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Former Analyst for Pentagon Admits Passing Secrets to Israel

October 06, 2005|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A former Pentagon analyst on Iran pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to channel classified Defense Department secrets to an Israeli Embassy official and a pro-Israel lobbying group.

Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, told the court he did so out of frustration with a particular U.S. policy in the Middle East, without going into detail. He faces as much as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

As part of a plea agreement reached with federal authorities, Franklin agreed to cooperate in the upcoming prosecution of two recently fired officials of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, who were indicted for conspiring to receive and disseminate the classified information.

Prosecutors and U.S. Atty. Paul J. McNulty would not comment on what kind of cooperation Franklin was supposed to provide. They would also not say if the Justice Department was investigating whether anyone else was involved in such a criminal conspiracy, including representatives of the Israeli government and its embassy in Washington.

"We are pleased with today's guilty plea and will continue to press forward with the prosecutions of the remaining defendants," McNulty, the chief prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, said after the court proceedings in federal court in Alexandria, Va.

Franklin, a former Pentagon desk officer who focused on Iran, was indicted in May, and again in August, on federal charges of passing classified information to two top American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials and to an undisclosed official from the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

On Wednesday, Franklin spoke briefly when entering his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who set a Jan. 20 sentencing date.

Franklin pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to communicate national defense information to people not entitled to receive it, conspiring with an official of a foreign government to communicate classified information, and unlawful retention of classified materials.

The indictment said Franklin met with the two former American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, in restaurants, a health club and other venues in the Washington area starting in February 2003.

During those meetings, authorities have said, Franklin divulged secrets such as a draft of administration policy on Iran and information about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

"We talked about my frustration with a particular policy," Franklin said in court.

He added that he was convinced the two men would convey the information and his concerns -- without identifying him -- to their sources on the White House's National Security Council.

The case has strained relations between the U.S. and Israel, a major ally, and it has jolted the lobbying world inside the Beltway.

Rosen, the longtime research director at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Weissman, the lobbying firm's top Iran expert, are scheduled to go on trial in January. Both men have been dismissed by the company and have denied wrongdoing in the case.

An Israeli spokesman, David Siegel, said Wednesday that officials at the Israeli Embassy in Washington had done nothing wrong.

"We have full confidence in our diplomats, who are dedicated professionals and conduct themselves in accordance with established diplomatic practice," Siegel said.

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