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12/18/2007 Television Interview
International News Net World Report/Dish Network
Foreign Agents:
Will the AIPAC Espionage case ever go to Trial?

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt with their controversial paper, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" stirred up a very old pot back in the spring when they released their article, followed by the book.  James Petras also released a book, but his book seemed a little more biased. 

Today we have with us Grant Smith and his new book, Foreign Agents.  Foreign Agents looks at the history of Israel's influence in the United States.  It tells a fascinating story of the Fulbright hearings to the Rosen and Weissman case which is coming up this year.

Grant Welcome to INN.

Grant Smith:  Thank you very much Lenny.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Grant, your book begins with the late 1950s and the Fulbright hearings and how at that time, that committee, Senator Fulbright's committee was looking at the reason that the Jewish Agency and its American counterparts were not being forced to register as foreign agents or agents of the government of Israel.  Let's begin here.

Grant Smith:  Certainly.  I think the most important thing that Fulbright uncovered in his Senate investigation was that over $5 million dollars had been funneled in, under the direction of AIPAC founder Si Kenen, specifically to jump-start and provide seed money to a wide ranging public relations, lobbying and outreach activities across the US but particularly in Washington, DC. 

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  And let me interrupt you.  What was the purpose of these? To spread a positive image of Israel?  I recall that there was a publication that was distributed with the help of the Jewish Agency through Si Kenen? 

Grant Smith:  Yeah, it was public education, but it was also on the ground activity.  In fact, Fulbright specifically spent a number of his minutes talking about how the lobby was working to undermine a settlement with the Palestinians called the Johnson Plan.  So it was more than just education, it was about putting together a group of people who could lobby and get things done in the US. 

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report: At that time during the Fulbright hearings, it was mentioned that this was a shell game.  Before the word "money laundering" came into popular usage that this idea of creating these shell companies to therefore insulate itself from having to register as a foreign agent.  This is something which I believe has been used by Israel all along, do you agree?

Grant Smith:  Well yes, the whole point of what was going on, was the Jewish Agency was funneling money through the American Zionist Council, which would then pass it on the lobbyists like Kenen and do all shorts of activities which were not reported to the Department of Justice as required.  And that was Fulbright's major point.  He kept going over and over again, saying why Kenen wasn't registering as a foreign lobbyist. Why isn't AIPAC registering as a foreign lobby?  And the idea here was that if they could set up shell corporations, they could violate the spirit, but, they thought, not the letter of the law.  Fulbright was in disagreement with that.   

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report: Now as this progressed, Kenen's organization I understand was disbanded, at least in its form, and then the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee began. Can you talk a moment about the growth of influence of AIPAC?

Grant Smith: AIPAC really blossomed in the 70's and 80's and their most important accomplishments after being started up with this seed money were really getting elections to go their way and rigging elections.  This came to light in 1986 when it was found that one of their directors, Michael Goland was rigging the '86 Senate election race to get Alan Cranston elected to the Senate.  Also in 1986 they began directing, after setting up political action committees, directing them to finance candidates they favored, all across the United States.  This was called the Political Action Committee scandal.  It broke when the Washington Post published these internal memos in 1989 and AIPAC was called to account for it when a group of citizens made the Federal Elections Committee investigate AIPAC for illegally coordinating political action committees. 

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Why are these called "Astroturf" political action committees?

Grant Smith:  They are called "Astroturf" because they are like a piece of fake Astroturf.  You lay it down in the desert or, in the desert of Arizona or on the plains of South Dakota, and even though you don't have many people there, you can funnel money into an election and get your favored candidate into office. 

The illegality, however, is that a nonprofit organization like AIPAC is not supposed to be setting those up, it is not supposed to coordinate them, and it was found to be doing precisely that.  Although it was not held to account, this went to the Supreme Court, the case lingers in the justice system today.  But although it was found to have acted as a PAC (AIPAC) and illegally so, it has never been required to expose donors or do any of the registration required of PACs.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Grant, you also mention what you would call the economic influence of AIPAC, how they were using this to gain economic advantage, certain military deals, and you even mention a shoe company deal that was going down that AIPAC's was getting very cozy with legislators, trying to get inside information to give Israel the economic advantage in some of these economic setups. 

