THE MOST instructive aspect of the FBI's interest in Larry Franklin, an Iran desk officer in the Defense Department, is the light it casts on the incoherence of policy-making in the Bush administration rather than any conspiracy to pilfer American secrets for Israel.
There is a crucial background to the FBI's investigation of Franklin, who has come under suspicion for supposedly passing a classified presidential policy directive about Iran to a leader of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who allegedly passed the material on to an Israeli official.
A neoconservative colleague of Franklin in the Defense Department, Harold Rhode, and the neocon promoter Michael Ledeen had been involved in secret back-channel meetings in Paris starting as early as December 2001 with the shady Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, a key figure in the Reagan-era folly remembered as the Iran-Contra affair.
The CIA had long since proscribed dealings with Ghorbanifar. The agency had him classified as a chronic liar. When a US ambassador in Italy got wind of the meetings, he and the CIA station chief in Rome notified superiors at the State Department and the CIA. George Tenet, the former CIA director, in turn persuaded the number two official on the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley, to prohibit further meetings with the Iranian arms merchant and the so-called Iranian dissidents he was presenting to neocons avid for regime change in Tehran.
This White House prohibition against the back-channel meetings arranged by Ghorbanifar was to no avail. There were at least two and possibly several more meetings. Ghorbanifar, living up to his reputation for indiscreet gabbiness, has boasted about further meetings to reporters for the Washington Monthly.
This is the outline of a policy quarrel that one faction has been waging surreptitiously. Not only the FBI but also the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have been investigating the neocons' secret meetings in Paris to promote regime change in Tehran.
The regime in Tehran does pose a threat by virtue of its nuclear program, its sponsorship of the Lebanese Shi'ite militia Hezbollah, and its meddling in Iraq. The Bush administration, however, has been unable to settle on a coherent strategy to cope with the challenge from Tehran.
It is quite possible that no prosecution will result from the FBI's interest in Franklin's suspected disclosure of classified infomation about President Bush's Iran policy, as it is unlikely Israel would permit an intelligence operation that targeted the Bush administration. But if Bush does not take control of his own administration's policy-making process, the nation could be drawn into another Gulf war by one faction of the conservative constellation in his own administration.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.