AIPAC case asks, 'Who is a foreign agent?'

Nathan Guttman - The Jerusalem Post - Aug. 25, 2006

In a ruling relating to the AIPAC classified information case, a US judge found that government had every right to treat the two former staffers of the pro-Israel lobby as "foreign agents" when asking to eavesdrop on their conversations and phone calls.

Judge T.S. Ellis of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, denied this week a motion by defendants Steve Rosen - the former policy director for AIPAC and Keith Weissman who was a Middle East analyst for the lobby, to throw out the evidence achieved by wiretaps since it was illegal to eavesdrop on the defendants under the law which was meant to enable surveillance of foreign agents.

In his ruling, Judge Ellis writes that there is "ample probable cause to believe" that Rosen and Weissman were acting as agents of a foreign power, not specifying the name of the foreign power. Other court documents point to Israel as the country to which the two former AIPAC staffers passed on information they obtained from former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin.

The judge did acknowledge the fact that lobbying activity does enjoy First Amendment protection in some cases, but nevertheless ruled that for the purpose of obtaining approval for wiretapping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Rosen and Weissman's activity can be seen as that of a foreign agent. This ruling is relevant only to the issue of issuing wiretap
warrants and is not a final court decision on whether the two former AIPAC employees were
actually acting as foreign agents for the purpose of the legal registration required for agents of a foreign nation.

Apart from the legal implications this ruling has for the case itself, it may also have repercussions concerning the future lobbying activity of AIPAC and other lobbying organizations in the US, since it could imply that the daily activity of lobby groups working on foreign policy issues can be seen as serving a foreign nation and thus require strict registration under the Department of Justice register of foreign agents.

In a separate ruling, also made public this week, Judge Ellis ordered the FBI to investigate who was the source who leaked the initial information about the investigation to CBS's evening news two years ago. Defendants Rosen and Weissman's attorneys claimed that if the leak came from the government that would suggest that the FBI did not follow the rules requiring minimizing the use of information obtained by wiretaps approved under the FISA law. The judge gave the government until mid September to provide the results of its investigation into the source of the leak.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page