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The Big Chill | The Nation

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The Big Chill

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While such alleged efforts have made Rosen an object of controversy among some more left leaning members of the politically-active Washington Jewish policy community, even those who are not his fans do not believe Rosen is a spy. They describe a man motivated not so much by concern for Israel as a quest for behind-the-scenes power in Washington. "Steve Rosen doesn't give a damn about Israel," a Jewish community activist who requested anonymity explained. "These are game players. For them, it's all about the game."

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Laura Rozen
Laura Rozen reports on national security and foreign policy from Washington, DC, for The American Prospect, The Nation...

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A report on the mysteries of the FBI's Larry Franklin/AIPAC investigation.

The neocons haven't given up on "regime change" in Iran. Don't count them out.

For Rosen, that game became focused on Iran some time ago, in the early 1990s. According to former AIPAC sources, the reasons included a request by then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that AIPAC to stay out of delicate US-Israel negotiations over the Mideast peace process.

"From...when Rabin came in, Steve's mandate has been to go after Iran, largely because Rabin didn't want him messing around with the peace process," says one veteran lobbyist who requested anonymity. "Steve took it and ran with it beyond anyone's expectations. So what comes out of it is that you have a [US] Iran policy that AIPAC is driving. And this went well into the last [Clinton] Administration.

"Then along comes a new Administration that is made up of the same neocons that were promoting the [hawkish] Iran policy," the veteran lobbyist continued, "but this Administration was divided down the center.... On the one hand, you have the neocons...on the other side, you have Powell and Richard Armitage and the State department [and the CIA], who want to try to open up a dialogue. One is for confrontation, and one is for dialogue.... So the neocons, the Iran hawks, know that they have got a natural ally...at other think tanks around town who feel the same way they do.... They also have AIPAC, which has made [Iran] its number-one issue.... My guess is that they went to AIPAC and the others with the same message: 'You have friends we don't have. Help us to persuade them to see it our way.'"

Persuading political heavyweights to see things his way was what Rosen was all about. Sources tell The Nation that Rosen has a long history of cultivating executive branch sources [see Rozen, "Hall of Mirrors," posted here in May], milking them for information, boasting about his access to AIPAC's funders and leadership, and engaging in strategic press leaks as a regular part of his efforts to influence policy and engage in bureaucratic warfare.

Indeed, the unsealed twenty-page Franklin indictment offers a fascinating peek into the government's view of the Pentagon analyst and the AIPAC officials cultivating one another, presumably attempting to tip the Bush Administration toward a harder line against Iran. For the AIPAC officials, Franklin--who often appears frustrated at bureaucratic obstacles to this harder line-seems to have offered grumbling and insights on the bitter interagency Iran policy debates inside the Administration. For Franklin, the AIPAC officials must have seemed like sympathetic political sophisticates, freed from the tyranny of working in the government bureaucracy but with impressive influence among high-level officials in the White House and key members of Congress. Indeed, in a fascinating reversal of the ordinary official-lobbyist relationship, it appears from the indictment that Franklin thought Rosen could bypass the bureaucracy and take Franklin's information straight to the White House, and possibly "put in a good word for him" to get a job at the National Security Council.

But the Franklin indictment raises a key question: What exactly is the nature of the conspiracy the government believes it has uncovered? The kind of information the AIPAC officials seemed most interested in wasn't intelligence but policy information: who in the bureaucracy was arguing which position on Iran, who were the obstacles to the adoption of hard-line policies and the like.

"I don't think anyone's spying for anyone," says a Jewish community activist, no fan of Rosen's, who asked not to be named. "Rosen is not working for Israel, because he was working for a separate sovereign entity [AIPAC]. Franklin just wanted to be a policy nerd, to advocate for a policy he thought wasn't getting enough attention."

But there are seeming anomalies to this benign interpretation of the relationship to be found in the Franklin indictment as well. The most interesting and surprising part of the indictment describes fourteen meetings between Franklin and an "FO" (foreign officer), widely reported to be Israeli Embassy political officer Naor Gilon. They met in the open, at the Pentagon Officers' Athletic Club and Washington-area coffee shops and restaurants, between 2002 and 2004. The last part of the indictment asserts that at some point Franklin disclosed to Gilon "classified United States government information relating to a weapons test conducted by a Middle Eastern country," presumably Iran. It is hard to discount such an unauthorized disclosure to a foreign government official as an ordinary leak.

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