The FBI arrested a Defence Department analyst today on charges that he illegally passed classified information about potential Iranian-backed attacks against US forces in Iraq to employees of a pro-Israel group.
Larry Franklin, 58, turned himself in, FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman said. He was scheduled to make an initial appearance in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, later today, Weierman said.
The charge is the first in an investigation dating back to 2001 about whether Israel improperly obtained classified US information.
Franklin, who specialised on Iran and Middle Eastern affairs, allegedly gave the information to two people not entitled to receive it at a luncheon meeting in June 2003, FBI agent Catherine Hanna said in an affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint against Franklin.
The people at the lunch were employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a law enforcement official said.
Franklin acknowledged at the lunch that the information was highly classified and asked that it not be used, Hanna said. It concerned possible attacks against US troops by Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, the law enforcement official said.
FBI agents twice searched AIPAC offices as part of the investigation. They also have interviewed two AIPAC employees about whether Franklin gave them classified information that wound up in Israel’s hands.
AIPAC said it gave the FBI files related to those same two employees, who previously were identified – Steve Rosen, the director of research, and Keith Weissman, deputy director of foreign policy issues.
Neither still works for the group.
AIPAC declined to comment today, but has previously said it had done nothing wrong and was co-operating with the investigation.
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
A Pentagon official said Franklin continued to work at the Pentagon until his arrest, but he could not immediately say what kind of work he performed or who was his immediate supervisor.
However, Franklin’s top secret security clearance was suspended in June 2004, the Justice Department said. He formerly worked in the office of policy undersecretary Douglas Feith.
The suspension followed a search of Franklin’s West Virginia home that turned up 83 classified documents, Hanna said.
Franklin holds a doctorate in Asian studies and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserves.
The Israeli government has denied spying on the United States, saying that meetings between US and Israeli officials are common and that the two countries share many secrets. Iran, particularly any assessments of its nuclear ambitions, is of critical importance to Israel’s security interests.
Israel said it has imposed a ban on espionage in the US since the scandal over Jonathan Pollard, an American caught spying for Israel in 1985. This case appears to bear no resemblance to the Pollard affair.