06/13/2005 04:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Conservatives for Espionage

When a top Pentagon analyst walked in on a luncheon meeting of two Washington lobbyists, and a top official from the embassy of a Middle Eastern country, and proceeded to reveal highly classified information, the FBI’s counterintelligence unit just happened to be listening in on the conversation: they had been watching the embassy official and his fellow lunchers as part of a wide-ranging espionage investigation, which had been ongoing since 2001. It was the summer of 2003.

The FBI started keeping tabs on the analyst, and at one point they saw him try to give an official of a foreign embassy top secret documents: they recorded his conversations, and surveiled his clandestine meetings with various foreign government officials and their Washington helpers. Pretty clearly the FBI had uncovered a major nexus of espionage embedded in the top civilian echelons of the Pentagon, and, after keeping a close eye on their man for months they finally pounced, confronted him with his treason, and moved to file charges… but held off from doing so in order to widen their investigation and reel in more fish. The analyst agreed to wear a wire, and initiate contact with other members of the spy ring: if he could garner enough evidence to convict them, the analyst would get his charges reduced, and the republic would be saved.

This plan was nixed, however, when the news that the analyst had been caught was leaked by a national television network: the spy nest was alerted, and, soon after, the analyst stopped cooperating with the FBI and federal prosecutors, got himself an expensive lawyer, and clammed up. Meanwhile, it was quietly announced that the foreign embassy official who had been caught on tape gleaning U.S. secrets at the lunch would be recalled. The two lobbyists were fired by their employer -- rated by Fortune magazine as one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington -- and it is widely believed that they will both be shortly indicted and charged with espionage.

Last month the FBI finally moved to arrest the analyst, who had already been transferred to a non-sensitive position where he would have no access to top secret information. When FBI agents searched his home and his office, they found 83 sensitive documents, spanning three decades. According to the affidavit accompanying the prosecutor's complaint, "approximately 38 were classified 'Top Secret.' 37 were classified 'Secret,'" and "approximately eight" were marked "Confidential." CNN reports:

“Some of the documents were listed as a terrorism situation report from the Terrorism Threat Integration Center and classified as top secret. Another document classified top secret was from the CIA concerning al Qaeda, according to the affidavit, which accompanied the original complaint filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Virginia at the time of Franklin's May 4 arrest. Classified as secret were CIA documents relating to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and a memorandum on Iraq.”

Included in this treasure trove of U.S. vital secrets – classified information regarding threats to U.S. troops from Iranian-supported groups inside Iraq.

Now one would think that conservatives, who hold U.S. national security as one of their highest values, would be the first ones to cheer this FBI victory against a nest of spies. One would assume that the same people who are saying that anyone who criticizes the war is undermining the war effort and poses a threat to our troops would show no sympathy to a real threat to our troops when they see one. One might be forgiven for thinking that the denizens of the Right would be throwing their hats in the air at the news of this triumph of law enforcement over those who would steal our secrets. As it turns out, however, many leading conservatives are taking up the cudgels on the spy ring’s behalf – and claiming that the accused are victims of an insidious plot!

Why is that?

The reason is because the analyst is one Lawrence A. Franklin, the top Iran specialist in Douglas Feith’s Pentagon policy shop, an ideologue who, as Ha’aretz put it, “believes wholeheartedly in the neo-conservative approach.” The two lobbyists are Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s longtime director of policy, and the heart and soul of its Washington lobbying effort, and Keith Weissman, AIPAC’s foreign policy director. AIPAC is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, rated by Forbes magazine as one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. The embassy official: Naor Gilon, political affairs officer at the Israeli Embassy, now slated to be recalled sometime this summer.

Long before the exact nature of the charges was known, David “Axis of Evil” Frum was disdaining the whole affair in National Review as “a one day wonder,” and opining that Franklin’s conversations with Gilon, Rosen, and Weissman -- in which he spilled national secrets -- were no more than “discussing policy options with knowledgeable people.”

Neoconservative guru and American Enterprise Institute fellow Michael Ledeen was even more contemptuous of the Franklin spy scandal: writing in National Review, he likened it to a “Laurel and Hardy” comedy routine and challenged the FBI to “put up or shut up.

Well, now that the FBI has put up – by charging Franklin [.pdf]– it looks like both Ledeen and Frum have shut up. No retraction of their reflexive defense of an accused spy for Israel. No mention of either Rosen or Weissman -– and, most significantly, no criticism at all of AIPAC, which is trying to distance itself from its two former employees even while paying for their defense.

If AIPAC were, say, the Arab Independent Policy Action Committee, and two of its employees were charged with handing over sensitive information on Al Qaeda and “terrorism situation reports” to agents of a foreign power, Frum, Ledeen, and the gang over at National Review would be frothing at the mouth, screeching that traitors are being “coddled” and calling for the whole lot of them to be locked up in Guantanamo. Somehow, however, that isn’t happening in this instance.

Now why do you suppose that is?

Frum, who once had the nerve to smear me, along with Scott McConnell, Pat Buchanan, and Lew Rockwell, among others, as “unpatriotic conservatives” because we opposed the Iraq war, is now apologizing for espionage. How “patriotic” is that?

The neoconservatives treat Israel the same way left-wing ideologues of the 1930s treated the Soviet Union: with uncritical adoration. In their view, Israel can do no wrong – even when she engages in espionage against the United States of America. After all, would the Israelis do it if they didn’t have a good reason? That is the unadmitted but implicit assumption behind all their weasel words and excuse-making. They’re in favor of espionage – as long as it’s engaged in by Israel.

Conservatives for Espionage – it has a rather odd ring to it, wouldn’t you say? That’s just how life is in the Bizarro World universe we seem to have fallen into, where up is down, lies are truth, and self-proclaimed super-“patriots” see nothing wrong in funneling U.S. secrets to foreign governments.