Grant Smith:  Absolutely.  In fact in 1984, people may not be aware of this, but the very first free trade agreement was signed with Israel.  By far it was not the biggest or most important economy we were looking at, at that time, but through massive lobbying it was able to push through a very favorable deal that subsequently shifted the balance of US trade with Israel to a $50 billion dollar surplus to Israel, loss to the US.  The FBI found that AIPAC had acquired confidential International Trade Organization documents that it used to lobby.  It had all sorts of classified or confidential information about US companies and their negotiating positions, and it used that against the United States to get this trade deal pushed through.  There was a lot of push back from, as you say, the shoe companies, and other organizations and industries that were hurt, but it kind of laid the ground work, after not being held to account for FARA violations, future skating around election laws, that it could act with impunity in Congress and that the FBI would essentially not touch it, either.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  It is common knowledge that AIPAC is essentially working as a foreign agent for the state of Israel.  Is that accepted in the beltway and in most political circles?

Grant Smith:  I think there is an underlying understanding that the connections are absolutely there, the history is not very well understood�

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report: Let's go back to Senator Fulbright for a minute, was he uprooted from his Senate seat with influence from supporters of Israel in the United States?

Grant Smith: Absolutely, there was an outright campaign when he ran against Dale Bumpers to position him; I think the ADL called him, "unfriendly to Israel".  There was definitely lobbying to keep him from ever becoming Secretary of State, although he was probably the most qualified senator who to be nominated for that, and he was pushed out of the Senate for this. 

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report: Before we move into the Steven Roseman-Keith Weissman case, would you be able to outline the influence AIPAC has right now within all of Congress at this time.  How do they get into Congress, how do they have influence?  We've heard that some of it is at the staff level, how is this functioning right now?

Grant Smith;  Well, according to one survey, approximately 80% of Congress members, and this is more than 10 years ago, had AIPAC alumni on their staff, the Congress is very well aware of the weakness of federal election laws, and the fact that this is one lobby they can absolutely not afford to displease.  So I would say that their hold on Congress is extremely strong.

There is an associated nonprofit group linked to AIPAC that the American Israel Education Fund (foundation) which has sent hundreds of members of Congress to Israel to learn about their issues and to lobby them.  In fact it is the second most visited country due to this subsidy provided by AIPAC's affiliate.  So I would say their hold is very tight.  And its not just overt partisans like Lieberman and some of the others who are constantly making speeches about this issue.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Before we have to go, let's talk for a moment about the Steve Rosen- Keith Weissman case which comes back into court in April.  This is, to most people who have seen it, a blatant case of AIPAC's involvement in stealing US secrets.  The Espionage Act comes into play.  How is this developing, and once again, will those closely associated with AIPAC be let off the hook?

Grant Smith:  Well, this is a very high stakes trial, and basically, what we are talking about is that if Rosen and Weissman, along with their Department of Defense, and press, and collaborators gone forward, we might very well have American sons and daughters fighting a ground war in Iran.  This is all about Iran. 

But when you look at the maneuvers in the court, we've seen almost two years of very savvy legal maneuvering trying to get this thrown out of court on numerous pretexts.  And what we see is that the press is very much in favor of seeing this go away.  The Wall Street Journal had a major editorial about how new attorney general Mukasey's first job should be throwing this out of court.  We've seen the Washington Post and others saying that this is about free speech and that these lobbyists are the equivalent of reporters who should not be denied access to information, or any (classified) information they can find, and the judge himself has set extremely high standards.  Although the act that they are being prosecuted under states that they should be shown to have either advantaged a foreign country or harmed US interests, he is insisting that it be shown that these actions taken by Rosen and Weissman actually harmed the United States.  So it is extremely�the case follows any historic pattern, we will not see this ever get to court.  Certainly not April 29 (2008).  The Bush administration has too much to lose, the mainstream press has too much to lose, Congress has too much to lose, and, of course, AIPAC.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Each successive presidency, starting perhaps with the Kennedy administration, has shown more and more favoritism towards Israel.  Is there any way, in the future of American politics, that this could be reversed?

Grant Smith:  I think that if we were to begin to see that this blatant lack of law enforcement, that the enforcement of basic laws such as FARA, the Espionage Act, the Logan Act, basic election laws, if American people across every district of the US attorneys began saying "we want our justice system to prosecute violations of these laws.  These laws matter, these laws matter in terms of emptying the treasury, sending Americans to war, we need you to prosecute and hold people accountable for FARA, Logan, and election laws." I think we could see a change.

It's not going to come from politicians, though.  As we've seen, the infrastructure for manipulating and scaring them has been built since the 1950's, and it's not going away absent legal action.

Leonard Charles, Inn World Report:  Grant Smith, we'll have to leave it there today.  This is an amazing book.  "Foreign Agents."  Grant Smith, thank you for being on International News Network.

Grant Smith: Thank you, Lenny.  

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