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Thursday, September 02, 2004

Connecting some dots

Some interesting tidbits about the Israel-spying-on-the-US case, which as you've surely noticed continues to dominate the news despite the Repug convention, the hostage standoff in Russia, and the wrath of God descending once again on Florida for mocking democracy. From the Washington Post:
For more than two years, the FBI has been investigating whether classified intelligence has been passed to Israel by the American Israel Political Action Committee, an influential U.S. lobbying group, in a probe that extends beyond the case of Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin, according to senior U.S. officials and other sources.

The counterintelligence probe, which is different from a criminal investigation, focuses on a possible transfer of intelligence more extensive than whether Franklin passed on a draft presidential directive on U.S. policy toward Iran, the sources said. The FBI is examining whether highly classified material from the National Security Agency, which conducts electronic intercepts of communications, was also forwarded to Israel, they said.
The investigation of Franklin is coincidental to the broader FBI counterintelligence probe, which was already long underway when Franklin came to the attention of investigators, U.S. officials and sources said. Franklin, a career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who specializes in Iran, is suspected of passing the proposed directive on Iran to AIPAC, officials said, which may have forwarded it to Israel.
Reports on the investigation have baffled foreign policy analysts and U.S. officials because the Bush administration and the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon already cooperate on intelligence matters and share policy views.
The FBI's counterintelligence investigation was underway for some time before the Franklin case was brought to the U.S. attorney's office, which happened fairly recently, according to a source knowledgeable about the case.

FBI counterintelligence investigations often involve wiretapping and other forms of surveillance and can last years. They differ from criminal investigations because the goal is to obtain information about foreign agents or terrorists without necessarily seeking criminal charges. Counterintelligence agents previously were limited in sharing information with the FBI's criminal division, but they now do so more routinely as a result of a decision two years ago by a secret intelligence court and the 2001 passage of the USA Patriot Act.
I was just reading about this in Chalmers Johnson's The Sorrows of Empire. After the Cointelpro abuses of the FBI and other agencies in spying on Americans during the 1960's and '70's, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was signed into law by Jimmy Carter in 1978. It restricted the FBI and NSA (the superspooks who are probably reading your e-mails) to spying on Americans only with the approval of a secret federal court. Unfortunately, the court almost always gives its approval, and it did so even before the Patriot Act gave it more leeway to do so. Johnson describes the change:
In the past, FISA warrants were issued only to gather raw intelligence data. Under no circumstances was this information ever to be divulged to federal prosecutors, who might then use it to bring a criminal indictment, since this is precisely what the Fourth Amendment [of that quaint old document, the Constitution--ed] forbids. Under the Patriot Act, however, information gathered under a FISA warrant is routinely passed on to prosecutors.
In other words, before Kerry, Edwards, and 97 other senators voted for the Patriot Act, the government could legally spy on you (with the rubber stamp of the FISA court), but they couldn't then arrest and try you based on what they found by doing so. Now they can.

And this is where I connect the dots. Somebody at the FBI has been spying on Lawrence Franklin and the Americans working for AIPAC for two years, and has turned some of his info to a prosecutor, which is why Franklin may be in trouble. The Patriot Act made this possible. This is a big surprise to even government officials--not that there were ties between the Pentagon, AIPAC, and Israel, but that anyone in the Justice Department would dare investigate them, given that the prime minister of Israel is practically a U.S. cabinet post.

This all suggests to me one thing: A vendetta. Somebody pretty high up in the Justice Department respects the Constitution and deplores both the Patriot Act and his/her boss, John Ashcroft, yet has still managed to keep his/her job. He/she figured that, given the excessive levels of secrecy at Justice these days, he/she could probably get a good investigation going that would discredit the Patriot Act, the slimey US-Israeli connections, Ashcroft, and maybe even the whole administration. Having powerful connections on the FISA court and at the FBI (if he/she isn't in the FBI), this person got this probe rolling.

An even more intriguing possibility would be that the fundamentalist Christian Ashcroft actually despises Jews, and decided to use his new toy, the Patriot Act, to try and root them out of the Pentagon. It will be very interesting to find out what is actually going on, if we ever get the chance. More likely, we'll get an obscure announcement that all charges against Franklin have been dropped and a couple of FBI agents have been transferred to the Nome office. Nothing to see here, folks.