WASHINGTON – A four-year investigation into whether Israel improperly obtained U.S. secrets produced its first criminal charge with the arrest of a Pentagon analyst. Authorities are trying to determine whether any classified information reached Israel.
Larry Franklin (search) was charged Wednesday with providing top-secret information about potential attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq to two executives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (search), the influential pro-Israel lobbying group.
Franklin is a 58-year-old Air Force Reserve colonel who once worked for the Defense Department's No. 3 official. A search of his West Virginia home turned up 83 classified documents, an FBI agent said.
An FBI agent's affidavit that accompanied the criminal complaint against Franklin does not suggest that the disclosure endangered U.S. troops. But it said intelligence sources could have been compromised.
There is no allegation of espionage by Franklin. He faces a single count of disclosing classified defense information, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (search) said his country was not involved.
"Israel does not carry on any activity in the United States which could harm, God forbid, its closest ally," Shalom told Israel's Channel One TV.
Uzi Arad (search), a former senior official from the Mossad spy agency, acknowledged this week that he was questioned about his connections to Franklin by FBI agents who "wanted to clear up a number of questions." Arad said he met Franklin twice and received an academic paper from him.
Israel has said it imposed a ban on espionage in the United States after the scandal over Jonathan Pollard (search), a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy who was caught spying for Israel in 1985 and sentenced to life in prison. That case damaged U.S.-Israeli relations and remains a sore point between the countries.
Twice last year FBI agents searched AIPAC offices. It was once thought AIPAC might be a target of the probe, but that is not the case, according to two knowledgeable people. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.
One of the people is someone familiar with the group's role in the probe; the other is a federal law enforcement official. They said the FBI is focusing on whether any classified information reached Israel.
AIPAC declined comment Wednesday on the Franklin case. Previously, the group has said it had done nothing wrong and was cooperating with the investigation.
Franklin, of Kearneysville, W. Va., turned himself in Wednesday morning. He made a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., and was released on $100,000 bond under the condition he surrender his firearms and passport.
A preliminary hearing was set for May 27. Franklin's lawyer, John Richards, said he expected his client would plead innocent.
Franklin, who specialized in Iran and Middle Eastern affairs, had clearance to review top secret documents. He gave classified information to two people without such clearance at a luncheon meeting at a restaurant in Arlington, Va., in June 2003, FBI Agent Catherine Hanna said in the affidavit.
Hanna said Franklin admitted 10 months ago that he disclosed the information.
The people at the lunch have been identified as AIPAC employees Steve Rosen, the director of research, and Keith Weissman, deputy director of foreign policy issues. Neither still works for the group. Both have been interviewed by the FBI but neither has been charged.
Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said his client "never solicited, received or passed on any classified documents from Larry Franklin."
The affidavit does not allege that documents were passed. It says Franklin described the information, said it was highly classified and asked the men not to use it. The information concerned possible attacks against U.S. troops by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, according to the federal law enforcement official.
Franklin also passed other classified information to a foreign official and members of the media, the affidavit says. It does not describe the information or further identify the recipients.
A Defense Department official said Franklin continued to work at the Pentagon until his arrest, but the official could not immediately say what kind of work Franklin performed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter remains under FBI investigation.
Franklin's top secret security clearance was suspended in June 2004, the Justice Department said. He formerly worked in the office of policy undersecretary Douglas Feith.