Israelis won't testify in AIPAC trial

Nathan Guttman - The Jerusalem Post - Oct. 2, 2005

The three Israeli diplomats who were in touch with former AIPAC staffers now standing trial in Virginia are unwilling to cooperate with defense attorneys and do not intend to agree to come and testify in the case.

In a court hearing on September 19 at the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis asked attorney Abbe Lowell, who is representing Steve Rosen, the former policy director of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), if he intends to summon any foreign nationals to testify in court. The term "foreign nationals" in this case refers to Israelis, who were mentioned in the indictment as having contacts with Rosen and with the second defendant, Keith Weissman, a former Iran specialist at AIPAC.

Lowell told Judge Ellis that he has been in touch with attorneys for the Israelis and that his impression is that it will be difficult to get them to testify.

"They are not going to make this very easy," Lowell told the court.

The indictment, accusing Rosen and Weissman of conspiring to communicate classified information, mentioned three "foreign officials" that received information from the two former AIPAC employees as well as from the third defendant in the case, Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin. Though the they were not named in the legal documents, Israeli and US sources confirmed that two of the Israelis involved in the case are Naor Gilon, who was the political officer in the Israeli embassy in Washington, and Rafi Barak, who served as the Deputy Chief of Mission. US sources said the third Israeli is presumed to be a representative of the military intelligence in Washington, but his identity was not confirmed by other sources.

All three Israelis are no longer in Washington and all have diplomatic immunity, which prevents them from being subpoenaed by either side in the case.

The FBI is interested in interviewing the three Israelis, but the US and Israel had not yet reached an understanding regarding the method with which the interviews will be conducted. In the beginning of August, a team of Israelis, headed by Foreign Ministry legal adviser Ehud Keinan, met in Washington with representatives of the Department of Justice and the State Department. The Israelis suggested that the investigators pass on their questions in writing and Israel will give a written reply. The US has not yet indicated whether it would agree to this suggestion.

In the September 19 preliminary hearing dealing with disclosure of evidence in the case, the prosecution refused to allow the defense to review all wiretap tapes of Rosen and Weissman phone calls. The prosecutors told the court that some of the wiretaps were ordered under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and indicated that the taps were of "the defendants and third parties".

The indictment suggests that these "third parties" were probably Israeli diplomats who have been under US surveillance for years. All the communications between 1999-2001 listed in the indictment involved Israeli officials, a fact that suggests that the initial targets of the surveillance were Israeli diplomats. A senior Israeli intelligence source said when the case broke out last August that he would not be surprised to learn that the US is following Israeli representatives and that it is a "working presumption" for all Israeli diplomats that their calls and meetings are monitored by the FBI.

The AIPAC case will return to court this Wednesday, when Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin will enter his guilty plea as part of a plea bargain he reached with the prosecution.

The New York Sun reported Friday that, in return for Franklin's consent to testify against Rosen and Weissman, he will be able to keep at least half of his pension from the Defense Department.

In the following week, Judge Ellis is expected to rule on the wiretap issue. The prosecution was ordered to show precedents for not allowing defendants to hear their own conversations as recorded by the FBI. At the present time, the prosecution is willing to pass to the defense only 9 hours of recordings.

Defense attorneys said that, if they are not allowed to hear the tapes, they will ask the court to dismiss the case.

A former administration official who was questioned by the FBI in the past months on the case told The Jerusalem Post that the investigators who approached him seemed to have exact information on phone calls he had with Rosen, as well as dates of meetings and memos written following those meetings.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page