‘Israel spy’ charges dropped by US judge

By Nathan Guttman, May 7, 2009

All charges have been dropped against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, the two former pro-Israel lobbyists accused under the Espionage Act of passing classified information to Israel.

The case may be closed for the two defendants, but it is just the beginning of many open questions for the Jewish community.

The decision to drop charges was based mainly on the understanding that winning the case would be virtually impossible, given the high bar for conviction set by the district judge.

“The landscape of this case has changed significantly since it was first brought,” according to the motion put before the court to dismiss the case.

But the practical reasoning for dropping it does little to lift the veil of ambiguity that shrouded the case. Almost five years have passed since CBS evening news broke the story of an “Israeli mole” in the Pentagon, which quickly turned into an investigation into the leakage of classified information, involving staffers from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and a mid-level Defence Department analyst.

Five years later, there is no explanation from the US government as to why the investigation was opened, who was targeted and why prosecutors used anti-espionage legislation dating from the First World War to prosecute a government leak case.

“This case should result in a new look by Congress and the Executive Branch to amend the laws to ensure that only real espionage is prosecuted as a crime,” said lawyers for the two cleared men last week.

Aipac has yet to explain why it fired the two senior staff members shortly after the allegations were made and why it distanced itself from them.

Mr Rosen is suing his former bosses in a civil lawsuit for millions, and Mr Weissman may do so as well. Both are left without a career and with limited employment possibilities.

“Thank God we live in a country where you can defend yourself against an injustice like this,” Mr Rosen, 66, said. He said the case was pushed by government officials “who have an obsession with leaks… and an obsession with Israel and the theory that it spies on America”.

The broader American Jewish community offered hardly any public backing to the men. Jewish leaders explained their actions as not wanting to second-guess the government’s decision or to interfere with a legal procedure.

But for the two accused, this meant being left out in the cold.

Last updated: 12:06pm, May 7 2009