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Posted at 12:21 PM ET, 05/11/2010

Rosen claims AIPAC made promises in spy case

By Jeff Stein

Steve Rosen is flashing a new weapon in his defamation suit against his former employer, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful lobbying group usually referred to as AIPAC.

Rosen, a central figure in the Israeli espionage scandal that shook official Washington a few years ago, made available to SpyTalk an e-mail that he said shows AIPAC, which feared a widening federal investigation into its ties to Israel, signaled it would “do right by” him down the road, even after they had fired him with public denunciations of his conduct.

AIPAC had fired Rosen, its longtime foreign affairs chief, and Keith Weissman, its Iran analyst, in March 2005, after they were implicated in the FBI‘s investigation of alleged Israeli espionage, saying their conduct did not "reflect AIPAC standards." The two were accused of passing along classified information not only to Israel but to news outlets including The Washington Post.

The Justice Department would eventually charge the two under espionage statutes, alleging they used “their contacts within the U.S. government and elsewhere to gather sensitive U.S. government information, including classified information relating to the national defense, for subsequent unlawful communication, delivery and transmission to persons not entitled to receive it.”

Reports were that the FBI was broadening its investigation into AIPAC-Israel ties, with more indictments to come. In their defense, Rosen and Weissman were preparing to subpoena top administration officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to make their case that the United States regularly used AIPAC to send back-channel communications to Israel. Last year, the charges were dropped.

Rosen says AIPAC fired him after the FBI played “a few minutes of highly edited excerpts” from surveillance tapes “to make me look very sinister,” portraying him as a secret agent rather than a lobbyist who routinely gathers inside information from officials and tries to influence policy.

“They fired me after they heard the FBI threatening that their investigation could be broadened at AIPAC,” Rosen maintained in a telephone interview.

“I was sacrificed like Jonah to save the ship and they were going to make things right” later on, he said.

In the e-mail, dated 8:08 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2007, attorney Abbe Lowell briefed Rosen, then his client, on a meeting he had had with AIPAC officials, including general counsel Philip Friedman.

“Spent most of the time bringing them up to date and explaining the case and … how they got snookered” by the FBI, Lowell wrote to Rosen.

He continued:

“Phil reiterated that ‘when this is all over we will do right by Steve’ but said that nothing can be done now as … we cannot have a situation where on the eve of trial after 3 years all of a sudden AIPAC is paying off Steve not to say things or to say things. He is right. Will discuss.”

Lowell, citing attorney-client privilege, declined to discuss the e-mail.

AIPAC counsel Friedman referred questions to Patrick Dorton, the organization’s outside public relations adviser.

“This is Steve Rosen's lawyer's account of a conversation,” Dorton said. He added: “The alleged assertion is taken out of the context of a broader demand for money by Rosen and his counsel, which AIPAC was unwilling to pay.

“If our counsel made such assertions,” Dorton continued, “they were offered as a personal opinion and did not reflect AIPAC’s position. In fact, no payment or benefit was promised by AIPAC and no payment or benefit was ever conveyed, which is why AIPAC is now defending itself against Mr. Rosen's merit-less defamation claim."

John W. Dozier, Jr., a libel lawyer in Virginia, said the reference to “paying off Steve” was “too nebulous” to be construed as illegal or sinister. When organizations face an unlawful termination suit by a fired employee, for example, he said, they commonly contest severance packages.

“It would make total sense,” he said – emphasizing that he didn’t know the facts of the matter -- whether Friedman’s alleged remark, relayed by Lowell, was referring to negotiations over an employment contract or severance package.

But Rosen says he had never had an employment contract during his 22 years at AIPAC, and had received six months’ severance pay, worth $144,000, in May 2005, seven months before the “do-right-by-Steve” quote cited by Lowell.

“There were no remaining claims that had any legal enforceability against AIPAC,” Rosen said.

But, he added, “There is no question I was trying to get them to pay me. I was living hand-to-mouth.”

