AIPAC Staffers Go to Grand Jury


 

Top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) have appeared before a grand jury and two senior staffers have been placed on paid leave in the latest developments in the federal investigation of the pro-Israel lobby for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the case.

At the same time, the Pentagon staffer at the center of the allegations, accused of espionage by the FBI and then pressured into an alleged FBI “sting” against AIPAC, has been quietly rehired by the Pentagon, over the FBI’s objections.

Sources close to the investigation, while confirming these details, say they do not foresee an imminent resolution before AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which begins May 22. Rumors that something might happen sooner have been swirling around Washington in recent weeks.

The investigation came to light last August with an FBI raid of AIPAC’s Washington headquarters. Files belonging to two senior staffers, policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, were confiscated.

News of the raid was leaked to CBS News as it was happening, igniting worldwide media coverage and speculation about a “nest of Pollardites,” a reference to the American Jewish naval analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1986.

Allegations soon surfaced that Rosen and Weissman had accepted classified information on Iran from Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst for the Pentagon, in 2003.

The FBI launched another raid on AIPAC headquarters in December 2004. It also issued grand jury subpoenas to four top staffers: Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director; Richard Fishman, the managing director; Renee Rothstein, the communications director; and Raphael Danziger, the research director.

In late January or early February, sources say, several of the four testified before the grand jury. AIPAC would not comment on the proceedings of the grand jury, which was convened by U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, the federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia.

Rosen and Weissman were placed on paid leave in January. At around the same time, Franklin returned to the Pentagon in a “nonsensitive position,” sources said.

Franklin, who had been threatened with an espionage indictment by FBI assistant director David Szady’s counterintelligence division, was pressured into acting as an FBI informant against AIPAC, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI’s tactics against Franklin. In an earlier case involving a CIA staff attorney, Szady had been publicly accused of targeting Jews with security investigations.

“I think that shows that Franklin was never any sort of espionage threat,” a source close to Franklin said. Franklin has been described as overeager but intensely patriotic.

“Franklin was obviously more of a victim than a threat,” said one source intimately familiar with the government’s case against Franklin.

Szady told a contact that Franklin’s rehiring by the Pentagon was not “our call,” and was done over the FBI’s strenuous objections. An FBI spokesman refused to comment on the rehiring.

Franklin has not been called to testify before the grand jury, nor have there been significant discussions or even contacts about a plea or a resolution, according to sources familiar with the Justice Department’s case against Franklin.

“Nothing is happening, and Franklin is back at work,” said a source familiar with the FBI’s investigation.

Rumors have swirled that something was about to happen in the case before AIPAC’s policy conference, but key sources familiar with the case say no resolution of the case “seems possible” by then, barring an unforeseen development.

Scheduled out-of-state travel for key people could make settlement negotiations difficult, sources say. Multiple sources associated with Franklin and the prosecution’s cases confirm that genuine settlement discussions are not yet even underway.

AIPAC also was clamping down on any speculation about the latest developments.

Earlier statements from the organization, repeated as recently as December, asserted that “neither AIPAC nor any member of our staff has broken any law, nor has AIPAC or its employees ever received information they believed was secret or classified.”

Under a new gag order by defense attorneys, AIPAC spokesmen have declined to repeat the original statement. The standard reply now is, “It is not appropriate for AIPAC to comment on any issue related to any ongoing investigation.”

An AIPAC spokesman added that the statement should “not be construed as a no-comment.”

The FBI and prosecutor McNulty refused comment.

Senior FBI officials, stung by criticism of Szady, are trying to understand exactly what conduct the agency is investigating. Two FBI agents recently talked to a senior Jewish communal leader, not to extract potential evidence but “simply to understand how AIPAC works,” according to one participant.

The leader explained how the American Jewish community relates to its ancestral homeland. The conversation was characterized by the participant as “extremely congenial.”

The investigation grew out of a sting last summer by Szady’s counterintelligence division after Franklin, the Pentagon analyst, was observed at a Virginia restaurant in June 2003 sharing a classified Iran policy draft with an AIPAC staffer, according to multiple sources aware of the prosecution’s case.

Such sharing of in-progress drafts with outside think-tanks and experts is common in Washington foreign policy-making circles. In this case, however, Szady’s surveillance agents were watching, the sources say.

About a year later, the sources say, the counterintelligence division used the technical violation observed in the restaurant to pressure a frightened Franklin into becoming an undercover informant.

Sources confirm that while Franklin was without defense counsel, Szady’s agents threatened him with a long prison term for espionage, which would have ruined his family financially. Franklin was placed on unpaid leave and forced to take odd jobs to support his five children and wheelchair-bound wife.

