The New York Times
September 1, 2004
WASHINGTON, Aug. 31 - Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted interviews with two officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are suspected of passing classified information from a Pentagon analyst to Israeli intelligence, government officials and a lawyer for the committee said on Tuesday.
On Friday, F.B.I. agents visited the two officials of the group, Steven Rosen, the organization's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, one of its experts on Iran, said Nathan Lewin, a lawyer for the pro-Israel lobbying group, known as Aipac.
The interviews took place about the same time that news organizations began reporting the existence of the F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation, officials said. The F.B.I. interviews were halted when each of the men asked to be represented by a lawyer before answering more questions.
A Washington defense lawyer, Abbe Lowell, said he had been hired to represent the employees, but would not discuss the case. Aipac has said in a statement that the organization is cooperating with investigators but that the accusations against its employees are baseless.
The F.B.I. interviews with Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were confirmed by American government officials who have been briefed about the case. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were first identified in Israeli press accounts.
The authorities said that Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman knew Lawrence A. Franklin, the Defense Department analyst who is suspected of giving them classified information related to American policy toward Iran. Mr. Franklin is a lower-level analyst who works on Iranian issues in the office of Douglas J. Feith, under secretary of defense for policy.
Mr. Rosen, Aipac's director of foreign policy issues, is a longtime employee of the organization. Associates said he was regarded as brilliant, energetic and one of the group's most influential employees, with wide-ranging contacts within the Bush administration and overseas. Mr. Weissman is not as senior as Mr. Rosen. He is known within the organization as a solid, capable policy analyst intimately familiar with the Middle East.
Investigators believe that the Aipac officials turned Mr. Franklin's information over to the Israelis, although the exact nature of their contacts with Israel remains unclear and it is uncertain whether Mr. Franklin knew of their discussions with Israel.
Associates of Mr. Franklin said he had provided information about policy deliberations concerning Iran to the Aipac officials, not to provide information to Israel, but in hope that it might be used to somehow influence the Bush administration to formulate a policy toward Iran.
It is not illegal for employees of Aipac to meet with Pentagon officials or representatives of the Israeli government, which has a wide-ranging information-sharing relationship with the United States. But knowingly passing classified materials to a foreign power could be a crime under American espionage statutes.
In recent weeks, Mr. Franklin has been cooperating with the authorities, according to the government officials, but his legal status is uncertain. Efforts to contact him have been unsuccessful. His friends have said that he did not engage in any wrongdoing.
The F.B.I. interviews with Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman are to resume shortly, but it appears unlikely that either man will be accused of any wrongdoing, at least pending the completion of the interviews and further investigation. Neither Mr. Rosen nor Mr. Weissman has been advised that he is a target of the investigation, and government officials said that the men's legal status remained uncertain.
In his first public comments on the case, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, said on Tuesday that the intelligence investigation was a "nonissue," adding: "I can tell you here, very authoritatively, very categorically, Israel does not spy on the United States. We do not gather information on our best friend and ally." Interviewed on CNN, Mr. Ayalon said that since Jonathan Jay Pollard, the naval intelligence analyst sentenced to life in prison as a spy for Israel in 1987, "we made a strategic decision to make sure that there is no such thing even in a remote way."
"There's nothing there," the ambassador said of the intelligence case. "We keep our contacts on a regular day with the administration and everybody watching - we keep doing it today. We have not heard anything from anybody, except this news in the media, which, as I mentioned, already are fizzling out because there's nothing there."