The American Public Affairs Committee has frequently condoned its employees’ receipt of classified information, according to documents filed in federal court by lawyers for Steve Rosen, a former senior official of the pro-Israel lobby.
The new court filing, submitted December 15, offers Rosen’s response to claims by AIPAC that he acted improperly by obtaining classified information without the lobby’s knowledge while working on its behalf.
Citing internal AIPAC documents, Rosen’s attorneys are attempting to show that, to the contrary, the lobby frequently trafficked in classified information and was therefore unjustified in dismissing him and in publicly condemning him for handling such information.
In his filing, Rosen, who is seeking $20 million in damages in a defamation suit against AIPAC, provided the District of Columbia Superior Court with documents and transcripts that he believes demonstrate he acted in accordance with the lobby’s practices in receiving classified information from former Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin in the summer of 2004.
It was during a federal criminal investigation of Franklin, Rosen and Rosen’s AIPAC associate, Keith Weissman, that AIPAC dismissed Rosen and Weissman after initially supporting them. The shift came in 2005, after one of the lobby’s lawyers met with federal prosecutors to hear wiretapped conversations between Rosen and Weissman and others about the classified information Franklin was bringing them.
The new court filing includes a March 2005 letter to AIPAC’s top leadership in which Rosen, then feeling the changing wind in the lobby’s leadership, asked AIPAC leaders and senior officials to bear in mind that he was never provided with written or oral guidelines regarding the receipt of confidential information.
Furthermore, he reminds them that the issue was raised at least three times in the past. Once was in 1984, when Rosen received information from a government official “concerning unlawful cash payments from Libyan diplomats to officials of an American presidential campaign.” Rosen notes that the FBI approached him on this issue. Yet, the letter claims, he received nothing but understanding and support from his superiors in AIPAC then.
The letter also mentions a 1983 FBI investigation concerning an AIPAC employee who received a classified document. Rosen did not provide details in the letter, but according to other filings, he was referring to a case in which Ester Kurz, who is now AIPAC’s legislative director, was questioned about receiving classified U.S. Trade Representative documents. Here, too, he claims, AIPAC did not move to put in place rules regarding classified information.
The third case Rosen mentioned was his own. According to the letter, Rosen and Weissman reported to Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, after their meeting with Franklin, and heard no concern expressed regarding their contacts with him.
AIPAC rejected Rosen’s claims both in its court filings and in a comment made to the Forward. Spokesman Patrick Dorton said the lobby “strongly disagrees with Mr. Rosen’s portrayal of events and circumstances related to this litigation.” Dorton stressed that the U.S. Attorney’s investigation affirmed there was no basis for charging AIPAC with any wrongdoing related to classified information. “No current employee of AIPAC was involved in knowingly obtaining or distributing classified information,” he said, adding that “senior employees at AIPAC testified under oath during this litigation that they had never been involved with seeking or knowingly disclosing classified information as part of their jobs at AIPAC.”
In their earlier filing, attorneys for AIPAC had argued that Rosen’s viewing of pornographic materials on AIPAC computers also constituted behavior below the group’s standards, and that this was further justification of his termination. Rosen dismissed this, arguing that raising the issue was meant to embarrass him and to “bias the court against him.” He also provided testimony in which Bernice Manocherian, who was AIPAC’s president at the time, said she had not heard of accusations regarding viewing of pornography when the board discussed Rosen’s firing.
Rosen’s filing is yet another round in a long process that is far from over. It is now up to the judge to decide whether to accept AIPAC’s motion to dismiss the case or Rosen’s request to continue. If Rosen’s view prevails, the sides will meet for mediation, and if that fails, a jury trial will be scheduled. As is the case in many civil suits, both sides are expected to settle before trial.
Contact Nathan Guttman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.