Under FBI pressure, Franklin agreed to feed AIPAC’s Rosen and Weissman bogus information about plans to kidnap Israelis in Kurdistan, the sources say. AIPAC officials reportedly passed that information to the Israeli Embassy in an attempt to save lives, sources say.

Franklin also allegedly was directed to sting a group of other Washington figures associated with the controversial Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi, and with neoconservative circles. Those efforts apparently went nowhere.

On Aug. 27, 2004, FBI sources leaked details of the investigation to CBS News just as federal agents executed search warrants for hard drives and files at AIPAC headquarters. That night, CBS News led with an explosive story about an Israeli mole in the government, a story that since has been discredited.

Shortly after the FBI’s alleged scheme to set up AIPAC became public last fall, Franklin secured prominent defense lawyer Plato Cacheris, who ended Franklin’s cooperation with the government.

Rosen hired defense counsel Abbe Lowell, who represented former President Clinton during his impeachment proceedings.

It remains to be seen whether Rosen, Weissman and AIPAC will emerge from the investigation intact.

The entire Jewish community is watching closely.

As one Jewish leader who asked not to be identified said, “If AIPAC is targeted in this fashion, it is not good news for the rest of us. AIPAC would be only the beginning.”

New York Times best-selling journalist Edwin Black, author of the award-winning “Banking on Baghdad,” first revealed charges of anti-Semitism against FBI personnel and other details of the FBI’s ongoing investigation of AIPAC.

 

New Century Poses Challenge


One hundred years ago, when Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s predecessor, Kaspare Cohn Hospital, opened its doors with 12 beds as Los Angeles’ first Jewish hospital, such medical staples as penicillin and insulin remained to be discovered. Life expectancy was 51 years, and the average annual income was $467.

Today, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center exists in a world of dizzying medical developments, where scientists manipulate genes, and doctors are testing a diagnostic camera in a capsule so small that patients can swallow it. Life expectancy has increased by more than 25 years, and in 2000, the country spent $1.3 trillion on health-care costs.

In such an increasingly complex health-care environment, Cedars-Sinai’s ability to celebrate a second century will depend on how the medical center, which is also a research and educational institution, navigates a modern set of challenges. The 905-bed facility, like other U.S. hospitals, is facing skyrocketing costs coupled with shrinking insurance reimbursements, staffing shortages and an aging population that will place a severe strain on resources in the future.

"[There are a] myriad of challenges being thrown at the institution … [which put] a tremendous amount of pressure on all [health-care] organizations," said Thomas M. Priselac, president and chief executive officer of Cedars-Sinai Health System. "We believe that if we [fulfill the strategic objectives supporting] our mission and our vision — what it is we stand for and what we want to achieve … we will be able to keep the institution at the leading edge."

Perhaps the most formidable challenge facing Cedars-Sinai is rising health-care costs. New procedures and emerging technologies, while advancing medical care, outpace the payments hospitals receive from insurers and government health plans. Many of these plans pay health-care providers a fixed fee rather than one based on the nature of services rendered. According to the California Healthcare Association, the state has had more than $60 billion in Medicare payment cuts over the last four years. About 45 percent of Cedars-Sinai patients are on Medicare, and another 14 percent are on Medi-Cal.

Compounding the problem of limited payments is the prospect of no payments at all. More than 2 million Los Angeles County residents are uninsured, and Cedars-Sinai will now be caring for an even greater percentage of them.

The Los Angeles County Health Department may deal with a projected $700-800 million deficit over the next three years by converting Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance and Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar into outpatient clinics.

Both currently operate emergency rooms, and like Cedars-Sinai, Harbor-UCLA is one of the county’s 13 trauma centers. Eleven community health clinics and four school-based clinics have already been closed as part of county cutbacks. The closures will funnel more uninsured patients to Cedars-Sinai’s emergency room and ambulatory care clinic.

Last fiscal year, Cedars-Sinai spent approximately $70 million on uncompensated and under-compensated care and community health programs, Priselac said. "Clearly [these factors present] a financial challenge to the institution.

"However, because we are a not-for-profit community hospital … we welcome [this challenge], because of our roots and founding, and because of our obligation to the community and our desire to be a community-oriented organization," he said.

Barbara Factor Bentley, board of directors chair, added, "It goes back to our Jewish traditions. When people look up and see the Star of David on the medical center, they know it means quality care for all people."

Providing care requires continually updating and adding to facilities and equipment. Under Cedars-Sinai’s Master Facilities Plan, nearly every building on the medical campus is scheduled to undergo renovations and improvements, either to replace facilities lost in the 1994 earthquake or to house expanded programs and services.

Last year saw the opening of a 45-bed neonatal intensive-care unit — close to 7,000 babies are delivered at the medical center annually — and a new unit within the department of psychiatry and mental health. This month marks the opening of the S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center, and the commencement of construction on the new North Care Tower to house predominantly intensive-care services.

