WASHINGTON – The FBI (search) investigation into whether a Pentagon analyst passed classified information to Israel is yet another political weight on Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, still fending off criticism over the Iraq war and prisoner abuse.
It is not clear whether the investigation will result in charges of espionage (search) at the Pentagon. At the least, the probe complicates Rumsfeld's position as congressional committees that oversee the Defense Department prepare for more hearings on the abuse scandal.
Rumsfeld has not commented publicly on the FBI's investigation. While the FBI has spent more than a year on the case, it only became public Friday.
It is focused on an analyst of Iranian affairs who works in a policy office headed by Douglas J. Feith (search), the undersecretary for policy. He has been accused by Democrats of seeking to manipulate intelligence to help make the case for going to war in Iraq. Congressional investigations have found no evidence of that.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that the FBI investigation has broadened to include interviews with individuals at the State and Defense departments as well as Mideast affairs specialists outside the government. Israeli officials predicted that the allegation it got secret information on White House policy toward Iran from the Pentagon analyst would prove false.
Vincent Cannistraro, a retired CIA (search) officer and former director of White House intelligence programs during the Reagan administration, said Sunday, "It's another scandal for the Pentagon," with the potential in this case of going beyond the single individual under investigation.
Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, said Sunday that the Pentagon is sticking by its initial statement Friday that it understands the investigation is limited in scope. He said it would be inappropriate for him or Rumsfeld to comment further because it is an active investigation.
As for the possible political implications for Rumsfeld at the height of a presidential election campaign, Di Rita said, "I would not try to predict how the political season will affect this."
Early in his tenure at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld spoke out publicly against the unauthorized release of classified information. He undertook a special investigation when some elements of Pentagon planning for war in Iraq leaked to the news media in 2002.
In his 3 1/2 years as secretary, Rumsfeld has had a sometimes rocky relationship with Congress. When the administration began a global fight against terrorism in response to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his stock rose quickly and he gained popularity for his tough approach.
But as the insurgency in Iraq took hold in the summer of 2003 and the casualty toll for American troops mounted — more than 950 have been killed — Rumsfeld became a target of criticism on Capitol Hill.
A Time magazine poll released Saturday said 39 percent of those surveyed approve of the job Rumsfeld has done and 37 disapprove. They were split on whether President Bush should replace Rumsfeld: 49 percent said Rumsfeld should go and 48 percent preferred that he stay.
Rumsfeld, 72, took much political heat when the Abu Ghraib (search) prisoner scandal came to light in April with photographs of U.S. soldiers abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.
Two official investigations found that the highest levels of the Defense Department shared blame for management lapses that may have contributed to the problems at Abu Ghraib. But those reviews found no evidence to suggest that Rumsfeld ordered, encouraged or condoned any abuse of Iraqis.
To the suggestion that Rumsfeld resign over the abuse scandal, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger said last week that such a development would be a "boon to all of America's enemies."
Schlesinger headed an independent panel that looked into the abuse. A second panelist, former Defense Secretary Harold Brown, agreed that Rumsfeld acted appropriately.
"If the head of a department had to resign every time anyone down below did something wrong, it would be a very empty Cabinet table" Brown said.
That was just days before news broke of the FBI investigation at the Pentagon.