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Context of 'September 9, 2001: Media Leak Leads to Investigation into Israeli Spying in US'

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A 2005 US indictment will reveal that two employees for a pro-Israeli lobbying group had somehow obtained classified US information about al-Qaeda and was passing it on to Israeli officials. The two employees are Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman; both work for AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) until 2004. On April 13, 1999, Rosen gives Rafi Barak, the former deputy chief of mission at the Israeli embassy in Washington, what he calls a codeword-protected “extremely sensitive piece of intelligence” about terrorist activities in Central Asia. On June 11, 1999, Weissman tells Barak about a classified FBI report on the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which has been blamed on al-Qaeda and/or Iran (see June 25, 1996). In retrospect, FBI officials will determine that some, but not all, of this classified information comes from Larry Franklin, a Defense Department analyst on Iran known to be in favor of a tougher US policy regarding Iran (see 2000-2001). It is not known how or why US surveillance of Rosen and Weissman began. [National Public Radio, 8/4/2005; Eastern District of Virginia, 8/4/2005 pdf file; Jerusalem Post, 8/15/2005; Jerusalem Post, 8/17/2005]
Connection to Earlier Investigation? - However, there may be a connection to an earlier investigation. In 1997 and 1998, the FBI monitored Naor Gilon, an official at the Israeli embassy in Washington, as part of an investigation into whether a US intelligence official was illegally giving US spy plane film and other secret material to the Mossad. [Los Angeles Times, 9/3/2004]
Accusations Spark Further Investigation - The US will later accuse Rosen and Weissman of passing classified information given to them by Franklin to Gilon. In any case, the investigation will continue and grow. National Public Radio will later note that from 1999 to 2004, “Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman had regular discussions about the Middle East and about al-Qaeda with a variety of contacts,” sometimes illegally sharing highly classified information. Franklin will plead guilty to sharing classified information in 2005 (see October 5, 2005) while Rosen and Weissman are expected to be tried in 2007 or thereafter. [National Public Radio, 8/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Rafi Barak, Naor Gilon, Keith Weissman, Larry Franklin, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sometime this year, the FBI discovers a new and “massive” Israeli spying operation inside the US. In 2004, UPI will report that, according to a former senior US government official, the FBI learned of a spy operation in the East Coast of the US, including New York and New Jersey. The FBI begins intensive surveillance on certain Israeli diplomats and other suspects. As part of this surveillance, in 2003 the FBI will be videotaping Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, when they will discover Gilon is meeting with Larry Franklin, Defense Department analyst. In 2005, Franklin will plead guilty to passing classified secrets to Israeli officials (see October 5, 2005). It appears that the surveillance of some Israeli diplomatic officials in the US actually began by April 1999 (see April 13, 1999-2004), though details remain murky. [United Press International, 12/9/2004] It is not known if this discovered spy operation is connected to or the same as the Israeli art student and moving van spy rings, which appears to have been discovered in 2001 (see March 23, 2001 and June 2001), or something completely different. It is also not clear if the discovery came from an investigation of media leaks begun two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001), or if it predated that and the 9/11 attacks.

Entity Tags: Larry Franklin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad), Naor Gilon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The cover of the DEA report, as depicted on television.The cover of the DEA report, as depicted on television. [Source: Fox News]The Office of National Drug Control Policy issues a National Security Alert describing “apparent attempts by Israeli nationals to learn about government personnel and office layouts.” This later becomes known through a leaked DEA document called “Suspicious Activities Involving Israeli Art Students at DEA Facilities.” A crackdown ensues and by June, around 120 Israelis are apprehended. More are apprehended later. [Drug Enforcement Agency, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: “Israeli art students”, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

States the Israeli spy ring were known to have operated in, according to a June 2001 Drug Enforcement Administration report (this Fox news graphic was based on information from that report).States the Israeli spy ring were known to have operated in, according to a June 2001 Drug Enforcement Administration report (this Fox news graphic was based on information from that report). [Source: Fox News]The DEA’s Office of Security Programs prepares a 60-page internal memo on the Israeli “art student spy ring.” [Drug Enforcement Agency, 6/2001] The Memo is a compilation of dozens of field reports, and was meant only for the eyes of senior officials at the Justice Department (of which the DEA is adjunct), but it is leaked to the press around December 2001. The report connects the spies to efforts to foil investigations into Israeli organized crime activity involving the importation of the drug Ecstasy. The spies also appear to be snooping on top-secret military bases. For instance, on April 30, 2001, an Air Force alert was issued from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City concerning “possible intelligence collection being conducted by Israeli art students.” Tinker AFB houses AWACS surveillance craft and Stealth bombers. By the time of the report, the US has “apprehended or expelled close to 120 Israeli nationals” but many remain at large. [Le Monde (Paris), 3/5/2002; Salon, 5/7/2002] An additional 20 or so Israeli spies are apprehended between June and 9/11. [Fox News, 12/12/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, “Israeli art students”, Office of Security Programs

