Somebody sold CBS News, NBC, and the Washington Post a grand conspiracy theory of sinister Zionist influence in the Pentagon based on … well on what really? The theory alleges that
a) Two years ago, some Pentagon planners wrote a draft memo suggesting that the US adopt a tougher policy toward Iran;
b) One of those planners then supposedly informed a friend at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee about the memo – who in turn informed the Israeli embassy.
Can we pause to consider what an amazing non-story all of this is?
The memo in question - a draft of a proposed presidential policy directive for Iran - was essentially rejected. The Bush administration has opted since 2001 for a policy of engagement and attempted compromise with Iran. For all practical purposes, the memo was an expression of something close to a purely personal opinion.
And even if the memo had been adopted, it involved no spycraft, no technical secrets. It simply offered a vision of what US policy toward Iran ought to be: a series of policy options.
Discussing policy options with knowledgeable people – and even with allied governments – is not “espionage.”
Which is why, after 18 months of investigation, the investigators were about to drop the matter. It looks as if whoever leaked the story of the investigation leaked it precisely because he or she was annoyed that the investigators were concluding that the whole thing was much ado about nothing.
But by cleverly shopping it to journalists who were eager to strike a blow at the Bush administration, a fizzle of a story was (at least temporarily) transformed into a one-day wonder.
Who shopped it? Presumably somebody at the FBI – an agency that has alas showed nothing like so much vigilance in cases in which life and limb were actually at risk. Along the way, however, the story got “sexed up,” to borrow a phrase.
Here are some steamy extracts from CBS’ report:
“CBS News has learned that the FBI has a full-fledged espionage investigation under way and is about to -- in FBI terminology – ‘roll up’ someone agents believe has been spying not for an enemy, but for Israel from within the office of the Secretary of Defense at the Pentagon. …
“This put the Israelis, according to one source, ‘inside the decision-making loop’ so they could ‘try to influence the outcome.’
“The case raises another concern among investigators: Did Israel also use the analyst to try to influence U.S. policy on the war in Iraq?
“With ties to top Pentagon officials Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the analyst was assigned to a unit within the Defense Department tasked with helping develop the Pentagon's Iraq policy.”
Notice a couple of things in the CBS report: The story is written in such a way as to suggest that it was the FBI investigators who described the Israelis as “inside the loop.” And yet if you look carefully, you will see that this is not so. The allegation is attributed only to a “source” who might or might not even be a government employee – who is in fact very likely one of the small number of former government employees to whom journalists turn when they want some heavy breathing about the role of Israel.
Notice too the gratuitous and unsourced insinuation that Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith might somehow be implicated in the leak.
What seems to be going on here is this: People in the Pentagon broadly discussed proposed American policy toward one of America’s severest Middle Eastern problems – Iran, its terrorism and its nuclear ambitions. In the course of those discussions, they talked to knowledgeable people in many places. Possibly they talked as well to knowledgeable people in the governments of US allies, including Israel.
But there are figures inside the US government who want to see Israel treated, not as the ally it is by law and treaty (Israel like Japan, Australia, and New Zealand is designated a “major non-NATO ally” for intelligence- and technology-sharing purposes) but as the source of all the trouble in the Middle East and the world. They have injected their own hysterical agenda into the reporting of what would otherwise be a story of an FBI investigation that found nothing much.
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