nation in spite
of warnings from CIA. . . ."
So Franklin, Ledeen, and Rhode, all of
them pro-Likud operatives, just happen to be meeting with SISMI
(the proto-fascist purveyor of the false Niger uranium story about
Iraq and the alleged Iran-Iraq plot against the rest of the world)
and corrupt Iranian businessman and would-be revolutionary Ghorbanifar
in Europe. The most reasonable conclusion is that they were conspiring
together about the Next Campaign after Iraq, which they had already
begun setting in train, which is to get Iran.
But now The Jerusalem Post reveals
that at least one of the meetings was quite specific with regard
to an attempt to torpedo better US/Iran relations:
"The purpose of the meeting with
Ghorbanifar was to undermine a pending deal that the White House
had been negotiating with the Iranian government. At the time,
Iran had considered turning over five al-Qaeda operatives in exchange
for Washington dropping its support for Mujahadeen Khalq, an Iraq-based
rebel Iranian group listed as a terrorist organization by the
The neoconservatives have some sort of
shadowy relationship with the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization,
or MEK. Presumably its leaders have secretly promised to recognize
Israel if they ever succeed in overthrowing the ayatollahs in
Iran. When the U.S. recently categorized the MEK as a terrorist
organization, there were howls of outrage from "scholars"
associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
such as ex-Trotskyite Patrick Clawson and Daniel Pipes. MEK is
a terrorist organization by any definition of the term, having
blown up innocent people in the course of its struggle against
the Khomeini government. (MEK is a cult-like mixture of Marx and
Islam). The MEK had allied with Saddam, who gave them bases in
Iraq from which to hit Iran. When the U.S. overthrew Saddam, it
raised the question of what to do with the MEK. The pro-Likud
faction in the Pentagon wanted to go on developing their relationship
with the MEK and using it against Tehran.
So it transpires that the Iranians were
willing to give up 5 key al-Qaeda operatives, whom they had captured,
in return for MEK members.
Franklin, Rhode and Ledeen conspired with
Ghorbanifar and SISMI to stop that trade. It would have led to
better U.S.-Iran relations, which they wanted to forestall, and
it would have damaged their protégés, the MEK.
Since high al-Qaeda operatives like Saif
al-Adil and possibly even Saad bin Laden might know about future
operations, or the whereabouts of bin Laden, for Franklin and
Rhode to stop the trade grossly endangered the United States.
The FBI has evidence that Franklin passed
a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC, which then passed
it to the Israelis. The FBI is construing these actions as espionage
or something close to it. But that is like getting Al Capone on
tax evasion. Franklin was not giving the directive to AIPAC in
order to provide them with information. He was almost certainly
seeking feedback from them on elements of it. He was asking, "Do
you like this? Should it be changed in any way?" And, he
might also have been prepping AIPAC for the lobbying campaign
scheduled for early in 2005, when Congress will have to be convinced
to authorize military action, or at least covert special operations,
against Iran. AIPAC probably passed the directive over to Israel
for the same reason - not to inform, but to seek input. That is,
AIPAC and Israel were helping write U.S. policy toward Iran, just
as they had played a key role in fomenting the Iraq war.
With both Iraq and Iran in flames, the
Likud Party could do as it pleased in the Middle East without
fear of reprisal. This means it could expel the Palestinians from
the West Bank to Jordan, and perhaps just give Gaza back to Egypt
to keep Cairo quiet. Annexing southern Lebanon up to the Litani
River, the waters of which Israel has long coveted, could also
be undertaken with no consequences, they probably think, once
Hizbullah in Lebanon could no longer count on Iranian support.
The closed character of the economies of Iraq and Iran, moreover,
would end, allowing American, Italian and British companies to
make a killing after the wars (so they thought).
Franklin's movements reveal the contours
of a right-wing conspiracy of warmongering and aggression, an
orgy of destruction, for the benefit of the Likud Party, of Silvio
Berlusconi's business in the Middle East, and of the neoconservative
Right in the United States. It isn't about spying. It is about
conspiring to conscript the U.S. government on behalf of a foreign
power or powers.
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