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Policy Wonk Feels Stigma Is Lifting

April 30, 2009 By:
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Nearly four years after being indicted on charges of receiving and passing classified information, former Washington lobbyist Steven Rosen is back in the public eye and ready to move on.

"We're coming to the end of this drama," Rosen said on Monday, shortly before giving a speech here in Philadelphia -- only his second public talk since he was formally indicted in 2005.

He didn't realize then how close to the end it was.

On Friday, prosecutors asked a judge to drop charges against Rosen and his former colleague, Keith Weissman, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, both of whom were policy experts accused of passing along classified information.

Reached by phone, Rosen said he was "ecstatic" and was "still absorbing a life-changing moment," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported. "There was a great injustice here, but thank God we live in a country where the courts can correct this kind of injustice," he said.

Baruch Weiss, Weissman's lawyer, saidthat the decision was a "great victory for the First Amendment and for the pro-Israel community." Anything the defendants did "was to the benefit of Israel and the United States," he said.

The dropping of the case comes just days before the start Sunday of AIPAC's annual policy conference in Washington.

Earlier in the week, while in Philadelphia, Rosen was looking forward to moving on. "Naturally, I'm very happy to get back to work and to contribute something," he told the Jewish Exponent.

Rosen, policy chief, and Weissman, an Iran expert, were charged under the rarely used 1917 Espionage Act for allegedly receiving and passing on classified information about Iran to journalists, co-workers and Israeli diplomats.

The case sparked outrage in the Jewish community and among defenders of the First Amendment right to free speech. At issue was whether whether lobbyists and reporters who receive classified information have the same obligation as government officials to keep it under wraps.

It also highlighted the suspicion with which segments of the intelligence and defense communities view Americans with close ties to Israeli officials.

Plans to Press Civil Suit
Rosen, 66, said that regardless of the outcome of the federal case, he plans to move forward with his civil suit against AIPAC, which he filed in March.

He worked for the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization for 23 years; in an effort to maintain distance, AIPAC, which was not charged, fired both Rosen and Weissman in 2005. There was considerable speculation at the time that AIPAC was forced to take that step by the Justice Department to avoid implication in the case.

On March 2, Rosen filed a civil action in District of Columbia Superior Court seeking $21 million from AIPAC. In the complaint, a copy of which was obtained by JTA, Rosen charges that "false and defamatory statements" made on AIPAC's behalf caused him to suffer personal and professional humiliation, career damage, damage to his personal and professional reputation, mental and emotional distress, and loss of income and earnings and other financial losses."

In the interview here, he said of AIPAC: "I want them to make me whole again. We can end this in a positive way, and I hope we will."

He said that AIPAC had reached a settlement with his lawyers over covering his legal costs -- something that had also been a major point of contention.

Patrick Dorton, an outside spokesman hired by AIPAC to deal with matters related to the case, declined to comment on any aspect of the proceedings.

Even before the news that the case was being dropped, Rosen was clearly elated to be out on the speaking circuit, sounding the alarms once more on Iran, an issue that he's followed for 15 years and was at the heart of the case against him.

During his speech here -- sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and the Middle East Forum -- he said that he wasn't opposed to President Barack Obama's efforts to talk to Iran and doesn't think the new Israeli government is opposed to talking either.

But he holds out little hope that at this late stage of the game, diplomacy or even economic sanctions can work.

"The Iranians are in the final sprint to crossing the finish line to nuclear weapons," he said.

He also pointed out that previous administrations had discussions with Iranian officials, to little avail.

"It's a misperception that there was any lack of communication between the United States and Iran, under Bush or under Clinton before him," said Rosen.

He also expressed skepticism that America would use military force to stop Iran, and that such action would be left to the Israelis.

Iran should remain the Jewish community's top priority, asserted Rosen, saying that it was more important, for example, than the so-called recent Durban II conference on racism in Geneva.

As Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "reminds us all the time," he said, "Israel is not necessarily a permanent fact."

Back in the World
Rosen acknowledged that speaking in front of 100 people was clearly a big deal for someone who's been living under a cloud.

"I was put in a situation where it was very difficult for people to employ me, to hire me, to have me as a speaker," said Rosen, who holds a doctorate in diplomacy from Syracuse University.

That changed last November, when the Middle East Forum, a conservative think-tank based in Philadelphia, hired Rosen to write the "Obama Mideast Monitor," a blog that tracked the president's foreign-policy appointments and other developments. Earlier this year, the organization, run by scholar Daniel Pipes, named Rosen a visiting fellow.

"What Steven Rosen brings to the Middle East Forum is a Washington component. We have not had that until now," said Pipes, adding that Rosen is "very much focused on insiders in Washington and policymakers."

The larger public actually took notice of his Feb. 19 post about Charles "Chas" Freeman, the putative chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The media quickly picked up on his references to Freeman's past comments about Israel.

Ultimately, Freeman withdrew from consideration; as he exited from the scene, he blasted the "Israel Lobby" for railroading his candidacy. 

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