Philanthropy helps make such growth possible. The medical center’s major fund-raising initiative, the Campaign for the 21st Century, has so far raised $322 million of its $500 million goal. Cedars-Sinai also benefits from the efforts of 40 different fund-raising groups. In addition, it receives another $80 million in grants.

However, even with sufficient funding, Cedars-Sinai, as well as other hospitals nationwide, faces the specter of staffing shortages. According to the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, more than 126,000 U.S. nursing positions are currently unfilled, and "that number [is] expected to skyrocket as aging baby boomers begin placing unprecedented demands on America’s health-care system." One of the reasons for the national nursing shortage is that nurses are aging. In 2000, 60 percent of registered nurses were over 40.

Dr. Michael Langberg, Cedars-Sinai’s chief medical officer, said the medical center isn’t feeling the nursing crunch right now. To keep it that way, the medical center has just established the Cedars-Sinai Institute for Professional Nursing Development.

Through a partnership with California State University Los Angeles, the institute will eventually graduate 150 new bachelor’s degree nurses annually to help increase the number entering the profession. The hospital will try to persuade institute graduates to stay at Cedars-Sinai by picking up their internship tab if they remain for a specified period of time.

While the nursing shortage has received the most news coverage, shortages of other professionals exist, too. There is a need for hospital personnel such as radiology technicians, computer systems specialists and laboratory personnel, among others.

"We’re working hard to create a work environment . . . that makes Cedars-Sinai an attractive place to come to work," Priselac said. He added that the medical center works with other institutions to provide professional training programs and lobbies at the state and federal levels to increase funding for educational institutions.

As baby boomers edge toward retirement age, they will increasingly utilize health resources. The number of elderly in California will almost double in the next 25 years, according to the National Economic Council.

To gear up for anticipated increases in the demand for services, Cedars-Sinai is boosting resources in fields heavily utilized by geriatric patients, such as cardiology, neurology, oncology, orthopedics and pulmonary medicine. Priselac said that as options for outpatient treatment increase, patients who do require hospitalization will be sicker and require a more intense level of care.

This month construction is beginning on the North Care Tower, which will add 120 intensive-care beds. Educational programs on health and wellness, and early intervention tools, such as the Cedars-Sinai Heart Watch, have been adopted to attract the health-conscious baby boomer generation. The American Association of Retired Persons ranked Cedars-Sinai as the No. 2 metropolitan hospital in the nation.

Baby boomers are only one segment of the diverse population served by the medical center. To reach vulnerable groups with little access to care, 120 programs target the elderly, ethnic minority populations, pregnant women, children and the poor.

As technology advances, the potential for ethical dilemmas also increases, for example, end-of-life issues. As part of the hospital’s bioethics program, physicians and other professionals regularly meet to discuss challenges they face as health-care providers. A committee is also available to doctors and families when they need help sorting through options in a specific case.

Rather than coming up with the answers, Priselac said, "we put in place the resources and a process to let the individual, the family members and their physician come to the right decision as a group."

Last year, the medical center cared for more than 44,000 in-patients and more than 137,000 out-patients. Assuring quality control and patient safety is challenging for a system where close to 10,000 people — from doctors to orderlies to volunteers — provide care in some form.

Cedars-Sinai "is universally committed to patient safety and patient care quality," Langberg said. Priselac chairs the medical center’s Quality Council, and the hospital maintains numerous committees to address aspects of this issue.

While state law will soon mandate such solutions, the medical center is already in the process of instituting a $20 million computerized patient information system that includes entry of physician orders. By having doctors enter orders electronically, rather than by writing them, the system streamlines the process and allows prescriptions to be immediately and automatically checked for potential problems, such as drug interactions or allergies. Langberg said the system reduces medication errors by about 60 percent.

The patient information system is just one example of how Cedars-Sinai has embraced information technology. The medical center was named one of the 100 "most wired" hospitals and health systems in Hospitals and Health Networks magazine. The new S. Mark Taper Foundation Imaging Center features all-digital instruments, enabling rapid transmission of test results to physicians.

To view a patient’s X-ray or lab results, doctors no longer have to wait for film to be delivered to their offices. They don’t even need to be on site. A special computer program enables physicians to have instant access to patient and other medical data with a few key strokes on their Palm Pilot or computer.

The doctors who founded Cedars-Sinai would be amazed to see how their 12-bed hospital has grown and astounded by today’s world of medicine that utilizes such tools as computers, magnetic resonance imaging and artificial livers. While it’s hard to imagine what the next century might bring, Priselac promised, "What will be here … is Cedars-Sinai’s continued commitment to the community."

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