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ICG Risk Blog - [ "No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 5, AIPAC 2 ]

"No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 5, AIPAC 2


Part 4

Reading AIPAC's litany of denials that it had anything to do with the coincident parade of electoral defeats of candidates that it disliked, reminds me of the protestations of one of the masters of serial insurance fraud, Rex DeGeorge, that he was innocent of a series of sunken yachts, insurance disability claims, burglary claims, and lost luggage. No matter what you think of AIPAC, you'll delight in the story of Rex DeGeorge who was finally brought to justice by a bright lawyer using the marine law principle known as "utmost good faith," i.e., "by not disclosing his prior losses when he applied for insurance [which if the insurer had] known about DeGeorge's losses [it] would not have insured the yacht."

The memorable line that I think applies equally to AIPAC is from the presiding federal district judge, J. Spencer Letts:

Noting [the vessel] Principe's tangled ownership, Letts told DeGeorge's lawyers: "You're asking me to put together unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely plus unlikely, and then say the net result of all those unlikelys is likely."

Likely to be unlikely with AIPAC as well. AIPAC, like DeGeorge, would have to be another Joe Btfsplk, Al Capp's greatest jinx, for all those losses to have spontaneously happened. (Not to leave readers hanging, the resolution of DeGeorge's case is here.)

While the focus of this note is AIPAC, it is by no means the only pro-Israel organization to escape scrutiny. There is, for example:

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though little known to the general public, has tremendous influence in Washington, especially with the executive branch. Based in New York, the conference is supposed to give voice to the fifty-two Jewish organizations that sit on its board, but in reality it tends to reflect the views of its executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein. Hoenlein has long had close ties to Israel's Likud Party… A skilled and articulate operative, Hoenlein uses his access to the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council to push for a strong Israel. He's so effective at it that the Jewish newspaper the Forward, in its annual list of the fifty most important American Jews, has ranked Hoenlein first.

AIPAC and related Pro-Israeli proponents literally dwarf pro-Arab lobbyists in terms of contributions and political access.

Back to the present, it does appear that "the damage caused by the Franklin affair [and the indictment of two senior AIPAC officials under the Espionage Act] to the lobby itself is apparently reparable," but I agree with the assertion that the majority of US Jews - those "who are not active in the lobby but desire Israel's welfare" - will at least be forced "to cope with charges of "dual loyalty" and with the need to prove that they are no less patriotic than any other American." Given how many times that random queries have failed my Pollard Test, there is something to prove.

For its part, AIPAC has cut its employees loose and cooperate "after it became evident that the FBI had tape-recordings showing that Franklin explicitly said that the material was secret. AIPAC's assessment was that it would be difficult for the organization to continue working on Capitol Hill, and with the administration, while two of its senior officials are facing such charges":

AIPAC leaders have taken a series of steps to cut themselves off from the two former officials suspected in the case. Sources close to the case say the prosecution posed four conditions to AIPAC, which would guarantee that it would not be involved in the indictments: a change of working methods to ensure that such incidents don't happen again; the firing of the two officials and public disassociation from them; no offers of high severance or anything else to make it appear the two quit of their own volition; and no financing of their legal defense. AIPAC has abided by the first three conditions - and the severance pay offered the two was considered very low, considering the many years they worked for the lobby. But it is said to be helping with their legal fees, indirectly, through its own law firm.

One wonders if, once in court, the spurned staffers "will try to prove that they only did what was routine and conventional work for their organization."

No less a stalwart of the Jewish community than the Forward, the "voice of the Jewish immigrant," has mooted that "the goal of the probe is to compel [AIPAC] to register as a "foreign agent" representing the government of another country." Already registered as a lobbying group under the Lobbying Disclosure Act:

registering as a foreign agent would require Aipac to provide significantly more detailed information about its aims and activities to the government — thereby robbing the group of a key weapon: the ability to operate behind the scenes. Such a change would severely weaken the organization’s influence and fuel charges of dual loyalties against Jewish groups...

the shift would undermine Aipac’s standing as the chief grass-roots organization of American Jews who advocate for a strong American-Israel relationship into an entity that represents Israel in America. It also would play into the hands of Aipac’s foes, who for years have charged that the organization’s chief loyalty was to Israel rather than to the United States.

Even if an attempt to force Aipac to register as a foreign agent is unsuccessful, Jewish activists said, a public fight over the issue would damage the pro-Israel lobby and the wider Jewish community. "This is a real threat. If Aipac eventually has to become a foreign agent, that would mean the end of Aipac as we know it. But even if not, it will be ugly…"

Jewish activists say that even if the likelihood is low that a legal attempt to compel Aipac to register as a foreign agent will be successful, public focus on the issue could be damaging. "Any open debate of this issue could be damaging… Questions of loyalty will resurface, and this time such questions will have to do with the chief pro-Israel lobby in America."

