Spies in the Pentagon?

When I think of spies in the Defense Department, I think of the pitiful debt-ridden Ron Pelton, who worked for 14 years at the National Security Agency, quit in 1979, and began selling secrets to the Soviets until he was arrested in 1986. I heard it was to complete construction on a home he had been building for years and years. Construction projects can be like that.

I think of Jonathan Pollard, a case study in poor hiring practices within the federal government and the Defense Department’s even poorer supervisory habits. Pollard was also a case study in the delusional and incompetent ideologue who becomes a traitor in the Department of Defense.

More recently, I think of the high clearances granted to publicly and at times, rabidly, pro-Likud past and present political appointees with names like Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, and a host of younger Likudniks who march through the halls of the five-sided asylum to a composition unfamiliar to most Americans.

I don’t think of Larry Franklin, a guy I like and respect. When I was there in 2002 and 2003, Larry was the Iran desk officer with the Defense Under Secretary for Policy, Near East South Asia, moving later to the Office of Special Plans, where ostensibly Iraq policy was made.

Larry is an interesting and kind person with a lot of great stories. He came into our cubicle one morning feeling energetic, and demonstrated a Karate kick of some kind that to this day still impresses me. Here’s a little guy in a suit, over 50 years in age, and he can do the move. I asked him where he learned to do that. He said he had to learn self-defense because he grew up dirt poor, short and small, in a slum in Baltimore, one of the few white kids in his neighborhood. I believed him. He worked for everything he had, all the way to his Ph.D. Along the way, he got married and had a whole passel of kids, safely ensconced hours away from the superficialities and mean streets of Washington, D.C.

The pre-Republican National Convention weekend story is that Larry gave draft Iran policy guidance and other info to AIPAC representatives, in hopes of communicating a level of concern for what was going on in Iraq to his higher ups in the Pentagon, specifically Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz.

Somehow, having to go outside the system to get the Pentagon brass to show concern about what is really going on in Iraq doesn’t surprise me at all.

The story of spies in the Pentagon will percolate, no doubt. I have no answers, but perhaps the questions themselves will help explain what is going on in the current administration, and the administration that is sure to come.

Was the release of Larry’s name at this time politically motivated? And was that to hurt the Bush presidency or to save it, as Laura Rozen muses, with a "controlled burn"?

Why would Larry need to give draft documents on policy anywhere in the Middle East to AIPAC, when all the big decisions are already coordinated between Israel and the U.S. at far higher levels?

Why is Larry the result of FBI investigational success instead of the names of the Pentagon senior operatives who shared classified information with Ahmad Chalabi regarding American success in reading coded Tehran communications, specifically now as neoconservatives rage for war in Iran? Or instead of the names of senior White House operatives who revealed and destroyed the U.S. security mission of Valerie Plame?

Are there any advantages gained in front-page stories on a "spy for Israel" who is not one of the usual suspects? You know, a person with no business dealings dependent upon American (and Israeli) decisions, a person without an openly pro-Israel ideology or someone who was never known as a passionate advocate of U.S. power to promote Israel’s security and economic viability? A career-constrained professional rather than fly-by-night political appointees who have written widely and acted most consistently to advance the interests of Israel in American policy towards the Middle East? Cui bono?

Could it be, as so wisely noted by Chris Manion recently, that it is time for the neoconservatives to come home?

The neoconservative harvest has been plucked from the energies and wealth of an unsuspecting American public — a permanent and costly occupation of Iraq’s oil production infrastructure, a ringing of unnecessary military bases from Bosnia and Kosovo, to Uzbekistan to Afghanistan to Iraq, and the domestic acceptance of a siege mentality of national defense reminiscent of Machiavelli’s lesser princes, or perhaps the current political state of Israel.

The challenge may be simply to properly preserve the harvest — and what better way than to usher in a presidency that will do what Bush can never do — legitimize and normalize American militaristic hegemony, at least for several more years. As Gabriel Kolko writes,

Democrats’ greater finesse in justifying these policies is therefore more dangerous because they will be made to seem more credible and keep alive alliances that only reinforce the U.S.’ refusal to acknowledge the limits of its power. In the longer run, Kerry’s pursuit of these aggressive goals will lead eventually to a renewal of the dissolution of alliances, but in the short-run he will attempt to rebuild them and European leaders will find it considerably more difficult to refuse his demands than if Bush stays in power — and that is to be deplored.

Dangerous, radically un-American, Machiavellian. It must be exciting these days to be a neoconservative, looking forward to the continued progress under a Kerry Presidency. But to preserve the harvest, sacrifice is required.

Predictably, the sacrifice will be as it always is for neoconservative strategists. Whether burned at home or in the desert, the neoconservative sacrifice requires only the lives of those most loyal, dispensable, and disposable.