THE ROSEN/WEISMAN PROSECUTION: A NATIONAL DISGRACE
by Rachel Neuwirth
The criminal prosecution of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, former
executives of AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee,
which has been in progress now for over a year (although the trial
date has constantly been delayed), is a national disgrace. It is a
mortal threat to the American Jewish community, since it strongly
reinforces the idea-propounded recently by Professors Stephen Walt,
Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard
University, his co-author John Mearshimer of The University of
Chicago, Patrick Buchanan, and numerous other prominent
soi-disant American patriots, that American Jews' loyalty is to
Israel and not to the United States. It threatens Israel by in effect
criminalizing efforts to lobby on its behalf by American citizens. In
addition, it threatens freedom of the press and freedom of speech for
Neither Keith Weissman nor Steven Rosen was ever an Israeli spy.
Neither was recruited by Israeli agents. Neither received a cent from
Israel. Neither gave classified documents to Israel. They never even
saw such documents; rather they are accused of having passed on
information that they had heard by word of mouth that their informants
allegedly learned from such documents. In effect, they are charged
with gossiping and trading in rumors!
In fact, they are not even technically accused of espionage, but
only of giving "national security information" (a vague phrase that
can refer to unclassified as well as classified information, not
necessarily in writing) to "persons not entitled to receive it." These
individuals, according to the indictment, included not only Israeli
diplomats, but also unnamed American journalists and other American
citizens not connected with Israel. The indictment thus criminalizes
the widespread practice in Washington of leaking classified
information to the press -- a point we will return to shortly.
Rosen and Weissman were senior employees, with thirty years of seniority between them, for an organization that is closely identified with the organized American Jewish community as a whole. Rosen was employed by AIPAC for twenty years, and was the organizations' director for policy. Unnamed sources within the organization have characterized him as "the soul of AIPAC." Keith Weissman was the organizations' expert on policy towards Iran; he has been described as one of Washington's most respected experts on Iranian affairs. Malcolm Hoenlein, the Executive Vice President of AIPAC and its former President, describes both men as "patriotic Americans;" in my research I have discovered absolutely no evidence to the contrary, even in the government's published indictment of them.
Among the many outrageous aspects of the case against the two former AIPAC executives are the following:
- Rosen and Weissman have been indicted under an extremely
obscure and little-used statute, the Espionage Act of 1917. This law
has never been used before to bring criminal charges against persons
who were not employees of the U.S. government. In view of the
unprecedented nature of the indictment, the presiding judge in the
case, Thomas Ellis III, agreed to entertain a defense motion
challenging the constitutionality of the indictment. He remarked that
"we are on uncharted legal ground here."
- While the indictment does claim that Rosen and Weissman
disseminated information learned from government officials, some of it
allegedly classified, it never says what the information was, or how
its disclosure could possibly have harmed the United States. The
information is characterized only in the vaguest and most general
possible way, or is not characterized at all except as "classified."
In authentic espionage cases, the government always discloses a
considerable amount of information about what was disclosed by the
alleged spies to a foreign government, and how that information could
have harmed, or actually did harm, the United States.
- For example, in the case of former FBI agent Robert Hansen, the
government said that Hansen had disclosed the identities of Russians
working for American intelligence in the Soviet Union, who were
promptly executed by the Russians. In the case of John Walker, the
defendant, a Navy sailor, was accused of revealing the Navy's most
secret internal codes to the Russians -- an action that could have
enabled the Russians to destroy hundreds of American ships and kill
thousands of American naval personnel, and to win a war against the
- In the infamous Rosenberg case, Julius Rosenberg was accused of helping to give the Russians information about the United States' ultra-secret nuclear bomb project during World War II. A government witness even drew a diagram describing the technical information about the nuclear bomb's trigger mechanism that he said had been given to a Russian agent by Rosenberg's brother-in-law. This diagram, containing sensitive technical information about the bomb, was placed in evidence as an exhibit in open court.
- The list could go on and on of cases in which the government gave
the public a clear idea of what the information was that alleged spies
disclosed to foreign countries, some of them hostile to the United
States, and how this information could have, or actually did, harm our
country. The government's refusal to reveal any specifics at all about
the nature of information supposedly disclosed by Rosen and Weissman,
or how its disclosure could possibly have harmed the United States,
raises grave doubts the integrity and legitimacy of this prosecution.
- The judge in the case, Thomas Ellis III, took note of this issue
in response to a defense motion to dismiss the case; he ruled that the
prosecution could proceed, but only if the government could prove that
the information disclosed by the defendants had done harm to the
United States. The government protested this decision and demanded
that the judge reconsider it -- to his considerable annoyance!
