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Washington — They were accused of receiving classified information from a Pentagon official and passing it on to the media and to an Israeli diplomat. The case marked the first time the Espionage Act was used against individuals who were not government officials and did not have authorized access to official secrets.
The case was eventually dismissed after President Obama won the presidency in 2008. The Pentagon official, Larry Franklin, entered a plea agreement and served his reduced sentence in community service.
The case’s dismissal succeeded for the most part in deterring the government from attempting again to charge lobbyists or reporters as spies. But it came with a heavy personal price for the defendants, who had both lost their jobs with AIPAC and still carry the stigma of being indicted in an espionage case.
“For a lot of people, before they meet you for the first time, they Google you,” Rosen said in an interview. The Internet search immediately brings up Rosen’s indictment on espionage charges. Its dismissal is harder to find. “On the other hand,” he added, “you’d be surprised to know that there are many people out there that know that cases like this are nonsense.”
Rosen currently works for two advocacy organizations and said he does not encounter difficulties in meeting with American and foreign government officials.
Initially, Rosen had planned to use his experience to mount a public case against the overreach of government secrecy and the use of espionage-related statutes for prosecution of civilians dealing with secret information. But, after signing a book contract and submitting a 300-page manuscript, he decided to back down.
“I began to have second thoughts,” he said. “My life’s work is not fighting for the First Amendment. I’m a Middle East guy.” He also learned that some of those showing interest in his story did it for the wrong reasons. “Many people wanted it to be an anti-AIPAC book,” Rosen said.
This statement touches on a sentiment that many of those involved in the case share, a feeling that because the case involved Israel and the pro-Israel lobby, it did not benefit from the power of civil rights organizations and individuals who otherwise would have made it into a test case for fighting against government infringement of free speech.
“Many of these organizations didn’t want to be out there helping AIPAC,” said Baruch Weiss, a Washington attorney who represented Keith Weissman in the case. “But definitely, people are speaking out more now than they did in our case.”
Halperin, who advised the defense team in the AIPAC case, explained the relatively muted reaction to the Espionage Act prosecution at the time by noting that many held a misperception “that it was a case about AIPAC leaking to the Israeli government… and that’s why they were not concerned.”