Friday, October 24, 2008

Zinni, the Karine-A, and AIPAC

A former four-star U.S. Army general, Anthony Zinni, and an arms-laden freighter seized by Israel in 2002 could both figure prominently in the defense of two pro-Israel lobbyists facing trial on charges they illegally obtained and disclosed classified information.

A newly-declassified brief filed with the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va. shows defense lawyers for the two lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, plan to question Zinni about a briefing he gave Rosen and represenatives of three other pro-Israel groups over dinner on January 22, 2002.

"Zinni had just returned from the Middle East where he met with [Palestinian Authority President Yassir] Arafat, among others. Zinni also told Rosen and the others details about the Karine-A and his meeting with Arafat," the defense filing said in a footnote. The Zinni dinner, which the brief said occured "in a public place," is critical to the defense largely because of the meeting's timing. The indictment in the case says Rosen got classified information from the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission for Iraq David Satterfield at a meeting on January 18, 2002 and disclosed it to "a foreign national" on January 23, 2002.

If the Zinni session with four representatives of American Jewish groups took place on January 22 and covered much of the same information Satterfield relayed, Rosen may reasonably have thought he had not received an illegal leak from the diplomat but information Rosen was authorized to receive and distribute to his colleagues at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and to Israeli contacts. Or so the defense will argue.

This sequence of events is apparently what led Judge T.S. Ellis III to grant a subpoena for Zinni over prosecution objections last year. Judge Ellis's own explanation for granting subpoenas for Zinni, Secretary of State Rice, and about a dozen other officials and former officials, remains under seal.

The defense brief discussing the Karine-A and Zinni was filed with the 4th Circuit in August and unsealed in heavily redacted form earlier this month. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has helpfully compiled and posted the document here.

The fact that the Zinni meeting could play a role in Rosen and Weissman's defense was reported last year in the Forward. However, it was not clear at that time that the defense was claiming that Zinni passed on some of the same information which came from Satterfield a few days earlier nor was it reported that the Karine-A incident figured in the Satterfield discussion, the Zinni session and the allegedly illegal disclosure by Rosen. The Forward report also put the meeting in 2003, while the new defense brief has it taking place a year earlier.

A passel of trial dates have been set and vacated in the case, which was filed in 2005. The trial is on hold at the moment as the government appeals a couple of Judge Ellis's rulings regarding classified information he said the defense was entitled to use at trial.

President Bush essentially severed contact with Arafat after the Palestinian leader implausibly denied knowledge of the Karine-A's cargo of rifles, anti-tank missiles, rockets, mortars and other weapons apparently destined for the Gaza Strip.

One troubling aspect of the newly-disclosed brief is that whoever is reviewing and redacting such documents for public release seems to have confused classification for national security reasons with the use of secrecy or pseudonyms for privacy reasons. Satterfield's name is sometimes left in the public version of the brief, while at other points it is whited out. The name of a former National Security Council staffer who allegedly gave Rosen and Weissman classified information, Kenneth Pollack, is withheld, even though Pollack has publicly confirmed that he believes he is the official called "USGO-1" in the indictment. The name of a Pentagon official appears to have been similarly deleted from the public version of the defense brief.

While the government is entitled to great deference in its decisions to keep information out of the public domain for national security reasons, the deletion from court filings of names or other details for some other reason, such as privacy, ought be governed by the laws, rules and constitutional principles which apply in that context and not by the lax review which applies to classification decisions. In other words, names of witnesses are not ordinarily deleted from defense pleadings or court orders in criminal and civil cases and they shouldn't be in the AIPAC case just because of the nature of the charges.

Neither Pollack nor Satterfield nor the Pentagon official whose name was apparently redacted from the brief was charged with any crime, though a Pentagon analyst, Larry Franklin, pled guilty in the case, was sentenced to almost 13 years in prison, and is cooperating with prosecutors. Rosen and Weissman, who were fired from AIPAC in 2005, have pled not guilty.

2 comments:

gabe said...

Keep up the great reporting Josh.

Best wishes for the blog,

Gabriel Schoenfeld

Paul said...

Josh, I'm delighted that we will continue to benefit from your insightful and most credible reporting -- especially on this issue.
Paul McMasters