On March 2, 2009, just as the D.C. statute of limitations of defamation claims was running out, Rosen filed his defamation suit against AIPAC and its officials. Two months later, Justice Department officials would drop all charges against Rosen and Weissman, saying it was unlikely they could win.

"I thought they should settle with me," Rosen said of AIPAC. "I was abandoned after they sent me out to do something for them that was not illegal."

As part of the discovery process in the defamation suit, he says, he has provided AIPAC's attorneys with “about 180” internal documents showing that officials routinely gathered inside information from government officials about U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Moreover it was common, he and others have said, for U.S. officials to enlist AIPAC to drum up support for policies they couldn’t sell themselves.

“It’s not done in service of Israel,” he says, “but the U.S.-Israel relationship, which we would argue serves us both.”

Last October Judge Jeannette J. Clark dismissed all of Rosen’s complaints against individual AIPAC directors, leaving in place his right to a jury trial on whether the organization slandered him by saying his conduct did not "reflect AIPAC standards."

A mediation attempt is scheduled for August.

By Jeff Stein  | May 11, 2010; 12:21 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Justice/FBI  
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Comments

For good or bad it does, AIPAC is 1st and foremost a foreign lobby group. It is time to remove AIPAC's unique exemption from lobby laws and treat them just like any other DC firm whose firm has 1st obligation to it's foreign client. And register all it's staff as foreign lobbyists.
It is disingenuous to say they do not represent Israel but the "US-Israel" relationship, instead. The same claim could be made by the Saudi lobby, or a trade group paid in part by Chinese expats here to further the US-China relationship in manufacturing.

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | May 11, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Why is the FBI not investigating those who gave a lobbying group representing the interest of a foreign government sensitive information? Why is any lobbying group except for a vetted contractor entitled to sensitive information I as citizen would not have access to? Why are the people who get thrown under the bus being investigated? Keep your eye on the ball FBI.

Posted by: J1107 | May 11, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

This is only 1/2 the actual story. There were 3 people involved. One was an actual AIPAC spy who is now in prison (either here or in Israel). His job was to sit on Paul Wolfowitz's knee (or just outside his office door), while Paul gathered all the bad intel on Saddam that had slipped under his door during the previous night. Paul then forwarded all the bad intel thru Rummy and onto Bush's desk. We never did find out who slipped it under Paul's door, no one seemed to want to know either.

Posted by: wmboyd | May 11, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Mr Stein, you conviently forgot to mention that, "According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top-secret information to Steve J. Rosen, AIPAC's then-policy director, and Keith Weissman, a senior Iran analyst with AIPAC, while at the Tivoli Restaurant in Arlington, Virginia. On 27 August, the FBI raided Rosen's office, copying his personal computer's hard drive."

I think those facts are pertinent to this story...Rosen and Weismann walked away scott-free for recieving classified information and the former Lt Col Franklin who gave it to them, got 12 years in prison. Of course, with charges dropped against his buddies-he's now on house arrest. For selling out his own country.

Posted by: PrissyPatriot | May 11, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Hi-
Usually it is easy to dismiss the conspiracy talk that whirls around Washington. However, this is weird.
1) A foreign lobbyist organization that is not registered as such (back channel outlets usually involve members of the intelligence service of the country to be talked to)
2) A group that disavows people who do what they seem to require when caught
3) A strong implication that his group was involved in espionage
4) An even stronger implcation that this group deceived the US into attacking one of its sponsors enemies.
5) The FBI dropping investigations.
6) The elevated levels of the US government people involved.
This organization seems like the foreign national groups that arose in the early 20th Century except that they are not a shelter to protect immigrants, but instead seem to be a method to further the goals of the foreign country. In this, they are similar to the "Communist Party in the US" (which was directed by the Soviet Union). This similarity is consistent with the involvement in espionage, the involvement of high officials in government, etc. One wonders if those in the media and Washington will one day be held to account for their participation in AIPAC's schemes. Are they Americans, or simply fellow travelers?

