"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Israel Meddling in US Policy? Perish the Thought!

Fri Aug 27, 2004

From the New York Times:

The F.B.I. is investigating a Pentagon official on suspicion of passing secrets to Israel, government officials said on Friday.

The espionage investigation has focused on an official who works in the office of Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, officials who have been briefed about the investigation said. The F.B.I. has gathered evidence that the official passed classified policy documents to officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israeli lobbying group, which in turn provided the information to Israeli intelligence, the officials said.

The bureau has evidence that the Pentagon official has given the Israelis a sensitive report about American policy toward Iran, along with other materials, the officials said.

Several government officials identified the official who is under investigation, but he could not be immediately reached for comment about the accusations.

Neither the official under suspicion nor anyone else associated with the case has been arrested, the officials said. Government officials suggested on Friday that investigators were seeking the cooperation of the Pentagon official being investigated.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the matter. A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, David Siegel, denied the accusations of espionage. "They are completely false and outrageous," he said.

"The United States is Israel's most cherished friend and ally," Mr. Siegel said. "We have a strong ongoing relationship at all levels, and in no way would Israel do anything to impair this relationship."

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee also denied any wrongdoing. The organization said in a statement: "Any allegation of criminal conduct by the organization or its employees is baseless and false." The group added, "We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities and will continue to do so."

The F.B.I. inquiry has been under way for at least a year, and has been one of the bureau's most sensitive spy cases in years, officials said. One official said that the suspected involvement of people working at a major pro-Israeli lobbying organization led the Justice Department to move cautiously.

The fact that the Pentagon official under investigation works for Mr. Feith has also made the case politically sensitive for the Bush administration.

Before the war in Iraq, Mr. Feith created a special intelligence unit that sought to build a case for Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda, an effort that has since been heavily criticized by American intelligence professionals as an effort to justify the war.

In a statement released Friday night, the Pentagon said that the Department of Defense " has been cooperating fully with the Department of Justice on this matter for an extended period of time."

"The investigation involves a single individual at D.O.D. at the desk officer level, who was not in a position to have significant influence over U.S. policy," the statement continued. "Nor could a foreign power be in a position to influence U.S. policy through this individual. To the best of D.O.D.'s knowledge, the investigation does not target any other D.O.D. individuals.''

One United States official said that he did not know why the desk officer would have passed on the information and that he could not assess the potential damage. "He had a certain expertise and had access to things, but he wasn't a policymaker," the official said.

Some of the classified information that investigators suspect was passed to Israel dealt with sensitive policy discussions about the United States' position toward Iran, officials said.

As a result, the investigation is likely to give rise to questions about whether Israel may have used the information to influence American policy in the Middle East.

The Pentagon analyst who officials said was under suspicion was one of two department officials who traveled to Paris for secret meetings with Iranian dissidents, including Manucher Ghorbanifar, an arms dealer. Mr. Ghorbanifar was a central figure in the Iran-contra affair in the 1980's, in which the United States government secretly sold arms to Iran in exchange for the release of American hostages in Lebanon and to finance the fighters, known as contras, opposing the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

The secret meetings were first held in Rome in December 2001, were approved by senior Pentagon officials and were originally brokered by Michael Ledeen, a conservative analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute who has a longstanding interest in Iranian affairs. Mr. Ledeen has said that he believed that he arranged the meetings in order to put the Bush Administration in closer contact with Iranian dissidents who could provide information valuable in the war on terrorism.

It was not clear whether the espionage investigation was directly related to the secret meetings with Mr. Ghorbanifar. Nor was there immediate evidence of whether money had changed hands in exchange for classified information.

American policy towards Iran is now of critical importance to Israel, which is increasingly concerned by evidence that Tehran has accelerated its program to develop a nuclear weapon. The Bush Administration has become concerned that Israel might move militarily against Iran's nuclear complex in order to delay Tehran's progress.

American counterintelligence officials say that Israeli espionage cases are difficult to investigate, because they involve an important ally that enjoys broad political influence in Washington. Several officials said that a number of espionage investigations involving Israel had been dropped or suppressed in the past in the face of political pressure. The last major Israeli spy case to become public involved Jonathan Pollard, a Naval intelligence analyst who was arrested in 1985 for passing large volumes of classified material to his Israeli intelligence handlers. He was sentenced to life in prison, and over the years, Israeli officials have lobbied a succession of American presidents to try to win his release.

CBS and the Washington Post are also on this story.

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Milton Frihetsson, 07:52


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