Pentagon analyst Franklin returns to work

By Nathan Guttman

Haaretz

Adar2 15, 5765

WASHINGTON - Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was reinstated a few weeks ago, after sitting at home for half a year and being barred from returning to his job on the Iranian desk in the Department of Defense's policy division. Franklin was at the center of a lengthy FBI investigation after suspicions arose that he transferred classified information about U.S. policy on Iran to members of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

In the seven months since the affair made headlines on the CBS evening news, the investigation has been kept under tight wraps, but its ramifications are already being felt.

While Franklin is back at work, and, say well-placed sources, is expected to reach a plea bargain, the spotlight has moved to the AIPAC officials - two senior members were suspended for the duration of the case and four other senior officials were forced to testify at length before the special investigative jury in Virginia, whose proceedings are classified.

Even if the investigation is nowhere near completion, it has definitely reached a crossroads, at which investigators must decide on the suspects in the case - Larry Franklin alone; Franklin and two AIPAC officials, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman; or whether, on top of those three, the entire AIPAC organization has acted unlawfully.

Sources close to the investigation suggested recently that it would end in a plea bargain. Franklin would plead to a lesser crime of unauthorized transfer of information, Rosen and Weissman would be charged with receiving classified information unlawfully, and AIPAC would remain unstained. Franklin's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, Thursday denied the reports, stating: "We have not entered any plea of defense with the Justice Department."

AIPAC refused to say anything about the possibility of a plea bargain.

As for Franklin's reinstatement, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Paul Swiergrosz, confirmed that "Dr. Franklin is still a U.S. government employee," but declined to identify his position. Haaretz has learned that Franklin has been moved to a post different from the one he held previously and kept from handling classified information.

From AIPAC's standpoint, the issue at hand is containment: can the affair be limited to Rosen and Weissman, or is the investigation directed at the lobby as a whole? It is clear that the FBI has as its objective an extensive investigation against AIPAC. Investigators have been looking into AIPAC's entire manner of operating, not just in the Franklin instance. An official questioned twice by the FBI, as a witness, was astounded by investigators' intimate familiarity with AIPAC. "They know everything there. They asked very precise questions regarding the organization's operations," he said.

The intended breadth of the investigation is also evident from the FBI's dramatic moves - raiding AIPAC offices in December and issuing subpoenas to its four top executives. Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Research Director Rafael Danziger and Communications Director Renee Rothstein appeared before the investigative jury and were questioned at length.

Investigators also reportedly tried to use Franklin, after the affair erupted, to incriminate as many senior AIPAC officials as possible. The Jerusalem Post reported four months ago that investigators informed Franklin of the suspicions against him and asked for his cooperation. In a sting operation, he received information from the FBI agents that Iran was planning to attack Israelis operating in the Kurdish region in Iraq. Franklin, at the FBI's instructions, telephoned AIPAC's Rosen and Weissman and gave them the information, and they rushed to pass it on to Israeli diplomats, thereby falling into the FBI trap.

AIPAC refuses to comment on the case, saying, "We do not comment on personnel matters." A spokesman for AIPAC, Patrick Dorton, said Thursday that "it would not be appropriate for AIPAC to comment on issues that have to do with an ongoing federal investigation."

The suspension of the two AIPAC officials, though never officially explained, is certainly a key turning point in the case. According to one assessment, AIPAC understands that regardless of whether a plea bargain is reached, it will be tough to get those two off the hook, so AIPAC is keeping its distance for now. Their lawyer, Nathan Lewin, refused requests from Haaretz for a comment.

A source close to the case said that since the investigation began, AIPAC's ability to maintain good ties with U.S. administration officials has suffered. While Congress was quick to express support for AIPAC, its activists began having trouble getting appointments. "Obviously, after a case like this blows up, no one's in a hurry to return your calls," said the source.