While over 20,000 lobbyists are registered with Congress, in 2005 there were 455 actively registered with DoJ as foreign agents. "Although [FARA] enforcement [has] always been spotty, it is used by the government to closely monitor what foreign governments are doing in Washington. It does get the camel’s nose under the tent." Forward notes the "two chief tests for defining an organization or a publicist as an "agent of a foreign principal," are finances and control. The financial issue is dismissed out of hand as it "clearly does not apply to Aipac, which does not receive money from Israel." The control test deals with the "nature of the relationship between the American advocacy organization and the foreign government in question":

Legally, it would be difficult for the [US] to prove that Aipac must register as a foreign agent, experts say. "Lots of ethnic organizations throughout America are representing Americans who support foreign countries or political parties in foreign countries. None of those have in the past been considered foreign agents or required to register as such," said Tom Susman, a Washington lawyer who chairs the Ethics Committee of the American League of Lobbyists. Aipac, he said, "doesn’t advocate on behalf of the government of Israel, but the nation of Israel." Also, [Susman] pointed out, the law does allow for a certain degree of coordination with a foreign government. Therefore, "a substantial independence [of the lobbying group] is all that’s needed. Not total independence."

There certainly are burdens to FARA registration that an organization would like to avoid if it could:

Another part of foreign agents’ challenge comes from perceptions that are triggered because they have to register with the Department of Justice’s criminal division. "There is almost a negative connotation, like you are pulling something and using undue influence in some way," said a lawyer who advises several foreign clients on legal and business matters.

For those not seasoned in the process, such as PR companies hired to work on advertising campaigns, registering under FARA comes with a stigma. "You feel like, 'Oh my God, we are not criminals,'" said a PR specialist who, after the Sept. 11 attacks, worked on an ad campaign for a strategic Middle Eastern ally… "You lose your reputation once and that’s it. You represent a rogue state and, even if you follow the law, it does have an impact on your reputation."… One lobbyist working for a friendly Western government described the FARA process as "a nightmare and was reluctant to go through the rigorous accounting. Because the law’s reporting requirements are very strict — every means of communications, every meeting has to be detailed — some lobbyists actively seek exemptions or loopholes allowing them to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which asks for less broad disclosure.

A FARA Q&A and a FARA Index, "an unofficial guide designed by FARA Unit personnel to assist a browser in finding parts of the statute" are recommended for those who wish to dig deeper.

Senator William Fulbright (see below, part 6) and former senior CIA official Victor Marchetti were unsuccessful in their efforts to bring AIPAC under FARA and the assent remains steep, but one should not give up hope. A 2004 poll by Zogby International in the wake of an FBI investigation of AIPAC staffers for "allegedly receiving classified information from a Pentagon official [Larry Franklin] and using this information on behalf of the government of Israel," asked if AIPAC should register as the agent of a foreign government and lose its tax-exempt status. Answering in the affirmative:

  • Strongly agree 44%
  • Somewhat agree 17%
  • Somewhat disagree 6%
  • Strongly disagree 6%
  • Not sure 27%

"By a five-to-one margin, people are much more likely to agree than disagree that AIPAC should be asked to register as an agent of a foreign government and lose its tax-exempt status. Three in five (61%) agree, including 44% who strongly agree. One in eight (12%) disagrees, and more than one in four (27%) are not sure."

Part 6

United States Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)
FARA Index
unofficial guide to assist a browser in finding parts of the statute, not part of the 22 U.S.C. § 611

Foreign-agent lobbyists amid uproars, duck for cover
By Elana Schor and Roxana Tiron
The Hill
March 29, 2006

U.S. to indict two senior AIPAC officials under Espionage Act
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz Correspondent
Last update - 23:24 30/05/2005

Leaders Fear Probe Will Force Pro-Israel Lobby To File as ‘Foreign Agent' Could Fuel Dual Loyalty Talk
By Ori Nir
December 31, 2004

Poll: Should AIPAC Register as the Agent of a Foreign Government?
Council for the National Interest
September, 2004

The Israel Lobby
The Nation
comment | posted May 23, 2002 [from the June 10, 2002 issue]

Pro-Israel and Pro-Arab Interests: The Money
The Center for Responsive Politics
Updated 4/24/2002

Propaganda and Disinformation: How the CIA Manufactures History
Victor Marchetti
The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 305-320, 2001

Gordon Housworth

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