An investigation into a mid-level Pentagon analyst is likely to focus on the misuse of classified materials, senior law enforcement officials told The New York Sun, and not the much more serious charge of espionage on behalf of Israel.
The investigation into Larry Franklin, an Iran analyst who worked in the Pentagon's policy shop, is being led by David Szady, the head of counterintelligence for the FBI. Mr. Szady, who used to lead the CIA's counterintelligence espionage unit, has developed a reputation in the intelligence community for chasing phantoms. For years, Mr. Szady pursued CIA official Brian Kelly who was believed to be a Russian mole, when the whole time the FBI's own Robert Hanssen was Moscow's spy. Mr. Szady has also led investigations into Jewish American CIA employees believed to be spying for Israel that have also failed to persuade the Justice Department even to investigate the cases.
Mr. Franklin, who is not Jewish, has been a longtime analyst of Iran who one colleague described as "mild mannered and patriotic but at times exasperating." An avid practitioner of martial arts, Mr. Franklin was a former employee of the Defense Intelligence Agency where he often clashed with senior agency officials on their estimates of Iranian-directed terrorist activities.
Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that Mr. Franklin was under investigation for slipping a draft Iran policy paper, known as a National Security Policy Directive, to members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. A former American official familiar with the document said it was classified "secret" and did not contain either intelligence sources or the methods of gathering intelligence.
A senior law enforcement official and administration sources told the Sun that the Franklin investigation stems from a two-year FBI probe into who leaked top secret war plans for Iraq published by the New York Times on July 5, 2002.
This is not a matter of U.S. security being damaged," a senior law enforcement official said. "And the material wasn't of a top secret nature it was draft policy papers and position papers and stuff like that. The Israelis could have gotten the same stuff from conversations with their counterparts at State or the White House.
At a July 21, 2002, press conference Mr. Rumsfeld said, "It's inexcusable, and they ought to be in jail." In a memo circulated to the Pentagon, Mr. Rumsfeld condemned the improper disclosure of classified information and encouraged staff members to put an end to the practice. "I have spoken publicly and privately, countless times, about the danger of leaking classified information," he wrote. "It is wrong. It is against the law."
More recently at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on August 17, Mr. Rumsfeld speculated, "I wonder if our government can keep a secret."
Senior law enforcement officials and administration sources told the Sun that the official under investigation, Mr. Franklin, would not likely be charged with espionage. The Washington Post and CBS News reports over the weekend mentioned the possibility of espionage charges.
"This is not a matter of U.S. security being damaged," a senior law enforcement official said. "And the material wasn't of a top secret nature it was draft policy papers and position papers and stuff like that. The Israelis could have gotten the same stuff from conversations with their counterparts at State or the White House."
The investigation has also targeted other Pentagon officials over suspected leaks to the press. One former American official with experience in national security affairs likened the investigation to the probe of former American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, who in September of 2000 was stripped of his security clearance for mishandling classified information. At no time, however, was Mr. Indyk's loyalty to America challenged in the case in which he drafted classified cables from an airport lounge in Tel Aviv. Shortly after his clearance was suspended, Secretary of State Albright renewed it after the outbreak of the Palestinian Arab uprising later that month.
On Friday, FBI officials went to AIPAC offices, asked for documents, and began interviewing staff, according to a statement from the organization. A letter to the organization's members sent out Friday from the executive director, Howard Kohr said, "We will continue to offer our full cooperation and are confident that the government will find absolutely no wrongdoing by our organization and its employees."
In the letter, Mr. Kohr appealed to his membership to continue to support the organization in light of the recent charges.
"In the coming days and weeks, it will be critical for members like you to continue to demonstrate your confidence as Americans, supporters of Israel and members of AIPAC," he said. "Please continue to reach out to your members of Congress and to express your support for AIPAC and the U.S.-Israel relationship."
So far, the FBI's interest in the lobbying group has not warded off political leaders. At a rally in New York Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Frist of Tennessee and Mayor Giuliani spoke on a panel that included AIPAC's president, Bernice Manocherian, who called the allegations against the group, "outrageous" and "baseless." Others in attendance included more than 60 members of Congress, several state governors, and the secretary of the interior, Gale Norton.
Nonetheless, the charges could be serious. CBS News, the Washington Post, and Newsweek reported that the FBI has watched members of AIPAC for at least a year. Such surveillance usually requires a warrant, approved by the Justice Department, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In order to get such a warrant, the FBI must be prepared to prove that AIPAC is an agent of a foreign power.
It is not the first time AIPAC has been the target of an FBI probe involving its relationship to the country on whose behalf it lobbies the American government. A former executive director of the organization, Morris Amitay, told the Sun that FBI agents came to his office in 1976 demanding files and interviews after Senator Abourezk, a Democrat of South Dakota, requested the organization file under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Mr. Amitay said, "At the end of the investigation there was not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that AIPAC had to register as a foreign agent."
"As a former executive director of AIPAC, I cannot believe that any AIPAC official would accept a document from the United States government no matter how low the classification," Mr. Amitay said. "In Washington, everyone talks to people in government and people in government tend to talk about what they do. It is a blurred line between what they know from open sources and what they may have learned from classified documents or a confidential meeting."
Mr. Amitay also pointed out that most senior officials in AIPAC have experience working for the federal government and know the rules about sharing classified information. For example, lobbyist Brad Gordon used to work for the CIA and AIPAC's specialist on defense, Marvin Feuer, is a former official at the Pentagon.
In the case of Mr. Franklin, one former colleague from the Pentagon said that targeting him was part of a larger pattern where the close-knit community of government officials who favored the Iraq war have been targeted by wide investigations. The latest subpoenas of government officials in the investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity has asked many hawkish officials for any phone records with New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a reporter who has been criticized by the left for her closeness to this group but who had no apparent connection to the Plame story.
Often these investigations have failed to turn up much wrongdoing. The State Department launched an inquiry into the staff of the undersecretary of state, John Bolton, for allegedly pushing intelligence on Iraqi attempts to procure uranium from Niger. In the end, it was found that Mr. Bolton's personal staff had nothing to do with promoting the intelligence that was later shared by the American mission to the United Nations with diplomats at Turtle Bay.
Some officials see the latest leaks and probes of Mr. Franklin as part of a politically motivated effort to discredit him.
"If they can purge the U.S. government of the Chinese, and then the Jews and maybe the Arabs, then the world will be safe for Brent Scowcroft," a former Pentagon Iran analyst and Iraq adviser, Michael Rubin, said.
A scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a friend of Mr. Franklin, Michael Ledeen, said, "Larry Franklin is a little person, he is not a political player. Think before you destroy a little person. When the FBI has a case against someone, they go to a grand jury, they indict him and arrest and put him away, they don't go to Leslie Stahl."