Dual Loyalties

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Washington Jewish Week: FBI has been seeking "Mr. X" since the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal in the 1980s

Washington Jewish Week Online Edition: "New charges in AIPAC case; Rosen expects indictment

by Ron Kampeas and Matthew E. Berger
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Criminal charges against a Pentagon analyst, for allegedly leaking classified Iraq war information to two top officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, raise questions about whom the FBI is targeting and whether the case could harm the pro-Israel powerhouse.

Lawrence Franklin, who turned himself in for arrest last week, was accused in an FBI criminal complaint of disclosing classified information "related to potential attacks on United States forces in Iraq" to two U.S. civilians over lunch in an Arlington restaurant on June 26, 2003.

Franklin's interlocutors, identified in the document as "U.S. Person 1 and U.S. Person 2," are Steve Rosen, AIPAC's policy director, and Keith Weissman, its senior Iran analyst, JTA has established. AIPAC fired the two last month in an apparent bid to distance itself from the case.

Rosen, meanwhile, expects to be indicted as soon as June, according to sources who know the case. He has vowed that if he is indicted, he will go to trial in an effort to clear his name.

Rosen expects that a trial could begin as early as next January and already is preparing for a long defense, according to multiple sources.

Still, the headlines could hinder AIPAC's efforts to project a "back-to-business" face to grassroots supporters and Washington powerbrokers weeks before its annual policy conference. The news also comes at a time when the group is trying to build support for Israel ahead of the country's planned summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The policy conference is AIPAC's annual show of strength, culminating in a dinner expected to draw some 5,000 people, including dozens of members of Congress and Cabinet officials -- nearly 200 last year. A significantly lower showing this year could embarrass the group.

Franklin, an Iran analyst who lives in Kearneysville, W. Va., was released on a $100,000 bond after appearing at U.S. District Court in Alexandria. A preliminary hearing was set for May 27.

"He intends to plead not guilty" and expects to be vindicated at trial, said his attorney, John Thorpe Richards.

But special agent Catherine Hanna said, "The information Franklin disclosed relating to potential attacks upon U.S. forces in Iraq could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign country."

The damage, she said, could arise from "jeopardizing the viability of the sources and methods." The information was from a document classified as "top secret," Hanna said.

Other charges deal with Franklin's leaks of classified information to journalists and to an unidentified "foreign official," and the three decades' worth of classified information he kept on his computer hard disk at home.

Reports have suggested that Franklin also met with an Israeli Embassy official. The reference to a "foreign official" might point in that direction.

However, the FBI has not gotten in touch with the Israeli Embassy, representatives say, and Israeli officials maintain that they would never take part in illicit information gathering in the United States.

"Israel does not carry out any operation in the United States that would be liable, God forbid, to harm its closest ally," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Television. "Therefore, all the brouhaha around this matter has nothing to do with the state of Israel."

Last week's arrest lends support to the theory that Franklin had been the target of a probe that reportedly was at least a year old by that lunch meeting at Arlington's Tivoli restaurant.

Franklin's tough line against Iran had drawn the attention of colleagues in the Pentagon. JTA previously has reported that Franklin had been under scrutiny since he allegedly met in December 2001 with former Iranian spy and arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, who was on a CIA "burn list" of people who could not be contacted, intelligence sources say.

Rosen has vehemently denied violating federal law, and denied that he knowingly transmitted classified information. In one of two instances in which Franklin allegedly spoke with AIPAC staffers, this one in a Virginia mall, Rosen was not even present, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the encounter.

Rosen's attorney, Abbe Lowell, has issued a statement saying, "Steve Rosen never solicited, received or passed on any classified documents from Larry Franklin, and Mr. Franklin will never be able to say otherwise."

Neither Rosen nor Lowell would comment on the record for this story.

Rosen has told contacts that he is convinced the government is still looking for "Mr. X" or "Agent X" -- an alleged Israeli master spy in the United States. Jewish communal officials have said they believe the FBI has been seeking a "Mr. X" since the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal in the 1980s.

Rosen has confided to contacts that he believes he still is under surveillance by the FBI, both in his home and in public places.

"The government's strategy is to pressure Franklin into wrongfully implicating Keith" Weissman, "and to pressure Keith into wrongfully implicating me," Rosen said, according to sources, adding, "It won't work."

Edwin Black contributed to this article."

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