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Pentagon Analyst Accused of Creating Web of Deception

Indictment alleges stealthy contacts by an official suspected of leaking secrets to Israel.

June 14, 2005|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A Defense Department analyst suspected of leaking secrets to Israel engaged in a nearly two-year pattern of deception, meeting stealthily with two lobbyists and an unidentified embassy official on numerous occasions, including several encounters at the Pentagon athletic club, Justice Department officials alleged Monday.

Lawrence A. Franklin was charged with two counts of conspiracy and four counts of communicating classified information, including details of a secret administration policy paper and information about weapons testing by countries in the Middle East. If he is convicted, Franklin, who was arrested and charged last month, will face up to 10 years in prison for each count.

Trial was set for Sept. 6 after Franklin pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., where the six-count indictment was unsealed.

The 20-page indictment, though short on new insights into the secrets that Franklin allegedly betrayed, offered details on the number and locations of meetings where he reportedly passed information illegally.

The indictment also gave a window into the activities and motives of two onetime members of a powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who were named as unidentified co-conspirators. One of the employees allegedly launched the conspiracy with a phone call to the Defense Department in August 2002 seeking an expert on Iran. He was referred to Franklin.

The indictment alleges that in separate meetings Franklin also passed classified information directly to an official of a foreign embassy. The indictment does not name the official or identify the embassy, but sources believe it was that of the government of Israel. The indictment also alleges that Franklin met with a retired intelligence official from that same foreign country in the Pentagon cafeteria and discussed the nuclear program of a Middle Eastern country, among other subjects, although it alleges no wrongdoing in connection with that meeting.

Investigators believe the lobbyists and Franklin crossed a line out of growing concern about the threat posed to Israel by Iran.

But the case has been a delicate one for the U.S. government because it concerns the activities of a longtime ally. Many aspects remain cloaked in secrecy. The indictment itself, for example, makes no mention of Israel; AIPAC is described only as a "Washington, D.C., lobbying organization."

The two AIPAC employees who allegedly conspired with Franklin -- Steve Rosen, who at the time was the group's longtime policy director, and Keith Weissman, a top analyst -- are identified only as CC-1 and CC-2.

The lobbying group, which fired Rosen and Weissman this year, has said it is not a target of the investigation. Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman could not be reached Monday, but they have previously denied that their clients solicited classified information.

Franklin was accused of leaking information about a classified Pentagon policy paper "concerning a Middle Eastern country" to a senior executive at the lobbying organization and his colleague at a February 2003 breakfast meeting. At a separate meeting, in June 2003, he allegedly disclosed to the men classified information that "related to potential attacks upon U.S. forces in Iraq." The indictment also contends that Franklin provided secret information to the unnamed foreign diplomat, including information relating to "a weapons test conducted by a Middle Eastern country."

The indictment portrays Franklin, a 58-year-old colonel in the Air Force Reserve, as motivated by career advancement as well as by a desire to "advance his own personal foreign policy agenda." He and the lobbying executive allegedly discussed how the lobbyist might "put in a good word for him" so that he might land a coveted position someday on the National Security Council staff, the indictment alleges.

On another occasion, Franklin allegedly arranged for the foreign diplomat to provide him with a letter of introduction for his daughter "to aid her in her travels to the Middle East." On yet another occasion, the diplomat gave Franklin a "gift card," the indictment alleges.

The indictment insinuates that the men occasionally took pains to conceal their activities. It describes a March 2003 meeting where Franklin met the two lobbyists at Union Station in Washington.

"In the course of the meeting, the three men moved from one restaurant to another restaurant and then finished the meeting in an empty restaurant," apparently in an effort to avoid appearing suspicious, the indictment said. Franklin also obtained the lobbying executive's home fax number and said he preferred to send documents there, the indictment alleges.

The indictment said the lobbying executive viewed Franklin as an important asset, describing him as a "real insider," according to a telephone conversation that agents monitored while he was on his way to a meeting with the Pentagon aide.

In another conversation, the two lobbyists allegedly discussed how to handle their new source, according to the indictment.

"Well, look, it seems to me that this channel is one to keep wide open insofar as possible," the lobbying executive told his colleague after a meeting with Franklin in June 2003.

The second lobbyist said he planned to take Franklin to a major league baseball game in Baltimore.

"Smart guy. That's the thing to do," the executive replied.

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