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(DV) Petras: AIPAC -- Lobbies and Whistleblowers Yes!, Spies No!







Lobbies and Whistleblowers Yes!, Spies No!  
by James Petras
May 3, 2006

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The arrest of two leading members of the principal pro-Israel lobby AIPAC for procuring confidential information from a leading Pentagon official and passing it to an Israeli spymaster seems to be an open and shut case of espionage. This is especially so when the Pentagon employee later confessed and agreed to testify against the accused AIPAC leaders. AIPAC, after reviewing the case, decided to fire the two accused spies and stopped paying their legal expenses. The Israeli agent, recipient of the confidential information fled to Israel, and has refused attempts by the prosecution to interview him. The information disclosed to the Israeli state touched on very sensitive material pertaining to US strategy toward Iran and Iraq and was a grave matter of state, considering that the AIPAC functionaries passed on the information during wartime.


At first, the issue of AIPAC’s involvement in a spy ring on behalf of Israel split the major pro-Israel organizations, out of fear of possible repercussions, or anger that it might hurt their credibility on pushing Israel’s agenda. However the hard-line Israel Firsters soon went on the offensive, writing editorials, opinion pieces and pressing academic and professional groups to see the issue as a constitutional one of free speech. With time the liberal pro-Israelis jumped on the bandwagon pushing the issue as one of possible persecution of government whistleblowers, who act in the best interest of the government. There are many very solid reasons why the accused AIPAC leaders cannot be considered lobbyists, whistleblowers or investigative reporters seeking out “inside information.”


Lobbyists, as we know them since the founding of the republic, represent a particular set of domestic interests (including foreign subsidiaries) pursuing specific sets of policies favoring the domestic groups, which they represent. Lobbyists, who represent the interests of a foreign government, are legal only when they register as foreign agents, pursuing policies, which favor their overseas paymasters. Organizations registered as foreign agents as well as all other organizations which seek and/or obtain confidential documents or information from the US government and transmit the information to foreign governments via spies in their US embassies (or directly overseas) are engaged in espionage and are chargeable as such.


The two former leaders of AIPAC charged with espionage by the Federal Government were not acting for a domestic constituency; they and their organization clearly identify their sole purpose as promoting the interests of the State of Israel. They and their organization did not register as agents of a foreign power, clearly in violation of the pertinent laws. Finally they and their organization did willingly and knowingly receive confidential information from a middle range Pentagon official regarding questions pertaining to US military strategy in a time of war and transmitted it to a Mossad agent doubling as a Political Secretary at the Israeli Embassy. 

The US Government’s case rests on the testimony of the former Pentagon official, the admissions and videos of the accused that they indeed received the said confidential information and relayed it to a foreign power.


The tendentious arguments put forth by apologists for the accused spies take various forms, usually attempts to blur the line between “common lobby practices” and passing confidential information to a foreign power. One argument is that “most” or “all” lobbyists, (and journalists, pundits and others), secure or try to obtain “inside” information “all the time.” But this apology omits the relevant issue of securing and knowingly transmitting strategic military information vital to US war plans to a foreign power with its own specific regional interests in promoting or directing US foreign policy. Hardly a practice “most” lobbyists, if any, pursue. A further elaboration of the argument put forth by prominent ZionCons is that, the foreign power (Israel) is a “staunch ally” of the US, which “shares the same democratic values and strategic interests,” converting espionage into merely “sharing intelligence.” In fact some ZionCons not only defend the accused spies but chastise the US government for “holding back” information essential for Israel’s security and implicitly suggesting that any high level US Administration Middle East policy debates and decisions, in principle, should be open to the Israeli Foreign Office, or at least the minutes should be forwarded to the State of Israel. No country, by law or practice is obliged to share any part of its strategic discussion with any foreign power, ally or not, at any time. This bizarre ideological concoction converts the US into a unique client of Israel… In the same vein, Israel vehemently guards, only for its eyes, all of its strategic discussions, decisions on war and peace, psych warfare, espionage and nuclear weapons plans etc from all US officials at all times. All the major pro-Israeli organizations automatically and wholeheartedly defend Israel’s closed policy to the US even as many consider espionage a legitimate exercise in “information sharing”.


Predictably extreme ZionCons have even gone so far as to characterize the spy investigation against the leading AIPAC functionaries as an “anti-Semitic” witch-hunt attempting to curtail “legitimate lobbying” activity. No evidence of “anti-Semitism” is ever presented, except for the charging of two Jewish functionaries of AIPAC of receiving and handing over to Israel confidential information. By the same token the trial and conviction of master spy Jonathan Pollard, who spied for Israel and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, should be liberated and his prosecutors arrested for “hate crimes”, i.e. anti-Semitism since Pollard merely exchanged several truckloads of top-secret documents with Israel. In fact, every Israeli Prime Minister has pressured US Presidents for his release to Israel where many consider him a “hero.”


Fox News reporter, Carl Cameron, relying on FBI reports, documented the arrest and expulsion of over one hundred Israeli spies blatantly prowling the Pentagon and other government and military facilities between September 11 to December 30, 2001. The sheer scale of Israeli espionage operations in the US and their high-level intelligence and military operatives’ access to the offices and intelligence of the US Pentagon during the Paul Wolfowitz-Douglas Feith (numbers 2 and 3 at the Pentagon) tenure may have created a sense of immunity for the AIPAC operatives in passing secret information to Israeli agents. Given the clear-cut distinction between public lobbying for specific legislation favorable to a national constituency and engaging in the secret transmission of top secret war information to a foreign power, the arrest of the “AIPAC Two” offers no threat to legitimate lobbying, to Jewish organizations or even to journalists seeking inside dope to secure a journalistic scoop.


