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Profile: Keith Weissman
Keith Weissman was a participant or observer in the following events:
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 ; 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]
The FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. [Time, 10/20/2006] When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Nancy Pelosi, Haim Saban, Federal Bureau of Investigation, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Alberto R. Gonzales, House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, Steve Rosen, Timothy Burger, US Department of Justice, Keith Weissman, National Security Agency, Larry Franklin
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are indicted for crimes relating to their role in passing classified US government information to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). They are charged with conspiring “to communicate national defense information [to] persons not entitled to receive it,” applicable under the Espionage Act. Their charges are similar to those filed against former government employee Larry Franklin, their contact (see October 5, 2005). National security expert Eli Lake will call the charges against Rosen and Weissman “unprecedented,” noting that for them to face the same charges as Franklin puts them—two private citizens—under the same obligation as Franklin, a government official, to keep secret any classified information they might acquire. Lake will write: “[I]f it’s illegal for Rosen and Weissman to seek and receive ‘classified information,’ then many investigative journalists are also criminals—not to mention former government officials who write for scholarly journals or the scores of men and women who petition the federal government on defense and foreign policy. In fact, the leaking of classified information is routine in Washington, where such data is traded as a kind of currency. And, while most administrations have tried to crack down on leaks, they have almost always shied away from going after those who receive them—until now. At a time when a growing amount of information is being classified, the prosecution of Rosen and Weissman threatens to have a chilling effect—not on the ability of foreign agents to influence US policy, but on the ability of the American public to understand it.” [US v. Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman Criminal No. 1:05CR225, 8/4/2005 ; New Republic, 10/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 174] Months later, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will say that journalists and other private citizens can be prosecuted for leaking classified information (see May 21, 2006). Almost four years later, the charges against Rosen and Weissman will be dropped (see May 1, 2009).
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. [Atlantic Monthly, 4/20/2009]
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]
Federal prosecutors drop all charges against two former lobbyists accused of passing classified information to Israel (see August 4, 2005). The lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) when they took classified information from former government official Larry Franklin and passed it to Israeli officials (see April 13, 1999-2004 and October 5, 2005). The case against Rosen and Weissman had the potential to criminalize the exchange of classified information among journalists, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens not bound by government restrictions. “Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” says Rosen. He calls the case an example of government officials “who have an obsession with leaks (see May 21, 2006)… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America.” The lawyers for the two former lobbyists believe that Obama administration officials had reservations about the case where their predecessors in the Bush administration did not, but former FBI counterintelligence official David Szady says that politics played no part in the decision to withdraw the charges. Prosecutors say that recent court rulings would make winning their case much more difficult than they had previously anticipated. Gary Wasserman, a Georgetown University professor who is writing a book about the case, says it is understandable that AIPAC welcomes the dismissal. A trial, he says, “would have provoked a lot of public discussion about how they worked.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2009]
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