AIPAC Caught Up in Spy Case, Sordid Scandal
By Richard Walker
Just when it seemed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spy scandal dating to 2005 could not get any more bizarre, tales have emerged of top lobbying staff watching explicit pornography, homosexual liaisons made through the Internet and charges of executives hiring prostitutes. And if that is not exciting enough for spy buffs, there is a real possibility one of its directors, sacked following an FBI espionage probe of two of its top advisers, may blow the lid on AIPAC’s secret role in the political life of Washington.
On Dec. 13, Stephen Peter Rosen, the organization’s former foreign policy chief, will argue in court he was fired because AIPAC feared what a federal probe of its activities might reveal. He will also challenge the organization’s public argument it sacked him because he acted without approval when acquiring secret U.S. documents and when he warned an Israeli embassy official in Washington an FBI espionage probe was in place. Rosen believes he has enough evidence to show he was hung out to dry to protect AIPAC from a federal witch hunt. Some of the organization’s rich backers think so, too. Since his sacking, a number of high profile donors have provided him with $1 million to help him in his legal battle.
That battle began five years ago when he and AIPAC’s Iran analyst, Keith Weissman, were caught with classified material provided by Pentagon spy Lawrence Franklin. The FBI had Rosen and Weismann dead to rights but they argued they were acting as AIPAC lobbyists. They would filter the information through AIPAC to the Israeli Embassy in Washington or to AIPAC offices in Tel Aviv. Rosen claimed he was not aware he was subject to any U.S. legislation such as a British-type Official Secrets Act that would have prevented him or journalists from handling sensitive information.
No one should be surprised AIPAC has been involved in this kind of intelligence gathering over half a century. It is, after all, the successor of the American Zionist Council, which was disbanded in 1962 after being ordered by the Kennedy administration to register as an agent of the Israeli government. Six weeks after it was wound up, its top people, at the behest of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, incorporated AIPAC in its place. It has been tax exempt since 1968.
According to Rosen, he has more than 180 AIPAC files showing the kind of activities it has been involved in traditionally, and those he contends will demonstrate he was only doing his job in 2005 when he was “sent out to do something for them that was not illegal.”
The FBI charged Rosen and Weissman with illicitly obtaining classified U.S. government intelligence and defense data. However, for reasons not made clear, the charges were dropped in 2009. At the time, both men were planning to depose in their defense some of the most powerful figures in the United States, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The decision by the Justice Department to drop the spying charges spurred Rosen to go after AIPAC for defamation, and he launched a $20 million defamation suit against his former employer. He should have known taking on a powerful lobby group would be no easy task and things could get down and dirty. That is exactly what happened.
In a 250-page deposition in the suit, AIPAC’s lawyer, Thomas L. McCally, questioned Rosen under oath, and the result was a withering cross-examination that dissected his personal life. He was forced to admit he had regularly accessed pornography on his work computer though he claimed he saw at least 12 other AIPAC staffers do likewise. He alleged some AIPAC directors even boasted about using prostitutes.
To Rosen’s amazement and dismay, the AIPAC legal team had unearthed previously closed divorce filings in which his first wife (of five wives) cited evidence he had been soliciting men for sex. Under oath, Rosen admitted it was true and he had arranged sexual trysts with men through the Internet, sometimes on his work computer. He claimed he had not been aware he had stored pornography on his computer, which was how AIPAC investigators discovered he had been accessing lewd material online.
His suit was dismissed but the judge in the case accepted he was entitled to challenge AIPAC in a jury trial for its statement he was sacked “because he did not reflect AIPAC standards.”
Rosen says his lawyers will show, through evidence he has given them, it was AIPAC’s role to amass information about U.S. Middle East policy and AIPAC was often asked by U.S. officials to help them build support for controversial policies on Capitol Hill. AIPAC’s success in fighting off the Rosen defamation suit is the least of its worries. If Rosen can now prove in court AIPAC, on behalf of Israel and its intelligence community, regularly acquired and processed classified documents about U.S. foreign policy positions, AIPAC could be required to register as the agent of a foreign power as happened to its predecessor, the American Zionist Council.
There could be other consequences. Revelations about AIPAC as a direct tool of Israel could frighten off many of its big American donors, some of whose names have already surfaced in legal filings. Additionally, there could be pressure on the Justice Department to carry out a probe of the organization.
AIPAC’s immediate problem is it cannot be seen to be buying Rosen’s silence, because that would lead many to conclude Rosen’s claim about AIPAC’s intelligence gathering activities was accurate. As a consequence, it would be difficult for AIPAC to maintain it is merely a non-profit lobbying firm engaged in promoting American-Israel relations.
There has already been some fall-out from the Rosen affair. AIPAC coffers have taken a big hit with a shortfall in donations estimated at $12 million and rising.
RichardWalker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.
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(Issue # 49 & 50, December 6 & 13, 2010)