- In the course of pre-trial proceedings, the government sought to
have the judge retroactively redefine a document that the government's
own indictment described as "unclassified" as having been
"classified." Here too, Judge Ellis rejected the governments' request
with some impatience.
- At least four U.S. government officials are described in the indictment as having given Rosen and Weissman some of the information that they supposedly passed on to Israelis or American journalists. Yet these officials not only have not been charged with anything, they are not even named in the indictment, instead being only identified by such code expressions as "USG-1" and "USG-2." If the information that they disclosed to Rosen and Weisman was really so hush-hush that its disclosure to a foreign government would damage U.S. national security, why weren't these officials charged along with them?
- Eventually, the press (not the government) "outed" two of these officials. One is David Satterfield, then Deputy Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, and now America's second highest-ranking diplomat at the U.S. embassy Iraq. Another is Kenneth Timmerman, then on President Clinton's national security staff and now an official of the high-prestige, influential Brookings Institute. (The public still has not been told who the other two government official informants, described only as Defense Department employees, were.)
- Surely it is an intolerable act of discrimination that the man who
was the source of classified information that supposedly reached a
foreign embassy continues to occupy a position of great power and
trust within the U.S. government, with continued full access to the
most sensitive classified documents, while the individuals to whom he
allegedly gave the information face a relentless prosecution, which
has already cost them $4 million in legal bills. Does the government
really believe that the information supposedly disseminated by Rosen
and Weissman could have been damaging to U.S. interests? If it really
believed this, it would certainly not continue to employ Satterfield
in such a sensitive position of trust and power in Iraq.
- By the same token, the individuals to whom Rosen and Weissman
supposedly gave the classified information, and who may have passed it
on to others, including the public, also are not charged with
anything. The journalists whom the indictment says were given
hush-hush information by the two AIPAC execs are not only not named,
the indictment does not even say how many of them were briefed by
Rosen and Weissman.
- It identifies only one of the news agencies that received the
information -- NBC news. At the same time, it claims that NBC broadcast
some of this information -- which would have made it available to enemies
of the United States as well as Israel, if it were actually damaging
to the United States. Another individual to whom the AIPAC men
supposedly conveyed secret information is described only as an
executive of a "think tank." He is quoted as saying that he would "act
on" the information; but again the indictment takes no action against
him and does not even name him. Here, too, the government's failure to
charge numerous other individuals who were involved in the receipt and
dissemination of the supposedly secret information, raises grave
doubts as to its good faith in launching the prosecution.
- The one government official who was indicted along with Rosen and Weissman is Larry Franklin, a low-ranking analyst of Iranian affairs for the Defense Department. Franklin was accused of sharing information about "the internal deliberations of the United States government" about an unnamed "Middle Eastern country" (presumably Iran) with the AIPAC executives and diplomats of "another Middle Eastern country" (presumably Israel).
- Without the financial resources to mount a defense against the
government, Franklin reluctantly agreed to plead guilty and testify
against his fellow defendants. For his cooperation, the government
"rewarded" him with a twelve-year jail sentence! But by all accounts,
Franklin's only motive for his actions was to spur the U.S. government
to take strong action against Iran's nuclear bomb development program
and other hostile actions against the United States. He found that his
superiors in the Defense Department, and the White House were ignoring
his warnings about the threat from Iran. Naively, he hoped that AIPAC
and/or Israel might have the "clout" with the U.S. government than he
lacked, and might be able to persuade the U.S. to take the Iranian
threat more seriously. Franklin was never an Israeli agent and never
took a cent from Israel. He is a Gentile and not even especially
pro-Israel. That such an obviously patriotic American should be given
such a long jail sentence for trying to protect his country from a
hostile foreign power -- which was his job as a defense department
analyst -- makes no sense.
- Although Franklin was fired by the Defense Department when it
was first disclosed that he was the target of an FBI investigation,
the Defense Department later rehired him, albeit with a lower security
clearance, while the investigation continued. His employment by
Defense even continued for a time following his indictment. If anyone
at the Department of Defense had really believed the Franklin had
compromised U.S. national security through his conversations with
Rosen, Weissman, and Israeli diplomats, this continued employment
would have been inconceivable.
