Conyers Calls for Hearings on Israel Spy Case
The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, is calling for open hearings on the latest leak involving a Pentagon analyst accused in the press by anonymous sources of spying for Israel.
Publication:The New York Sun; Date:Sep 2, 2004; Section:National; Page:13
Conyers Calls for Hearings on 'Spy' Case
By ELI LAKE Staff Reporter of the Sun
WASHINGTON — The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee is calling for open hearings on the latest leak involving a Pentagon analyst accused in the press by anonymous sources of spying for Israel.
In an August 31 letter that his staff made public yesterday, Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat of Michigan, wrote that it was not yet known whether the analyst in question, Larry Franklin "was acting at the behest of his superiors," speculating that a "rogue element in the American government may have been working with a foreign government."
The letter was released as the New York Sun learned that the FBI investigation into Mr. Franklin and the alleged leaking of a draft Iran policy paper may be significantly scaled back.
According to sources familiar with the investigation,the U.S.district attorney in charge of the probe, Paul McNulty, has ordered the FBI not to move forward with arrests that they were prepared to make last Friday when the story broke on CNN and CBS. "He put the brakes on it in order to look at it," a source familiar with the investigation told the Sun. "To see what was there. Basically the FBI wanted to start making arrests and McNulty said 'Woa, based on what? Let's look at this before you do anything.'"
Mr. Franklin's security clearances were revoked in June, according to administration officials, and the FBI has tailed two staff members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for at least a year. Early press reports alleged Mr. Franklin passed the draft policy paper to those Aipac officials. The two Aipac Iran analysts, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, have retained a well known criminal defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, for counsel.
Mr. McNulty was only assigned the case by Attorney General Ashcroft last Friday when federal agents came to Aipac's offices in Washington to request files and hard drives. "Ashcroft wanted to make sure this case was being handled properly," the source familiar with the probe said. "I would not expect any action on this for at least three weeks." This source added that a grand jury is now being selected, but it was likely the charges,initially reported as espionage, would be scaled back to the mishandling of classified information.
Senator Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency yesterday that Mr. Ashcroft should launch an investigation into who leaked the name of the target of the FBI probe. "I know Aipac, I know its integrity," he said. "It's a smear."
A former FBI counterterrorism official who left the bureau in 2003, Kenneth Piernick, told the Sun yesterday that for the FBI to leak Mr. Franklin's name before an indictment was handed down was highly unusual. "I can't think of a circumstance where this sort of thing would be appropriate. In all the investigations I ever did, I never had reason to divulge the subject of the investigation before an indictment."
Mr. Conyers's letter requesting the hearing to the committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican of Wisconsin, repeats many of the most extreme charges against the undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, that have been leveled by anonymous sources in press reports for the last two years. A spokesman for Mr. Sensenbrenner yesterday told the Sun that no hearings were scheduled as a result of Mr. Conyers's request.
Mr. Conyers writes, "it now appears that these allegations may be only the tip of the iceberg of a broader effort of Pentagon employees working in the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, to conduct unauthorized covert activities, without the knowledge of the Central Intelligence Agency."
While Mr. Conyers at no point mentions Aipac or even Israel in his letter, the focus of his probe is Bush administration officials often singled out by their critics as "neoconservatives."
For example he asks whether Pentagon officials, or members of the vice president's staff, passed information to the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmad Chalabi, that would compromise America's breaking of "Iranian communications codes."In May,the National Security Agency made the case that Mr. Chalabi has done just that, though no American officials have gone on the record. Mr. Chalabi has sued the Kingdom of Jordan, which he says is the source of the story.
Despite a public report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released in July that concludes most of the poor intelligence on Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction derived from the CIA, Mr. Conyers asks, "Did Pentagon officials illegally obtain and disseminate false intelligence information to further the (now discredited) assertion that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction?" He also asks, "What role (if any) did officials in the NSC, including Elliott Abrams, have in these actions?" Mr. Abrams was a figure in Congress's investigation of the Iran-Contra affair during President Reagan's second administration.
Mr. Conyers also says he would like the hearings to focus on what he calls "unauthorized meetings with foreign nationals, including Iranian and Syrian nationals, to plan or direct covert activities against foreign governments." He specifically mentions "known Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar."
The executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, said that it was not the right time for Congressional investigations. "This is not the time for congressional investigations, the facts have to be ascertained," he said. "Then there will be time for many hard questions about how this was handled, the timing and the accuracy of the information."
The spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, David Siegel, said his office's work was proceeding despite the flap."We have yet to hear anything official from the administration on this investigation.Our work with the administration on all levels continues as usual," Mr. Siegel said.
address: The New York Sun
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