Washington - New details are emerging about a secret 2003 briefing that could play a key role in the defense of two pro-Israel advocates charged with passing classified information.
Until now, the identities of the participants were not publicly known, except for one of the defendants, Steve Rosen, then policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In recent weeks, however, the Forward has confirmed that the meeting featured a briefing delivered by top Middle East peace envoy Anthony Zinni and was attended by Jess Hordes, head of the Washington office of the Anti-Defamation League, and Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International.
Defense lawyers have sought the testimony of those in attendance to demonstrate to the jury that meetings between administration officials and Jewish representatives were common practice, and that intelligence was frequently shared during these powwows without the participants knowing the information was classified. But, as first reported in the Forward last month, the Jewish representatives who attended the meeting are refusing to cooperate with the defense team.
Hordes and Mariaschin refused to comment for this story, and the identity of the third Jewish representative who is refusing to testify could not be confirmed.
In Zinni, the defense team would be turning to a harsh critic of both the Iraq War and neoconservatives at the Pentagon, who according to Zinni thought the invasion would stabilize American interests in the Middle East and strengthen Israel’s position.
“I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody — everybody I talk to in Washington — has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do,” said Zinni in a May 2004 interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes.”
At the meeting with the Jewish representatives, Zinni discussed the situation in the Middle East and attempts by the Bush administration to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to sources familiar with the prosecution’s account of the meeting. The sources said that Zinni “spoke very freely” and that he revealed information that was not available to the general public.
The next day, Rosen, who had represented Aipac at the meeting, informed his superiors at the pro-Israel lobby about the information supplied by Zinni.
At the time, Rosen was already under FBI surveillance and his conversations about the meeting with Zinni were monitored. They later appeared in documents presented by the prosecution once Rosen and the other defendant in the case, Aipac’s Iran specialist, Keith Weissman, were indicted.
According to sources close to the case, the Jewish participants in the meeting are refusing to cooperate on the advice of their organizations’ respective legal advisers, who recommend steering clear of the proceedings.
Sources close to the defense expressed disappointment over the reluctance of the Jewish groups to testify. These sources describe it as another sign of the decision by Jewish organizations to distance themselves from the case. One source close to the defense described the response of the Jewish community to the prosecution of the two former senior Aipac staffers as “abandonment,” and said that many Jewish officials and organizations cut off all ties to the defendants after the case was made public.
The U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., will make a decision later this month regarding the government’s request to keep the trial closed and not to allow the public or press to see the evidence or to listen to wiretapping recordings that will be the central pieces of evidence in the case. In a hearing last month, Judge T.S. Ellis III said that no precedent exists for such a request. The judge ordered both sides to prepare arguments for a pretrial hearing on the issue, which is scheduled for mid-April.
If the prosecution’s request for a closed trial is denied, the government will be asked to prepare redacted versions of the evidence to be presented in the courtroom.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is 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.