Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Should AIPAC Decide What's Classified?
By Grant F. Smith
Anti-War, February 28, 2009
On Feb. 17, Judge T.S. Ellis added a new twist in the case of
two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) executives
indicted under the 1917 Espionage Act. In what the Jewish Telegraphic Agency
and Secrecy News describe as a major blow to the prosecution, Judge Ellis
ruled that J.
William Leonard can testify on behalf of the defendants
when they go to trial on April 21, 2009.
previously argued that since Leonard-- a career government employee with
expertise in the classification process--had been briefed about the case in
2006, he could not legally become a witness for the defense. Rosen and
Weissman defense team lawyers expect that Leonard's testimony will throw
down the gauntlet by saying that the U.S. government "over-classifies"
information of the type AIPAC lobbyists sought and circulated. Leonard has
examined the national defense information (NDI) Rosen and Weissman obtained
and is said even to be prepared to testify that the "back-channel" practice
of disclosing national security information to journalists and lobbyists can
actually advance U.S. national security interests. Leonard is also expected
to certify that the NDI released in the AIPAC case was neither closely held
nor particularly damaging to the U.S. More curious still, Judge Ellis
believes (according to his ruling) that Leonard may even be qualified to
opine on whether the defendants could have been in a "state of mind" in
which they believed their conduct was lawful. The 1917 Espionage Act is
silent on such issues.
The defendants rightly consider Leonard to be
their "most important and irreplaceable" witness, and jurors will likely be
bowled over by his credentials. Between 1973 and 2002 Leonard was employed
by the U.S. Department of Defense as director of security programs and later
deputy assistant secretary of defense for security and information
operations. Leonard was charged with developing and monitoring the
implementation of policies to stop classified information leaks, investigate
leaks, and ensure that NDI was properly classified.
Between 2002 and
2008, Leonard served as director of the Information Security Oversight
Office, the "classification czar" responsible for government-wide
classification systems. He now runs his own private consultancy.
AIPAC could have found no better friend than Leonard to gently advise the
jury to "move along, there's nothing to see here." If that occurs, America
may witness the final stage in AIPAC's long-term drive to essentially
declassify or classify U.S. government secrets at will-- a potentially
dangerous threat to the rule of law in America. If this seems a bit
over-the-top, consider two prior incidents.
In 1962 AIPAC's
predecessor organization--the American Zionist Council (AZC)--ran into
trouble when Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy ordered it to register as
Israel's foreign agent under the 1938 Foreign Agents Registration Act
(FARA). The Department of Justice (DOJ) discovered the AZC had secretly
received the equivalent of $35 million in Israeli funds to build a domestic
lobby and conduct public relations in the United States for arms, aid, and
preferential diplomatic treatment. In a massive but secret battle with the
DOJ, the AZC managed to win two important concessions. The AZC was allowed
to file a partial activity declaration covering only three months rather
than the many years during which it was most actively lobbying for Israel.
The DOJ also accepted--at the AZC's insistence-- that its declaration of the
names of recipients receiving payments from Israel be kept secret rather
than be open for public inspection as all FARA declarations normally are.
This allowed the AZC to quietly shut down operations and reorganize
lobbying activities within AIPAC. The typed statement of Israeli-financed
payments to major U.S. scholars, New York Times media personalities, and an
assortment of other recipients was only declassified in 2008. In effect, the
government classification won by the AZC preserved AIPAC's reputation,
thereby ensuring the Israel lobby's uninterrupted rise even after the FARA
order. Although this may now seem only an esoteric historical point, the
classification paved the way for even greater AIPAC and Israeli
In 1983, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and
AIPAC lobbied the Reagan administration for preferential Israeli access to
the U.S. market.
On Jan. 31, 1984, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR)
William E. Brock commissioned the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC)
to "conduct an investigation--and to advise the president--as to the
probable economic effect of providing duty-free treatment for imports from
Israel on industries in the United States." But rather than move the two
states closer to true free trade, the trade negotiations mangled the rights
of American businesses.
U.S. industry groups were alerted via the
Federal Register about the proposed trade agreement and urged to provide
written comments and/or appear at public hearings. The ITC compiled reams of
"business confidential" information about market share and trade secrets
from highly concerned U.S. corporations and industry associations into a
300+ page report that it transmitted to the USTR for use in
deal on May 30, 1984. Only 15 numbered and
carefully circulated copies were ever printed, but on Aug. 3, 1984, the
Washington Post broke the news that the FBI was investigating how AIPAC
obtained a copy. The ITC later confirmed the secret report was also held by
the Israeli government.
Israel subsequently leveraged the highly
sensitive inside information from U.S. companies and associations most
affected by the pending agreement against them. According to the Washington
Post, "a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC),
the principal pro-Israel lobbying group in this country, acknowledged that
the organization had a copy of the report but said the lobbying group did
nothing illegal." There is no lingering doubt about the sensitivity of the
trade report obtained by AIPAC and Israel--an attempt to declassify it under
the Freedom of Information Act was denied on "national security" grounds,
among other reasons, late in 2008.
The consequences of the alleged
AIPAC espionage now on its way to trial could have been far worse. We now
know that Israel solicited American approval to attack Iran over its
civilian nuclear program and sought both overflight rights and advanced
munitions from the United States. Both requests were denied on the basis of
U.S. national security interests. If Rosen and Weissman's parallel
intelligence-collection project had gone undetected and actually
succeeded--the FBI was investigating their movements since at least
1999--AIPAC might have been able to leverage the NDI through press,
pressure, and propaganda into permission for Israeli or even U.S. strikes
against Iran. Perhaps with J. William Leonard in tow, AIPAC's abuse of
national defense secrets will succeed the next time around. But the fallout
from attacking yet another country on false pretexts is unfathomable. This
is why Americans observing mainstream pundits and assorted ideologues
trumpeting the current course of the long-delayed AIPAC espionage trial as a
victory for freedom of the press should ponder this: is it really in our
best interests that Israel and its American lobby be empowered to classify
or declassify American secrets at their whim?