Here is my take on the Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal in the Pentagon.
It is an echo of the one-two punch secretly planned by the pro-Likud faction in the Department of Defense. First, Iraq would be taken out by the United States, and then Iran. David Wurmser, a key member of the group, also wanted Syria included. These pro-Likud intellectuals concluded that 9/11 would give them carte blanche to use the Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv (not wars that really needed to be fought, but wars that the Likud coalition thought it would be nice to see fought so as to increase Israel’s ability to annex land and act aggressively, especially if someone else’s boys did the dying).
Franklin is a reserve Air Force colonel and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst. He was an attache at the US embassy in Tel Aviv at one point, which some might now see as suspicious. After the Cold War ended, Franklin became concerned with Iran as a threat to Israel and the US, and learned a little Persian (not very much—I met him once at a conference and he could only manage a few halting phrases of Persian). Franklin has a strong Brooklyn accent and says he is “from the projects.” I was told by someone at the Pentagon that he is not Jewish, despite his strong association with the predominantly Jewish neoconservatives. I know that he is very close to Paul Wolfowitz. He seems a canny man and a political operator, and if he gave documents to AIPAC it was not an act of simple stupidity, as some observers have suggested. It was part of some clever scheme that became too clever by half.
Franklin moved over to the Pentagon from DIA, where he became the Iran expert, working for Bill Luti and Undersecretary of Defense for Planning, Douglas Feith. He was the “go to” person on Iran for Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and for Feith. This situation is pretty tragic, since Franklin is not a real Iranist. His main brief appears to have been to find ways to push a policy of overthrowing its government (apparently once Iraq had been taken care of). This project has been pushed by the shadowy eminence grise, Michael Ledeen, for many years, and Franklin coordinated with Ledeen in some way. Franklin was also close to Harold Rhode, a long-time Middle East specialist in the Defense Department who has cultivated far right pro-Likud cronies for many years, more or less establishing a cell within the Department of Defense.
’ An UPI report said another under-investigation official Mr Rhode “practically lived out of (Ahmad) Chalabi’s office”. Intelligence sources said that CIA operatives observed Mr Rhode as being constantly on his cell phone to Israel, discussing US plans, military deployments, political projects and a discussion of Iraq assets. ‘
Josh Marshall, Laura Rozen and Paul Glastris have just published a piece in the Washington Monthly that details Franklin’s meetings with corrupt Iranian arms dealer and con man Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, who had in the 1980s played a key role in the Iran-contra scandal. (For more on the interviews with Ghorbanifar, see Laura Rozen’s web log). It is absolutely key that the meetings were attended also by Rhode, Ledeen and the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI, Nicolo Pollari, as well as Rome’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino.
The rightwing government of corrupt billionnaire Silvio Berlusconi, including Martino, was a big supporter of an Iraq war. Moreover, we know that the forged documents falsely purporting to show Iraqi uranium purchases from Niger originated with a former SISMI agent. Watch the reporting of Josh Marshall for more on this SISMI/Ledeen/Rhode connection.
But journalist Matthew Yglesias has already tipped us to a key piece of information. The Niger forgeries also try to implicate Iran. Indeed, the idea of a joint Iraq/Iran nuclear plot was so far-fetched that it is what initially made the Intelligence and Research division of the US State Department suspicious of the forgeries, even before the discrepancies of dates and officials in Niger were noticed. Yglesisas quotes from the Senate report on the alleged Iraqi attempt to buy uranium from Niger:
‘The INR [that’s State Department intelligence] nuclear analyst told the Committee staff that the thing that stood out immediately about the [forged] documents was that a companion document — a document included with the Niger documents that did not relate to uranium — mentioned some type of military campaign against major world powers. The members of the alleged military campaign included both Iraq and Iran and was, according to the documents, being orchestrated through the Nigerien [note: that’s not the same as Nigerian] Embassy in Rome, which all struck the analyst as “completely implausible.” Because the stamp on this document matched the stamp on the uranium document [the stamp was supposed to establish the documents bona fides], the analyst thought that all of the documents were likely suspect. The analyst was unaware at the time of any formatting problems with the documents or inconsistencies with the names or dates. ‘
Journalist Eric Margolis notes of SISMI:
SISMI has long been notorious for far right, even neo-fascist, leanings. According to Italian judicial investigators, SISMI was deeply involved in numerous plots against Italy’s democratic government, including the 1980 Bologna train station terrorist bombing that left 85 dead and 200 injured. Senior SISMI officers were in cahoots with celebrated swindler Roberto Calvi, the neo-fascist P2 Masonic Lodge, other extreme rightist groups trying to destabilize Italy, the Washington neocon operative, Michael Ledeen, and the Iran-Contra conspirators. SISMI works hand in glove with US, British and Israeli intelligence. In the 1960’s and 70’s, SISMI reportedly carried out numerous operations for CIA, including bugging the Vatican, the Italian president’s palace, and foreign embassies. Italy’s civilian intelligence service, SISDE, associated with Italy’s political center-left, has long been a bitter rival of SISMI. After CIA rejected the Niger file, it was eagerly snapped up by VP Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, Lewis Libby, who were urgently seeking any reason, no matter how specious, to invade Iraq. Cheney passed the phony data to Bush, who used it in his January, 2003 address to the nation in spite of warnings from CIA …
So Franklin, Ledeen, and Rhode, all of them pro-Likud operatives, just happen to be meeting with SISMI (the proto-fascist purveyor of the false Niger uranium story about Iraq and the alleged Iran-Iraq plot against the rest of the world) and corrupt Iranian businessman and would-be revolutionary, Ghorbanifar, in Europe. The most reasonable conclusion is that they were conspiring together about the Next Campaign after Iraq, which they had already begun setting in train, which is to get Iran.
