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Indictment of Pentagon Official Suggests Possible Case Against Former Aipac Staffers

A mid-level Pentagon analyst hoped to move up the Bush administration ladder and influence its Iran policy by relaying classified information to a senior Israeli Embassy staffer and two senior officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a federal indictment. The indictment, unsealed Monday in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., sheds new light on the depth of Larry Franklin’s relationships with Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC policy director, and Keith Weissman, a former AIPAC Iran analyst.

It also sheds light on his relationship with Naor Gilon, the chief political officer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

And it details the degree to which Franklin, who was not Jewish, apparently believed in the far-reaching influence of Israeli and pro-Israel officials inside the U.S. government.

Franklin, an Iran specialist, pled not guilty to all six counts in the indictment. His lawyer, Plato Cacheris, did not return calls asking for further comment. Attorneys for Rosen and Weissman and spokesmen for AIPAC would also not comment.

Franklin is charged with conspiring with Rosen and Weissman to communicate classified information, which suggests the two former AIPAC staffers will be indicted as well. Sources close to the men say they expect to be charged next week.

Rosen and Weissman were fired from AIPAC in April because of what AIPAC said was information that arose related to the FBI investigation.

The indictment provides a glimpse into the government’s potential case against the two AIPAC officials. It also suggests the degree to which tapped conversations could reveal how the nation’s premier pro-Israel lobby operates. It also reinforces the impression that AIPAC was the original target of the investigation.

And it paradoxically undermines what had until now appeared to be a central tenet of the government’s case against Rosen and Weissman — that they relayed classified information to Gilon on Franklin’s request.

But according to the indictment, Franklin met with Gilon 14 times, whereas he met with Weissman and Rosen only seven times, together or separately. One question lawyers for Rosen and Weissman will likely raise is why Franklin would need them to reach Gilon.

Rosen and Weissman are identified in the document as unindicted Coconspirators One and Two, respectively. Gilon is identified as Foreign Official of the Embassy of Foreign Nation A. JTA has confirmed the identity of all three individuals.

The meetings with Gilon — like the first charge, relating to the meetings with Rosen and Weissman — are described as a “conspiracy to communicate classified information” and Gilon is called a “conspirator.” Otherwise there is no hint of legal action against the Israeli, and he continues to function in Washington as a fully employed political affairs officer, meeting with counterparts in the Bush administration.

The indictment suggests that Gilon at times pressed Franklin for further information, and that on one occasion, Franklin incorporated Gilon’s views into a memo for Pentagon higher-ups. The exchanges of information had to do with Iran’s nuclear capabilities and its actions in post-war Iraq.

The sources close to Rosen and Weissman said they saw the 20-page indictment as good news from their perspective. Nothing in the document suggests positive proof that Rosen and Weissman relayed any classified information to a foreign official, which would be key to establishing an espionage case.

One passage, however, suggests that on at least one occasion Franklin told them the information they were getting was “highly classified.”

Rosen and Weissman reportedly expect to be charged for another incident, not related in this document, that occurred in July 2004.

At that time, Franklin, allegedly working undercover for the FBI, told Weissman about an imminent threat against Israelis in northern Iraq. In that case, Weissman allegedly relayed the information to Rosen and they in turn allegedly passed it onto Gilon.

The Israeli Embassy said that nothing in the indictment explicitly states that Gilon knew he was on the receiving end of classified information.

“Our diplomats conducted themselves professionally according to established diplomatic practice and did not do anything to contravene these standards,” Israel Embassy spokesman David Siegel said after reviewing the indictment.

The document says Franklin was not specifically authorized to meet with foreign officials, but Gilon would not necessarily have known that.

In addition to the two conspiracy charges, Franklin is also charged with four counts of communicating classified or national defense information on his own. Judge T.S. Ellis set a trial date for Sept. 6.

Separately, Franklin was charged in a West Virginia federal court with mishandling classified information. He allegedly brought documents to his home there, outside of the acceptable jurisdiction.

The document unsealed Monday paints Franklin as a figure eager to advance up the political ladder. He allegedly presses Rosen to put a good word in for him at the National Security Council, where the AIPAC official apparently had connections. “I’ll do what I can,” Rosen allegedly tells Franklin, according to the indictment.

The indictment says Franklin communicated with Gilon “to enhance his own standing, advance his own personal policy agenda, and influence persons within and without the United States government.”

Franklin is also depicted in the indictment as eager to influence U.S. policy on Iran, a portrayal that dovetails with accounts from other sources who say Franklin was frustrated with colleagues at the Pentagon who seemed obsessed with postwar Iraq, to the extent even of co-opting Iran.

A telling element of the alleged meetings with Gilon is that they seemed to take place in the open. Franklin and Gilon allegedly communicated over their office phone lines, which Gilon surely would have expected to be monitored.

On one occasion, Franklin and Gilon met near the embassy, according to the indictment, which also said they routinely met at the Pentagon Officer’s Athletic Club, where Franklin, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, was eligible for membership.

Gilon may have solicited information from Franklin, but does not otherwise appear to have behaved like a “handler.” According to the indictment, Franklin had to press Gilon several times to write a letter on behalf of Franklin’s daughter, who planned to travel to Israel. On one occasion, Gilon handed Franklin a gift card — the sole payment the FBI could apparently pin down.

The alleged meetings with Rosen and Weissman are not much more surreptitious, but the account in the indictment suggests that the government has a trove of information on the functioning of AIPAC — an organization that is vigorously shy about exposing its lobbying practices. Rosen is recorded as telling someone over the phone, en route to his first meeting with Franklin in February 2003, that he is excited to meet with a “Pentagon guy” who is a “real insider.”

About a month after that initial meeting, Franklin allegedly faxed Rosen an addendum Franklin wrote for a classified internal policy paper on Iran. According to the indictment, Franklin re-typed the addendum before faxing it, suggesting that Rosen would not have seen the original document — and would therefore not have known that it was classified.

Rosen and AIPAC shared Franklin’s concerns that the administration was ignoring the possible threat from Iran, and within days of receiving the document, Rosen allegedly told a journalist that this is a “considerable story” and that “I’m not supposed to know this,” according to the indictment.

Rosen and Weissman clearly saw Franklin as a valuable asset, according to the indictment. In a meeting at an Italian restaurant in Arlington, Va., on June 26, 2003, Franklin relayed information to them about the threat posed to U.S. forces in Iraq by Iranian intelligence agents and said it was “highly classified.”

Later that day, according to the indictment, the FBI tapped Rosen telling Weissman that Franklin had related “quite a story,” and describing Franklin as a channel “to keep wide open in so far as possible.”

Weissman told Rosen he planned to take Franklin to a Baltimore Orioles baseball game. “Smart guy,” Rosen complimented Weissman. “That’s the thing to do.” Four days later, Weissman and Franklin went to the game.

Sources close to Rosen and Weissman’s defense say that the real value — and the bulk of the conversation – in the June 26, 2003 meeting was in unclassified information related to the formulation of a tougher Bush administration policy on Iran.

The indictment reinforces earlier reports that AIPAC and Rosen were targeted by the FBI before Franklin.

In fact, Franklin first appears on the radar on Aug. 5, 2002, when the FBI apparently tapped Rosen asking another acquaintance at the Department of Defense about Iran specialists. The contact, who is not identified, recommended Franklin. Rosen and Franklin spoke later the same month, but apparently did not meet until Feb. 12, 2003.

Defense sources say they believe AIPAC was targeted as early as 2001 by a Bush administration determined to clamp down on the leaking of secrets, especially following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

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