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Crown Prince Abdullah, the effective leader of Saudi Arabia, is upset with US policy over Israel and Palestine and threatens to break the Saudi alliance with the US. He has Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US, personally deliver a message to President Bush on August 27. Bandar says, “This is the most difficult message I have had to convey to you that I have ever conveyed between the two governments since I started working here in Washington in 1982.” He brings up a number of issues, including the complaint that since Bush became president US policy has tilted towards Israel so much that the US has allowed Israeli Prime Minister Sharon to “determine everything in the Middle East.” The message concludes, “Therefore the Crown Prince will not communicate in any form, type or shape with you, and Saudi Arabia will take all its political, economic and security decisions based on how it sees its own interest in the region without taking into account American interests anymore because it is obvious that the United States has taken a strategic decision adopting Sharon’s policy.” Bush seems shocked and replies, “I want to assure you that the United States did not make any strategic decision.” Secretary of State Powell later confronts Bandar and says, “What the fuck are you doing? You’re putting the fear of God in everybody here. You scared the shit out of everybody.” Bandar reportedly replies, “I don’t give a damn what you feel. We are scared ourselves.” Two days later, Bush replies with a message designed to appease the Saudi concerns (see August 29-September 6, 2001). [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-79]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bandar bin Sultan, Colin Powell, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Bush administration attempts to repair its relation with Saudi Arabia after a dramatic letter from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. On August 27, 2001, Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, sent a message to President Bush threatening to end the Saudi alliance with the US because of what they see as US favoritism towards Israel (see August 27, 2001). Two days later, Bush sends a two-page letter to Abdullah: “Let me make one thing clear up front: nothing should ever break the relationship between us. There has been no change in the strategic equation. I firmly believe the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and to live peacefully and securely in their own state, in their own homeland, just as the Israelis have the right to live peacefully and safely in their own state.” Journalist Bob Woodward will later note that this “was a much bigger step than President Clinton had taken. Even as Clinton had tried to fashion a Middle East peace agreement as his legacy, he had never directly supported a separate Palestinian state.” On September 6, Abdullah replies, “Mr. President, it was a great relief to me to find in your letter a clear commitment confirming the principle in which the peace process was established. I was particularly pleased with your commitment to the right of the Palestinians to self-determination as well as the right to peace without humiliation, within their independent state.” The Saudis appear appeased. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-79] Also on September 6, Bush holds a meeting with his top advisers and suggests a change of policy towards Palestine, including public support for a separate Palestinian state. However, days before Bush is to announce these new policies, the 9/11 attacks take place. None of the planned US policy changes materialize (see September 6, 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to a New York Times article several days later, on this day President Bush holds a National Security Council meeting with Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, and others, to consider how to change his Middle East policy. This potential change in US policy comes after the Saudis threatened to end their alliance with the US because of US policy towards Israel and Palestine (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001). It is reported that he is considering meeting with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat when Arafat is scheduled to come to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later. Bush has so far been firm in refusing to meet with Arafat. According to the New York Times, at this meeting, “Bush discussed the wisdom of changing tack, officials said. While no clear decision was made, there was an inclination to go ahead with a meeting with Arafat if events unfolded in a more favorable way in the next 10 days or so…” Additionally, it is reported that Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres will meet with Arafat in mid-September, in what it is hoped will be “the first of a series that could start a process of serious dialogue” between Palestine and Israel. [New York Times, 9/9/2001] Reporter Bob Woodward will add in 2006, “Bush agreed to come out publicly for a Palestinian state. A big rollout was planned for the week of September 10, 2001.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77] But after the 9/11 attacks a few days later, Bush and Peres do not go forward with any meetings with Arafat and US policy does not change. The Nation will later comment, “In the aftermath of [9/11], few people recalled that for a brief moment in the late summer of 2001, the Bush Administration had considered meeting with Arafat and deepening its political involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [Nation, 7/14/2005] The leak to the New York Times about this September 6 meeting will result in a wide FBI investigation of Israeli spying in the US (see September 9, 2001).

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

National Security Adviser Rice, upset with a media leak, orders an investigation that will uncover evidence of widespread Israeli spying in the US. The Saudis had recently threatened to end their close alliance with the US (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001), and on September 6, 2001, President Bush held a meeting attended by Rice and others to work on how to appease Saudi concerns (see September 6, 2001). Just three days after the meeting, there is a story by Jane Perlez in the New York Times accurately detailing what was discussed in the meeting. It will later be reported that Rice is furious about the leak to Perlez and immediately demands a clampdown on leakers. The determination to improve secrecy increases in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This leak investigation focuses on Israelis in the US. No one is ever prosecuted for the leak to Perlez, but the investigation will takes on a life of its own and continue for years. [New York Times, 9/9/2001; JTA (Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 5/17/2005; Nation, 7/14/2005] It appears the FBI had been investigating Israeli spying in the US since at least 1999 (see April 13, 1999-2004), and there are reports of a discovery of a “massive” Israeli spy operation in the US in 2001 (see 2001) and/or the discovery of the Israeli art student spy ring (see March 23, 2001 and June 2001). It is unclear if there is any connection between these investigations and this media link investigation or not.

Entity Tags: Jane Perlez, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and to an Israeli government official, a violation of the Espionage Act. He is later sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 173] Franklin, an Iran specialist, gave details of US policy towards Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which the Washington Post calls “one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations.” He also admits to giving classified information directly to Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon returned to Israel, but Rosen and Weissman have been charged in what prosecutors claim was a conspiracy to obtain and illegally pass classified US information to foreign officials and news reporters. Franklin reportedly has been cooperating with investigators in return for a relatively lenient sentence. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006] It appears that Franklin was caught by accident in 2003 as part of a larger FBI investigation into Israeli spying that began in 2001 (see September 9, 2001). Investigators had been monitoring Gilon and were reportedly “floored” to watch Franklin sit down and eat lunch with him. [United Press International, 12/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Naor Gilon, Keith Weissman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Larry Franklin, Steven Rosen

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

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