In the Forward’s interview with Larry Franklin, the man once accused of being an “Israeli mole,” Franklin speaks candidly of his five-year ordeal since he was named as a key suspect in what became known as the AIPAC case.
But Israel wasn’t the only issue on Franklin’s mind. In the interview he reveals that while working at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, he did some serious investigations into the trustworthiness of Iraqi opposition figure Ahmed Chalabi, and reached the conclusion the man was a fraud. “I smelled a rat,” he said of Chalabi, who in the run-up to the Iraq war was a darling of many neoconservatives in Washington, including Franklin’s boss Doug Feith.
Franklin recalled meeting with Chalabi’s chief of operations at the Frankfurt, international airport in Germany and later at the Pentagon. He quizzed sources from third and forth countries and eventually, he said, “I received absolute proof from my two best sources on Iraq that he [Chalabi] betrayed us in spades.”
But Franklin admitted that he “didn’t try hard enough” to warn his bosses about Chalabi. He was more focused on the threat he saw emerging from Iran, and said he attempted to get the administration to pay attention to Iran’s possible role as a spoiler in Iraq.
Checking out Iraqi opposition leaders wasn’t Franklin’s only secret overseas mission. In December 2001, Franklin and his Pentagon colleague Harold Rhode joined Michael Ledeen, the former Reagan administration adviser, for a series of meeting with Iran-Contra affair figure Manucher Ghorbanifar.
For three days in Rome, they discussed possible cooperation with the exiled Iranian opposition figure in toppling the Islamic regime in Iran.
The CIA had placed Gorbanifar on its “do not meet” list because of his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, but Franklin and his partners received special authorization, presumably from the National Security Council, to hold the meeting. Franklin said he tried tirelessly to get representatives of the intelligence community to join the meeting, but they refused.
The Rome meetings yielded little results. Although Franklin said the information received from Gorbanifar saved American lives in Afghanistan, he believed that the plan to overthrow the ayatollahs in Iran was “amateurish” and that it would have “gotten Americans killed, would have embarrassed the United States and we would have been out of the money we would have given him.”
Upon returning to Washington, Franklin conveyed this message to “the vice president’s top aide at the time,” and said he encountered disappointment. “It didn’t make me popular, but I’m glad I did it,” he said.
The Gorbanifar track was not revisited since.
And one more Franklin tidbit:
In an interview he gave to Congressional Quarterly, Franklin identified one of the people who suggested he fake his suicide in order to avoid testifying in the espionage trial as “definitely a Zionist.”
Documents identifying the people involved in the event are still sealed as a result of a court order.
In other news from Washington, Jewish leaders have begun receiving invitations to a July 13 meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. This will be the first face-to-face meeting since Obama took office and it comes at a time when relations between the administration and Israel are shaky. Jewish groups have generally avoided criticizing Obama’s demand for an Israeli settlement freeze, but they have called for ensuring that Arab partners also live up to their commitments.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, was the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Franklin 'Smelled a Rat' in Chalabi