U.S. sources: Spy charges unlikely in Pentagon mole affair

By Nathan Guttman

Haaretz

August 30, 2004

WASHINGTON - The U.S. administration believes that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will refrain from charging suspected Pentagon mole Larry Franklin with espionage, American media said yesterday. The FBI apparently lacks any evidence that the Pentagon data analyst was operated by either Israel or the American Israel Public Affairs Commitee (AIPAC).

Franklin, an analyst in the Pentagon's Near East and South Asia Bureau, could be charged with mishandling a classified document. However, the FBI has yet to make an official pronouncement on whether Franklin will be arrested and what charges he might face. Nevertheless, investigators are broadening their probe and interviewing figures at the Defense Department, the State Department and outside the administration.

The investigation currently centers on a single document relating to a discussion held by senior administration officials about U.S. policy on Iran. Franklin is suspected of handing the document - which was classified - to AIPAC, which conveyed the document or its contents to Israeli government representatives.

In its latest edition, Newsweek magazine claims that the FBI began investigating Franklin after tailing an Israeli embassy official in Washington who met an AIPAC representative for lunch. Franklin reportedly approached their table and engaged in a warm conversation with them. The magazine also said Franklin was once posted at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv when he served in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. The magazine said FBI counterintelligence agents were following Franklin when they saw him attempt to pass a classified policy document on Iran to an unnamed surveillance target.

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that Franklin may have conveyed the classified information innocently, not realizing he was breaking the law. "The man is not a spy, he's an idiot," an official familiar with the investigations told the paper.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the FBI has been in contact with Franklin for about a month, and is seeking his cooperation.

The newspaper also reported that two high-profile officials might be called to give testimony in the case. A government official familiar with the case said that FBI officials had expressed an interest in interviewing two of Franklin's superiors, Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, although there is no sign they are a focus of the probe. It was unclear whether the FBI had decided to go ahead with those interviews, the paper said.

Israeli sources said that Israel has not received a request from any branch of the administration for information or clarifications relating to the Franklin investigation. Neither has Israel initiated contact at any level to find out about the allegations or provide explanations to the Americans. "It's being handled solely on the media front," an Israeli official said.

AIPAC has made no change in its events scheduled to coincide with the Republican National Convention opening today in New York. Yesterday the lobby cohosted with other Jewish organizations a major event in New York that was supposed to feature senior Republican Party officials. Jewish sources were hopeful yesterday that the affair will die down in a few days and wind up as an ordinary investigation into a leak, not an espionage scandal. American media outlets yesterday devoted less attention to the mole story, with headlines given over to pre-convention protests in New York.