The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the Justice Department has finally done the right thing and dropped its prosecution of two former AIPAC analysts.
This was long overdue. The problem here was not just that court rulings had made convictions impossible. It was that there was no case to begin with. The idea that the government could prosecute two private individuals under the 1917 Espionage Act for passing along government leaks was absurd. The whole point of the exercise was obviously an attempt on the part of some people in the FBI to embarrass the pro-Israel lobby. But what they wound up doing was something that potentially made every off-the-record communication between people in the government and journalists or lobbyists a crime. That was never going to fly as a matter of law or justice.
But the threat to journalistic freedom didn’t deter many in the press from promoting this misguided setup as a “spy story.” That was, if you recall, the way it was originally put forward in a government leak to CBS News. On August 27, 2004, CBS broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy in the U.S. Department of Defense working for Israel. The story reported that the FBI had uncovered a spy working as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith and then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The country thought this was a repeat of the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal with connections to two prominent “neo-cons” in the government.
But what was really going on was that the government was spying on AIPAC, not the other way around. The case against Rosen and Weissman was based on a government “sting,” in which Larry Franklin, a defense department official who was bullied into accepting a guilty plea and was later sentenced to over 12 years in prison, passed on false information to them about threats from Iran.
Unfortunately for Rosen and Weissman, the government bullied AIPAC into abandoning them to their fate. The two were fired. Initially, it appeared that the organization was refusing to pay their defense costs, though they eventually gave in on that point. Rosen is suing his former employer for his wrongful termination. AIPAC is going to need to settle that suit pronto.
Now after almost five years, Rosen and Weissman are finally off the hook and can get on with the rest of their lives. Both deserve credit for having the courage to resist the enormous pressure that was placed on them to give in and plead guilty.
But questions need to be asked about why so much time, energy, and money was expended by the government on a case that never had much of a basis in law, fact, or morality. The real scandal was not the false story about Israeli spies that the government leaked, but about a Justice Department that sought to use its power to destroy the lives of a couple of pro-Israel analysts/lobbyists and to stigmatize the entire pro-Israel community, (not to mention those who were alarmed about the danger from Iran).
A shameful chapter in American judicial history is closed but the recriminations over this outrage should just be getting started.