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August 30, 2004

AIPAC's Overt and Covert Ops


by Juan Cole

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 (NESA) office:

"[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 private sector.

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 Intifada.

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 and effective.

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 speak out.

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 State Department."

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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    Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Visit his blog.

     

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