WASHINGTON — After a recently promoted State Department official was linked last week to spying allegations against the pro-Israel lobby, Jewish communal leaders are again suggesting nefarious motives behind the investigation.
The New York Times reported August 18 that David Satterfield, the U.S. deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, was one of two previously unnamed government officials who allegedly gave classified information to Steve Rosen, then the director of foreign policy issues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Washington-based lobbying group. The State Department did not deny the report.
Rosen was indicted along with Keith Weissman, a former Iran analyst at Aipac, and Lawrence Franklin, an Iran specialist at the Pentagon. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
The indictment stated that “U.S. government official 2” — identified by The Times as Satterfield — spoke with Rosen twice in 2002, when Satterfield was deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. According to the indictment, he shared “classified information” with Rosen, some of which Rosen, in turn, disclosed to a foreign official.
The Times reported that before Satterfield was sent to Baghdad, officials at the State Department asked the Justice Department whether his name coming up in the Aipac investigation posed an impediment to his assignment in Iraq. They were advised that Satterfield could take the job, The Times reported.
The decision to issue indictments against the dismissed Aipac officials, while giving Satterfield a pass, is fueling the sense among Jewish communal leaders that elements in the Justice Department — driven by anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish members of America’s intelligence community — were out to clip the wings of America’s strongest foreign-policy lobbying group.
“If, in fact, Satterfield passed on classified information that other people should not have had, then they should all be guilty of the same thing,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Neal Sher, a former Aipac executive director and a former federal prosecutor, said it was a “very, very serious question” why a person “who leaks information is not in trouble while the person who receives it is.”
“It’s very confusing,” Sher said.
But legal experts say that there could be reasonable explanations for the decision not to indict Satterfield or to block his promotion. The indictment against Rosen, Weissman and Franklin portrays an intentional and systematic pattern of sharing information that the three allegedly knew was secret — some of it highly classified — and of sharing it with foreign nationals. It does not suggest that the American official identified by The Times engaged in any such behavior.
“There could be more nefarious explanations” for only indicting Franklin and the Aipac officials, said Peter Edelman, a professor of law at Georgetown University in Washington. “But I’d be willing to bet you that that’s not the story here.”
Several current and former Washington lobbyists said that more than anything, the Justice Department’s apparent leniency toward Satterfield shows that what he allegedly did was not unusual in a city where sharing and exchanging information — including confidential information — is a key driving force. The same, some pro-Israel activists said, applies to Rosen.
“The way Steve Rosen was behaving was the way anybody else in the lobbying world, in his situation, would have behaved,” Sher said, adding, “This is what goes on in Washington every day. It’s an information trade, and people pass on sensitive information. It just goes on all the time. It’s commonplace.”