ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A top Pentagon analyst said he never meant to harm the United States when he leaked secret information to Israeli embassy officials and members of a pro-Israel lobbying group.
Lawrence A. Franklin (search), 58, a policy analyst whose expertise included Iran and Iraq, pleaded guilty Wednesday to three felony counts as part of a plea bargain. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped three other felony charges.
Franklin said he leaked the classified information because he was frustrated with a U.S. government policy, which he did not specify.
"It was never my intent to harm the United States, not even for a second," said Franklin, who faces up to 25 years in prison at his sentencing Jan. 20. He would likely serve less time if U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III (search) follows sentencing guidelines.
Franklin said during the plea hearing that he leaked classified information to two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (search). He said he hoped the two would provide the information to contacts of theirs on the National Security Council (search) and possibly get the policy changed.
The council comprises top government officials who advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies.
An unusual exchange occurred late in the hearing, when Franklin objected to one of the government's allegations. Prosecutors told the judge that a one-page document faxed by Franklin to an AIPAC lobbyist was among the classified information he disclosed.
Franklin disputed that, and started to explain that the document was an unclassified "list of murders the Iranian government ..." before he was cut off by prosecutors who said he was about to disclose classified information in open court.
The judge agreed to place that small portion of the court transcript under seal.
Franklin also admitted giving classified information to Naor Gilon, a political officer at the Israeli embassy, but said information that he received from Gilon was more valuable.
"I knew in my heart that his government had this information," Franklin said. "He gave me far more information than I gave him."
In court documents, prosecutors did not mention Gilon by name, but said he and Franklin discussed classified information on numerous occasions, including information about a weapons test conducted by a Middle Eastern country.
The chairman of the Israeli parliament's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee said Israel had not known about Franklin's actions.
"I say very clearly that Israel is not spying in the United States or against the United States," Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio on Thursday.
Franklin, of Kearneysville, W.Va., at one time worked for the Pentagon's No. 3 official, policy undersecretary Douglas Feith, on issues involving Iran and the Middle East.
Franklin said he would occasionally be questioned directly by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) and former top Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz (search) on policy issues. For that reason, Franklin said, he sometimes took classified information home with him to keep up with developments. One of the charges to which he pleaded guilty was unlawful retention of classified national defense information.
The two AIPAC officials who allegedly received the information, Steven Rosen of Silver Spring, Md., and Keith Weissman of Bethesda, Md., also have been charged with conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. defense information.
AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman in April and says it has cooperated with the investigation.
Franklin said Wednesday that he met periodically with Rosen and Weissman between 2002 and 2004 and discussed classified information, including information about potential attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. Rosen and Weissman allegedly later shared what they learned with reporters and Israeli officials.
Franklin also admitted leaking top-secret information about two unidentified Middle Eastern officials to the media.
Rosen, a top lobbyist for Washington-based AIPAC for more than 20 years, and Weissman, the organization's top Iran expert, allegedly disclosed sensitive information as far back as 1999 on a variety of topics, including Al Qaeda, terrorist activities in Central Asia, the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and U.S. policy in Iran, according to the indictment.
As part of his plea agreement, Franklin agreed to testify if needed at the upcoming trial of Rosen and Weissman.
Rosen's attorney, Abbe Lowell, said Wednesday in a statement that he does not think Franklin's plea deal will affect his client's case.