Larry Franklin (credit: Maariv International)
Since I wrote my first post about the alleged Pentagon spy case, the identity of the possible spy has been revealed. He is Larry Franklin, a low level Pentagon desk officer (and not a senior official as I wrote in my previous post on this subject). It is alleged that he held meetings with AIPAC staffers and Naor Gilon, head of the Israeli Embassy’s political department and that he handed over a draft U.S. position paper regarding U.S. relations with Iran and our plans to respond to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. By the way, I’ve looked high and low for a photo of Mr. Franklin and still cannot locate one. If any of my readers find one, please let me know.
The Pentagon again tried to minimize the significance of the case by saying Franklin “was at the bottom of the food chain, at the grunt level.” Another defense official said Mr. Franklin “had a certain expertise and had access to things, but he wasn’t a policy maker.”
Keep in mind that Mordechai Vanunu was a mere “grunt” at Israeli’s Dimona nuclear reactor and yet he claimed he had almost free run of the place to photograph and sketch whatever he wished. While it is hard to determine how much real damage he did, if one believes Israeli intelligence (and that is a by no means a reasonable proposition), he did serious damage.
The Times also points out in Officials Say Publicity Derailed Secrets Inquiry that CBS News’ Friday scoop revealing the spy case probably irreparably compromised the FBI’s case. With Franklin supposedly cooperating, there was a possibility of ensnaring the Israeli intelligence officers who accepted Franklin’s documents. Now that is impossible and no one may ever be charged with an espionage breach. While one might argue that it is the press’ role to obtain information and reveal it to the public, what CBS has done seems to me unpardonable. And whoever leaked the information to them severely compromised a significant national security matter. I wonder if that person has coming to them the same fate that is in store with the person who “outed” Valerie Plame.
Steven Erlanger in Israel Denies Spying Against U.S. details the Israeli government public position:
After the hugely embarrassing spying scandal of 1985, when Jonathan Pollard, an American intelligence analyst, was arrested and convicted of spying for Israel, the Israeli government made a firm decision to stop all clandestine spying in the United States, Yuval Steinitz, the chairman of the foreign and defense committee in Parliament, said Saturday.
Mr. Steinitz is chairman of the most powerful committee in Parliament, with oversight of all Israeli military and intelligence agencies, and is chairman of the subcommittee on intelligence. He says he has access to as much secret information as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“This was a firm decision,” Mr. Steinitz said, “and I’m 100 percent confident – not 99 percent, but 100 percent – that Israel is not spying in the United States. We have no agents there and we are not gathering intelligence there, unlike probably every other country in the world, including some of America’s best friends in Europe.”
Steinitz’ comment beggars belief. Who in their right mind believes that Israel stopped snooping on the U.S. after the Pollard incident?? I simply don’t believe it. It’s part of the smoke and mirrors show Israel is attempting to mount to make themselves look pure as the driven snow.
In fact, the Los Angeles Times in Israel Has Long Spied on U.S., Officials Say quotes “government officials” who directly refute Steinitz:
Despite its fervent denials, Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States that has long attempted to recruit U.S. officials as spies and to procure classified documents, U.S. government officials said.
Officials said FBI surveillance of a senior Israeli diplomat, who was the subject of an FBI inquiry in 1997-98, played a role in the latest probe into possible Israeli spying.
“There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States,” said a former intelligence official who was familiar with the latest FBI probe and who recently left government. “Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States.”
The former official discounted repeated Israeli denials that the country exceeded acceptable limits to obtain information.
“They undertake a wide range of technical operations and human operations,” the former official said. “People here as liaison … aggressively pursue classified intelligence from people. The denials are laughable.”
A former senior intelligence official, who focused on Middle East issues, said Israel tried to recruit him as a spy in 1991.
“I had an Israeli intelligence officer pitch me in Washington at the time of the first Gulf War,” he said. “I said, ‘No, go away,’ and reported it to counterintelligence.”
The FBI has investigated several incidents of suspected intelligence breaches involving Israel since the Pollard case, including a 1997 case in which the National Security Agency bugged two Israeli intelligence officials in Washington discussing efforts to obtain a sensitive U.S. diplomatic document. Israel denied wrongdoing in that case and all others, and no one has been prosecuted.
Erlanger adds an interesting addendum to his story which seems to point to the direction that Israel wishes this story would go:
[Israeli] officials went to pains on Saturday to say that despite the importance of such intelligence, Israel only works openly in America, including diplomatic conversations and relationships with a full range of sources, from the White House and Congress to AIPAC, which has its own sources. “America is the great exception,” one official said. Mr. Steinitz said, “People leak sometimes when they shouldn’t, that goes on everywhere, but that’s a different matter.”
Israel tries to argue that the transfer of the U.S. Iran plan document from Franklin to the Israeli government was a leak, in other words that Franklin or whoever deliberately leaked the document to Israel. In other words, Israel did not actively attempt to get it, but rather it was dumped in their laps by a helpful American official. That gets Israel off the hook bit time.
For the Times latest report on the case, see:
F.B.I. Is Said to Brief Pentagon Bosses on Spy Case; Charges Are Possible
White House, Key Lawmakers Briefed on Israel Probe