Posted by: doctort | May 11, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

with more 35,000+ US kids dead or maimed as result of knowingly phony 'preemptive' with heavily-promoted-by-neoconservatives phony 'preemptive' invasion of Iraq having thus far led to 35,000+ dead or maimed US kids (and arguably anywhere from 200,000 to over a million Iraqis dead as direct or indirect aftermath of this fiasco) plus a thousand $billion of added federal deficit (since this 'elective' war financed by two simultaneous tax cuts applied to corporate dividends and those in the highest income brackets), folks are curious about details of how this costly snipe hunt for missing WMD came to be. and yet, details of who actually forged those phony 'Yellowcake' papers and created those phony reports of Iraqi WMD programs (and why), and how such things ended up in President Bush's State of Union speech and in countless speeches and articles by senior Bush officials and neoconservative punsters in the run-up to this phony war seem to be left out of the public eye. the relationship between the neoconservatives and the 'neoconservative leaning' Bush appointees in the Pentagon (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Franklin, et al) and State Department to AIPAC and/or the 'Israeli Lobby' appears to have been very close at the time. Despite the FBI arrest of Franklin and two of AIPAC's senior US employees (the Israeli diplomat involved in this fled the country back to Israel and has not been heard of since), and what US Attorney Fitzgerald implied he might bring out at the Libby trial, none of the shadowy details of how a vast PR program leading up to the Iraq invasion was actually engineered (and by whom, and why?) seems to have yet emerged in public.

keep digging Jeff Stein -- there's every possibility that a conspiracy-espionage-deception story the size of the 'Titanic' lays buried down there somewhere; and look what that comparatively small potatoes conspiracy like Watergate did for a couple of diligent WaPo investigative reporters; you too could become rich and famous.

keep digging.

Posted by: ithejury | May 11, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

[sorry for the run-on in preceeding post; let's try that again]

with heavily-promoted-by-neoconservatives phony 'preemptive' invasion of Iraq having thus far led to 35,000+ dead or maimed US kids (arguably anywhere from 200,000 to over a million Iraqis dead as a direct or indirect aftermath of this fiasco) plus a thousand $billion of added federal deficit (since this 'elective' war financed by two simultaneous tax cuts applied to corporate dividends and the highest income bracket), folks remain curious about details of how this costly snipe hunt for those missing WMD came to be.

and yet, details of who actually forged the phony 'Yellowcake' papers and created the phony reports of Iraqi WMD programs (and why), and how such things ended up in President Bush's State of Union speech and in the countless speeches and articles by senior Bush officials and neoconservative punsters in the run-up to a phony war seem to be left out of the public eye. and the relationship between neoconservatives and all those 'neoconservative leaning' Bush Admin appointees in Pentagon (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Franklin, et al) and in State Department to AIPAC and the 'Israeli Lobby' appears to have been very chummy at the time. Despite FBI arrest of Franklin and two AIPAC senior US employees (the Israeli diplomat involved in this fled the country back to Israel and has not been heard of since), and despite what the US Attorney Fitzgerald initially implied he might bring out at the Libby trial, none of the shadowy details of how a vast PR program leading up to the Iraqi invasion was actually engineered (and by whom, and why?) seems to have yet emerged in public.

many folks (parents or friends of those 35,000+ dead or maimed US troops and every taxpayer in the US) are curious as to the details of how all this came to be. keep digging Jeff Stein -- there's possibility that conspiracy-espionage-deception story the size of the 'Titanic' is still buried down there somewhere; and look what that comparatively small potatoes conspiracy story like Watergate did for a couple of diligent WaPo investigative reporters; yes you too could become rich and famous.

keep digging, and good hunting!

Posted by: ithejury | May 11, 2010 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Guys were in Beirut. Command said it could get hot. They ran out of ammo (lotta shooting) and it came down to knives and hand-to-hand combat. Got out alive and oh well it can get hot. At a certain point it can get bloody too. SEAL's.

Posted by: tossnokia | May 12, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

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