Suspected Israeli Spy in Pentagon: First the Leak, Then the Fallout
It is very likely that one or more arrests will ensue from the leaked report run by CBS News Friday, August 27, of a high-profile FBI probe against a Pentagon official on suspicion of passing secrets to Israel through two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – AIPAC. Without such arrests, the report would lose its credibility.
The vigorous denials by Israel and AIPAC indicate that both expect the reported investigation to move into the detention stage. Within hours of the first disclosure, the name of Larry Franklin, a desk officer-analyst who works with two top Pentagon officials, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, turned up “unofficially” in the Washington Post as the suspected Israeli mole. So too did the name Dave Szady, as head of the FBI inquiry team.
Depending on who is arrested and the nature of the charges, the investigation is fraught with a high degree of damage to President George W. Bush’s Middle East policy and his core advisory team, eight weeks before he stands for re-election. Already, there are marks of strain in US-Israel relations and Bush’s ties with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon are bound to be affected. The harm is visible even before the investigation has determined whether it will lead to a charge of espionage or lesser offenses of improper disclosure or the mishandling of classified materials.
An AIPAC official said to the Washington Post:, “Our folks are pretty outraged about this. We’ve had these kinds of accusations before, and none of them has ever proven to be true.”
The pro-Israel lobby has categorically denied the accusation against two of its employees but prepared for the worst by hiring outside counsel.
The Pentagon quickly asserted that the suspected official was in no position to influence US policy and the investigation in the department was very limited in scope. Jerusalem officials heatedly maintained that no Israeli intelligence-gathering resources had been active in Washington for many years.
These statements are but initial knee-jerk reactions to the first disclosure in the pre-arrest stage of the affair. But even the first report is remarkable for its multi-targeted sweep. Impugned is
the top policy advisory level of the Department of Defense – from deputy defense secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, through Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy and William J. Luti, deputy undersecretary of defense for Near East and South Asian Affairs. He oversaw the Pentagon’s “Office of Special Plans,” which conducted some early policy work for the 2003 invasion of Iraq including issues of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links to al Qaeda.
The unit’s work is a vital White House policy tool on the Iran question as well as Iraq. It is one of the two Pentagon offices that Bush administration critics accused Pentagon hawks of setting up to bypass the CIA and other intelligence arms. The possibility cannot be ruled out that by leveling a single sensational accusation, some American intelligence element believing itself sidelined struck out against Bush, his top team and his policies by the simple device of tarring Israel and the influential organization representing its cause in Washington – in one fell swoop.
Without being spelled out, the implication has been planted that, 19 years after the Jonathan Pollard affair, Israel is still running moles to dig out American secrets in order to manipulate US policies for its own rather than American interests. The media will recall that some of Pollard’s intelligence-military controllers had been allies of Ariel Sharon in his former service as defense minister. If Franklin is proved beyond doubt to have been an Israeli spy and the two AIPAC employees, his contacts for transferring secrets to Israel, Sharon will automatically come under a cloud, inferentially accused of harking back to his old ways. All this innuendo will cause Israel incalculable damage in the United States, even before the FBI establishes whether or not it has a case.
Therefore, the way the new spy sensation unfolds is important as much for its political fallout and nuanced marginal notes as for the legal case.
The timing of the disclosure should be instructive. Was it leaked for the ulterior motive of hurting the Bush run for re-election against Senator John Kerry, by suggesting that his key decisions on the Iraqi war were determined not only by the neocons of his administration but by a foreign mole? Or was the motive quite different? Might it not have been designed for showing the president as having rid himself of the influence of the Pentagon team and Israel by the very fact of the probe against that team, Israel and its foremost Washington lobbyist, APAIC?
This tactic is not unknown. A former Republican president, Ronald Reagan, though indisputably a friend of Israel, fought hard against AIPAC over the sale of US AWACs to Saudi Arabia and dealt harshly with the spy Pollard.
If the White House is indeed conforming to this pattern, it would mean that the Bush administration has given up on Sharon and his chances of forcing through his disengagement plans and is ready to drop their collaborative relations.
A falling out between Bush and Sharon would cause great celebration in Tehran. Even the initial disclosure must have given Iran’s hard-line clerics cause to rub their hands in glee after a highly profitable week. Israel’s Arrow anti-ballistic missile system missed its aim against a Scud missile performing similarly to their Shehab-3, the weapon that is the backbone of Iran’s deterrent force against American military forces in Iraq and its insurance against Israel demolishing their nuclear weapons production facilities. Two days later, the Israeli mole in the Pentagon affair erupted, an event that will be seen in Tehran as tying the Bush administration’s hands in a way that will hamper its ability to take action against Iran’s advancing nuclear weapons program.