But now The Jerusalem Post reveals that at least one of the meetings was quite specific with regard to an attempt to torpedo better US/Iran relations:
The purpose of the meeting with Ghorbanifar was to undermine a pending deal that the White House had been negotiating with the Iranian government. At the time, Iran had considered turning over five al-Qaida operatives in exchange for Washington dropping its support for Mujahadeen Khalq, an Iraq-based rebel Iranian group listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department.
The Neoconservatives have some sort of shadowy relationship with the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization or MEK. Presumably its leaders have secretly promised to recognize Israel if they ever succeed in overthrowing the ayatollahs in Iran. When the US recently categorized the MEK as a terrorist organization, there were howls of outrage from “scholars” associated with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a wing of AIPAC), such as ex-Trotskyite Patrick Clawson and Daniel Pipes. MEK is a terrorist organization by any definition of the term, having blown up innocent people in the course of its struggle against the Khomeini government. (MEK is a cult-like mixture of Marx and Islam). The MEK had allied with Saddam, who gave them bases in Iraq from which to hit Iran. When the US overthrew Saddam, it raised the question of what to do with the MEK. The pro-Likud faction in the Pentagon wanted to go on developing their relationship with the MEK and using it against Tehran.
So it transpires that the Iranians were willing to give up 5 key al-Qaeda operatives, whom they had captured, in return for MEK members.
Franklin, Rhode and Ledeen conspired with Ghorbanifar and SISMI to stop that trade. It would have led to better US-Iran relations, which they wanted to forestall, and it would have damaged their proteges, the MEK.
Since high al-Qaeda operatives like Saif al-Adil and possibly even Saad Bin Laden might know about future operations, or the whereabouts of Bin Laden, for Franklin and Rhode to stop the trade grossly endangered the United States.
The FBI has evidence that Franklin passed a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC, which then passed it to the Israelis. The FBI is construing these actions as espionage or something close to it. But that is like getting Al Capone on tax evasion. Franklin was not giving the directive to AIPAC in order to provide them with information. He was almost certainly seeking feedback from them on elements of it. He was asking, “Do you like this? Should it be changed in any way?” And, he might also have been prepping AIPAC for the lobbying campaign scheduled for early in 2005, when Congress will have to be convinced to authorize military action, or at least covert special operations, against Iran. AIPAC probably passed the directive over to Israel for the same reason—not to inform, but to seek input. That is, AIPAC and Israel were helping write US policy toward Iran, just as they had played a key role in fomenting the Iraq war.
With both Iraq and Iran in flames, the Likud Party could do as it pleased in the Middle East without fear of reprisal. This means it could expel the Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan, and perhaps just give Gaza back to Egypt to keep Cairo quiet. Annexing southern Lebanon up to the Litani River, the waters of which Israel has long coveted, could also be undertaken with no consequences, they probably think, once Hizbullah in Lebanon could no longer count on Iranian support. The closed character of the economies of Iraq and Iran, moreover, would end, allowing American, Italian and British companies to make a killing after the wars (so they thought).
Franklin’s movements reveal the contours of a rightwing conspiracy of warmongering and aggression, an orgy of destruction, for the benefit of the Likud Party, of Silvio Berlusconi’s business in the Middle East, and of the Neoconservative Right in the United States. It isn’t about spying. It is about conspiring to conscript the US government on behalf of a foreign power or powers.
Juan Cole is Professor of History at the University of Michigan and maintains his blog, Informed Comment, at www.juancole.com where this article was first published.