- The U.S. government never lodged
a complaint with the Israeli government about the supposed receipt of
classified U.S. information by Israeli diplomats. Such protests,
usually very stiffly worded, are always lodged in genuine espionage
cases. Neither did the USG ever demand the recall of the Israeli
diplomats who supposedly received classified U.S. information from the
three American diplomats -- again a departure from normal procedure in
- Israeli embassy political advisor Naor Gilon, the Israeli diplomat reported by the press to have talked most frequently about "secret" matters with the three American defendants, did retire from his position "for personal reasons" in 2005, around the time of the indictment. However, he returned to Washington in December of last year as a member of an Israeli delegation to a joint Israeli-American task force for strategic planning to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. The U.S government would certainly not have accepted Gilson as a member of such a super-sensitive joint task force if they thought he had spied on the U.S.
- Israeli ambassador the United States Danny Ayalon, who is also
alleged to have discussed "classified" matters with the defendants,
has just completed his full five-year term in his position without
incident in November 2006. He maintained cordial relations with
President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condeleeza
Rice and other senior U.S. officials throughout his term, and had a
friendly farewell meeting with the President and Vice President before
leaving Washington. This, too, would not have been possible if the
U.S. government had suspected him of espionage against the United
- At one point in the investigation, the Justice Department did
ask Israel to allow it to question the three Israeli diplomats alleged
to have had conversations with the three American defendants.
Jerusalem agreed that their diplomats could be questioned by U.S.
Justice Department lawyers in writing. But no written questions for
the diplomats ever arrived! In fact, when theattorneys for the
defendants sought permission from the Judge Ellis to take depositions
from the Israeli diplomats, the Justice Department opposed the
request! All of this strongly suggests that the government does not
actually believe that anything Rosen, Weissman or Franklin may have
told the Israelis could possibly compromise American security
- Both the Washington Post and the New York Times
have admitted publicly that they frequently receive leaked classified
information from government officials and that they frequently publish
such information. They claim that the other major news agencies also
receive such information from the government, creating competition as
to who will publish this information first and putting pressure on
them to publish the classified information before rivals do. Both
papers have publicly proclaimed that they consider it a matter for
their sole discretion, without government interference, whether to
publish classified information or not. The two newspapers even
received Pulitzer prizes in 2005 for publishing top-secret information.
- The Federation of American Scientists has protested the
indictment of Rosen and Franklin as a threat to their own work in
monitoring nuclear proliferation around the world. The Federation
relies on classified data informally provided to it by government
officials to monitor this very dangerous phenomenon. The Reporters
Committee for Press Freedom has denounced the prosecution as a threat
to freedom of the press. Even the liberal Washington Post and
Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, neither of them special
friends of Israel, have denounced the prosecution for the same reason.
- Most significantly, Viet Dinh, an American lawyer of Vietnamese
ancestry, and the former Justice Department official who is the
principal author of the Patriot Act, which was pushed through Congress
by President Bush as a means of facilitating the war on terror, has
filed a brief with the court arguing that the prosecution of Rosen and
Weissman violates the constitutional protection for freedom of the
press. His brief is significant, because the Patriot Act that he
authored allows the government considerable latitude in prosecuting
individuals who pose a threat to our national security. Dinh is no
friend of spies or terrorists; yet this prosecution, and the vaguely
worded law passed by Congress in 1917 on which it is based, go too far
How has AIPAC responded to the prosecution of its two former senior officials? By firing them, disassociating itself from their alleged actions, and capping its contractual obligation to pay their legal bills at 1.5 million dollars. Speculation is that AIPAC was threatened with prosecution if it did not cut off payment for the legal bills.
How has the rest of the organized American Jewish community
responded to the plight of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two
patriotic Americans who sought to protect the national security of
both America and Israel? There has been some private fund raising for
them, but they hardly are a cause célèbre.
Why is the government prosecuting these three men? Is it true, as
the FBI and AIPAC have asserted, that AIPAC itself is not the object
of an FBI investigation, but only the two former AIPAC executives and
Larry Franklin? Or is there an ongoing FBI investigation of AIPAC? Are
Jewish members of Congress and other pro-Israel American Jewish
objects of FBI investigations as well?
How does the prosecution of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman fit in
to the FBI's attitudes towards Jews and Israel, as displayed in other
cases? Is it related to the FBI's remarkably friendly relations with
Islamist organizations in the United States, such as CAIR and MPAC,
despite these organizations' relations with terrorist organizations
like HAMAS, and their unrelenting hostility to the war on terror? Is
it connected with the claims made by a former FBI interpreter turned
whistle-blower, that al-Qaeda sympathizers have infiltrated the
Rachel Neuwirth is a freelance writer who resides in the Los Angeles
area. Please, visit Rachel's web-site
http://www.MiddleEastSolutions.com. Rachel receives e-mail at
John Landau contributed to reporting and research to this article.
This article was published December 15, 2006
in American Thinker,