Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World
: "May. 19, 2005 3:25 | Updated May. 19, 2005 13:35
Probe of former AIPAC staffers centers around Iraq
By RON KAMPEAS AND MATHEW E. BERGER/JTA
Conversations that two top American Israel Public Affairs Committee staffers allegedly had with a Washington Post reporter and an Israeli diplomat appear to be a focus of a US government investigation that could lead to espionage charges against the two.
In addition, information garnered during the investigation into alleged leaks from a Pentagon analyst to the two former AIPAC staffers suggests the FBI began probing AIPAC officials just before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
There is mounting evidence that the government plans to indict Steve Rosen, AIPAC's former policy director, and Keith Weissman, its former senior Iran analyst.
The pro-Israel lobby fired the two men last month, citing new information.
But AIPAC is continuing to pay the men's attorneys, incurring legal costs that one source says have reached $1 million. Rosen is being represented by Abbe Lowell, one of Washington's top lawyers.
Howard Kohr, the organization's executive director, told staff in a recent conference call that he fired Rosen and Weissman on the advice of Nathan Lewin, the attorney the organization hired to deal with the case, JTA has learned. Lewin came across the information while reviewing the government's case. Kohr told his staff that Lewin did not reveal the nature of the information, according to sources.
The crux of the government's case, multiple sources say, is Weissman's meeting with Larry Franklin, a mid-level Pentagon Iran analyst, on July 21, 2004, outside a Nordstrom's outlet in the Pentagon City mall in Arlington, Va.
Franklin allegedly warned Weissman that Iranian agents in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq planned to kidnap, torture and kill American and Israeli agents in the region.
Weissman didn't realize that Franklin apparently had been cooperating with the FBI for several months and was being used in what is believed to have been a sting against AIPAC staffers, sources said.
Weissman immediately informed Rosen and the information was relayed to the White House, sources close to the defense said.
Rosen and Weissman then called Naor Gilon, who heads the political desk at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and Glenn Kessler, the State Department correspondent for the Washington Post, the sources said.
The FBI is believed to have co-opted Franklin a year earlier, after observing a lunchtime meeting he had with Rosen and Weissman at Tivoli, a restaurant in Arlington.
In a criminal charge sheet filed earlier this month against Franklin, the government said that over lunch, Franklin verbally related top-secret information to two US citizens. JTA has confirmed the two were Rosen and Weissman.
The FBI apparently taped the July 21, 2004, conversation that Weissman and Rosen had with Kessler, the Washington Post reporter, according to sources. Rosen and Weissman got in touch with the White House and Kessler because they wanted to get the information out as soon as possible, sources said.
Franklin told the AIPAC staffers that he was giving them the information because they had better connections than he did.
In the exchange, Rosen, Weissman and Kessler joked about "not getting in trouble" over the information, according to sources.
Rosen said that "at least we have no Official Secrets Act," according to sources. Acquaintances say that was a standard Rosen line, distinguishing the United States from other nations – among them Britain – that criminalize the receipt of classified information.
US law is clear about assigning criminal penalties for leaking classified information, but it is murky when it comes to receiving such information."