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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The Raw Story September 30, 2005

Israeli lobby spy case suggests new push to keep leaks from reporters

By John Byrne

When Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin decided to plead guilty Thursday to passing classified intelligence to two pro-Israeli lobbyists, it marked another advance by the Bush Justice Department to clamp down on leaks.

Franklin will testify against two former officials for the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee who were charged Aug. 4 with “conspiracy to communicate” classified intelligence about alleged threats to Americans and Israelis in northern Iraq. Previously, conspiracy charges relating to top secret materials have been leveled against individuals who were bound by a confidentiality agreement with the government.

In this case, however, the Justice Department extended the cloak of secrecy beyond the Pentagon, quietly expanding the power of the government to jail those who talk to the press, watchdogs and reporters’ advocates tell RAW STORY.

The AIPAC officials’ trial is expected to begin early next year. Franklin will plead guilty Wednesday.

“It’s one thing to prosecute Franklin who has a clearance and signed a non-disclosure agreement and who is obliged to comply with rules as a government employee, but it is an entirely different matter to assert that those rules apply to those who are not government employees,” Director of the Federation of American Scientists’ secrecy division Steve Aftergood remarked. “The AIPAC officials never signed a non-disclosure agreement, and the government is in effect asserting that the laws that apply to government employees also apply to non-government employees.”

“That would be a dramatic expansion of the information security apparatus,” he added.

Steve Rosen, the erstwhile director of foreign policy issues for the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst, were charged with “delivery and transmission” of classified materials “to persons not entitled to receive it, including members of the media and foreign government officials.” (Indictment) A spokesperson for AIPAC declined to comment, as did Rosen’s attorney.

Floyd Abrams, who represents the New York Times’ Judith Miller, believes the indictments are part of a drive to control information. Miller was jailed for more than eighty days for refusing to reveal who told her the name of an undercover CIA agent.

“The indictments reflect a disturbing tendency of the Department of Justice to limit the dissemination of information to the public by using the criminal law in a particularly aggressive manner,” Abrams wrote in an email to RAW STORY. “In the face of Congress’s refusal to adopt legislation making all leaking of classified information illegal, I find it particularly disturbing that the Justice Department should seem so dedicated to criminalizing virtually any release of that information.”

John Pike, who runs the defense watchdog GlobalSecurity.org, agrees.

“The United States does not have an Official Secrets Act like they have in Britain,” Pike added, referring to a law which extends prosecution to journalists who disclose information they know is classified. “What they’re doing in this case by indicting them for conspiracy is to create a Secrets Act.”

What it may mean, he says, is “that reporters would not be able to talk to their sources because the reporter would also be guilty of a crime.”

Executive Director for the Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press Lucy Daglish sees the case in a broader context of journalists being “frozen out” from their sources.

“The only thing that would make me more troubled is if they’re actually trying to go after the reporter,” Daglish told RAW STORY. “And in a backhanded way, I guess they are.”

“So far I don’t think they’re going to go after reporters, but they probably do have some of your sources’ phones tapped,” she continued. “It might force you to do something old fashioned, which is to talk to someone in person.”

The Justice Department, Daglish added, is “making it clear to the people that have access in those cases that if you talk to the media your life is over.”

The Washington Post reporter who spoke with the AIPAC officials in the case, Glenn Kessler, declined to comment.

Newspapers and magazines across the country are already reeling from the case of Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who was jailed for refusing to name her source in a CIA agent’s outing. The editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Doug Clifton, recently scrapped two stories which dealt in leaked information, saying “jail is too high a price to pay.”

One organization, the National Jewish Anti-Defamation League, has already raised concern about how the ex-AIPAC officials’ case will affect their dealings with reporters.

“I think it will chill journalists’ ability to get information,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman told the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California. “Can I talk to you about a meeting I had with a government official? I’m not sure anymore.”

Copyright 2005, Raw Story Media, Inc.