The Spy Allegations – Damage Done

On Friday (Aug. 27), CBS News’ Lesley Stahl reported in dramatic fashion that the FBI is investigating whether a Pentagon official provided classified information about U.S. policy toward Iran to the government of Israel, via the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. CBS sources indicated that the ‘suspected mole’ was ‘working at the highest levels of the Pentagon.’ CBS went so far to suggest that the issue raises a broader, more damning question: ‘Did Israel also use the analyst to try to influence U.S. policy on the War in Iraq?’ (see CBS video)

This CBS bombshell set off a landslide of media reports Saturday (Aug. 28), some giving the false impression that allegations of Israeli espionage in the Pentagon were substantiated. For example, the Melbourne Herald Sun announced in their headline: ‘Israel spy found at Pentagon,’ then went on to declare unequivocally, ‘An Israeli spy has been uncovered at the highest levels of the Pentagon, the FBI confirmed last night…’

Though both AIPAC and the Israeli government have vehemently denied any such covert activity in the U.S., the media damage has in many ways already been done. Former Mossad chief Uzi Arad acknowledged that despite Israel’s complete non-involvement in the matter, the affair already ‘has taken on a proportion that is damaging to us and to the United States.’

Yet at the time of this communique, the whole matter is beginning to look, as Maariv puts it, like ‘a surfeit of hype forced into bed with a paucity of fact.’ The suspected Pentagon figure, Larry Franklin, is not a ‘high level’ operative (as CBS originally reported), but rather a desk officer in the Defense Department’s Near East and South Asia Bureau. (Franklin also is not Jewish.) A senior Bush administration figure told the press that

from what we know, Larry Franklin looks more like an incompetent fool way out of his depth than a spy. He apparently passed on some papers to Israel without realizing the ramifications of his actions… Another senior source said that Israel did not need Franklin’s information. Israel’s contacts with high-level officials are such that a phone call to the US would have been sufficient to elicit the information.

Given the fact that the FBI investigation into Franklin has been underway for over a year, one wonders why the leak to the press at this time, before even any formal charges have been made? The Jerusalem Council for Public Affairs noted today an altogether plausible reason ? internal US conflicts:

Both the CIA and the FBI are fighting a “battle for survival” after repeated U.S. commissions have attacked them for failing to prevent 9/11. Israel, according to Amir Oren (Ha’aretz), has been “caught in a crossfire” between these agencies and their Pentagon rivals.

It should be recalled that following a similar accusation in the late 1990s, CIA Director George Tenet found the charges baseless and wrote Israel a letter of apology.

As the ‘Franklingate’ affair plays out over the course of this week, HonestReporting urges subscribers to scrutinize their local media outlets for factual reporting. Though the initial smear against the State of Israel has taken its toll, media monitors should insist that journalists stick to the facts on this highly sensitive affair from here on in.

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.