Some Jewish and Gentile legal commentators and journalists have raised the issue of “free speech,” that the arrest of the “AIPAC Two” is an infringement of the Bill of Rights and a threat to our Constitution. These legal experts apparently are unaware of the difference between speech (“We are unconditional supporters of the State of Israel”) and criminal action -- obtaining highly confidential information and transmitting said information to a foreign government. To argue for “free speech” one would have to call for freedom to act on behalf of a foreign government, in time of war, in accordance with the war agenda of that foreign government. This would mean that Benedict Arnold, a kind of ersatz “lobbyist” for imperial Britain should have been released for passing documents against the independence of the United States, since he was only expressing his opinions…


The issue is not AIPAC’s right to stand on a soap box declaring its fealty to Israel at every twist and turn, they have been doing that from the day of their founding and have never been prosecuted. Indeed, they have received the adulation of every President and 95% of the Congressmen and women to the tune of $5 billion dollars a year in “aid” to Israel. What is in question is when securing a yearly tribute from the US taxpayers crosses a clearly demarcated line and enters the arena of securing confidential documents and passing them over to Israel. Publicly securing “big bucks” from Congress to give to the Israeli State is legal, covert espionage for Israeli Intelligence is not or at least unless AIPAC decides to lobby Congress to pass such enabling legislation in which spying for Israel is exempt from our country’s espionage laws. The defense of the accused AIPAC spies by certain progressives, including the Village Voice’s Nat Hentoff, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman and even Daniel Ellsberg who argue that their prosecution will intimidate whistle blowers from exposing government malfeasance to public scrutiny. Whistle-blowers do not secure confidential information in order to inform foreign governments engaged in war plans (Iran) which will cost US taxpayers billions and the US military thousands of dead and maimed. A whistle-blower is concerned with government or corporate integrity; the activity of the Pentagon official and his AIPAC collaborators compromised the security of the US and increased the military capacity of a foreign government. Whistle-blowers seek to improve governance, the accused spies deliberately called into question out national sovereignty. Concerned whistle-blowers in the past, present and future will not be intimidated by the arrest of a Pentagon official for turning over confidential information to spies of a foreign country; their exposés are public and accord, in most cases, with the publicly articulated ethical norms of their office which are being violated by their higher-ups. The arrested Pentagon official did not go public to denounce his superior in the Pentagon, Zionist Douglas Feith for cooking up false data on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as he might have. Instead he acted covertly, and transmitted confidential information to Israeli agents to pass on to the state of Israel in order for it to formulate a policy pushing the US toward an unprovoked, preemptive war with Iran. By this, I am suggesting that there is not only a legal basis for the espionage trial of the two AIPAC employees, but a basis for a substantive and informed judgment condemning them for aiding and abetting a brutal, aggressive, colonial power (Israel) to leverage US strategic policies into a murderous attack against Iran. 


Finally some ZionCon cynics argue that since the Israel lobby is so influential and the Administration has been and continues to be riddled with pro-Israeli policy-makers, why do they need to burn two key lobbyists in the major lobby group? Since we in the US lack a comparable lobby to AIPAC in Israel and lack insiders privy to the inner workings of their secret services, we can only make some educated guesses. First and foremost, the Israeli state’s intelligence services work many sources for intelligence, from official visits by friendly US policy-makers, one-sided exchanges with US intelligence agencies, to information flowing from individual and organized loyalists, to academic research, to paid Israeli agents (like Jonathan Pollard). AIPAC’s spying could be simply one more source, to corroborate, confirm or contradict other sources of intelligence. Given the recent unprecedented power of the pro-Israel lobby, where Presidents, Vice Presidents, Cabinet secretaries, Congressional leaders and Governors pledge their unconditional support of Israel and even openly proclaim that US-Middle East wars are for the defense of Israel, there was no reason to suspect that a little AIPAC espionage would result in a federal prosecution. In fact, the US State and the population at large are deeply divided on the issue of fighting Middle East wars for the state of Israel. Israel and its lobby’s high-powered campaign for a military attack on Iran has provoked strong opposition from former top officials, the military, the CIA -- both retired and active -- as well as from tens of millions who suffer the consequences of our “foreign entanglements.”


A test of strength between the opposing camps is being waged in the prosecution or release of the accused AIPAC spies. A successful prosecution would, at least, raise questions about the purposes and legitimacy of the pro-Israel war lobby. The dismissal of charges, which seems very possible or probable (given the mass one-sided propaganda effort), would be one more victory (this time in the Judiciary branch) for the pro-Israel powerhouse, which already has dominant influence in the Congress and the Executive branches of the government. A judicial victory would mean that the Lobby has political immunity to go about its business of promoting Israeli power by any means necessary. A democracy thrives on dissent; a democracy dies from deceit.


James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50-year membership in the class struggle, is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina, and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and State Power: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, was published in October 2005. He can be reached at: jpetras@binghamton.edu.