WASHINGTON, May 4 - Federal agents arrested a Pentagon analyst on Wednesday, accusing him of illegally disclosing highly classified information about possible attacks on American forces in Iraq to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group.
The analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, turned himself in to the authorities on Wednesday morning in a case that has stirred unusually anxious debate in influential political circles in the capital even though it has focused on a midlevel Pentagon employee.
The inquiry has cast a cloud over the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which employed the two men who are said to have received the classified information from Mr. Franklin. The group, also known as Aipac, has close ties to senior policymakers in the Bush administration, among them Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is expected to appear later this month at the group's annual meeting.
The investigation has proven awkward as well for a group of conservative Republicans, who held high-level civilian jobs at the Pentagon during President Bush's first term and the buildup toward the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who were also close to Aipac.
They were led by Paul D. Wolfowitz, the former deputy defense secretary who has been named president of the World Bank. Mr. Franklin once worked in the office of one of Mr. Wolfowitz's allies, Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary for policy at the Pentagon, who has also said he is leaving the administration later this year.
According to a 10-page F.B.I. affidavit accompanying the criminal complaint, Mr. Franklin divulged the secret information about the potential attacks at a lunch on June 26, 2003. Officials said he was dining with two of Aipac's senior staff members. The lunch was apparently held under F.B.I. surveillance. Four days later, federal agents searched Mr. Franklin's office and found the document containing the information.
Later, agents found dozens of classified documents at his home. The affidavit did not describe the subject matter of the documents, but said 38 were classified Top Secret, about 37 were classified Secret and approximately eight were classified Confidential. The dates on the documents spanned more than three decades. The affidavit did not indicate whether the information that was disclosed would have placed American troops at risk, and it offered no details about the gravity of the information that might have been compromised.
Other people who have been officially briefed on the case said that while Iraq was discussed at the lunch, most of the conversation centered on Iran.
Friends of Mr. Franklin, an advocate of a tough approach to Iran, say he was worried that his views were not being given an adequate hearing at the White House. They also say he wanted Aipac to help bring more attention to his ideas.
The two Aipac employees at the lunch were not identified in the complaint, but officials said they were Steven Rosen, formerly the group's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, formerly its senior Middle East analyst. They remain under scrutiny, officials said, and supporters of the two men said they feared that they might be charged as well.
Lawyers for Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman have said the men did nothing wrong. On Wednesday, Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Mr. Rosen, said, "Steve Rosen never solicited, received, or passed on any classified documents from Larry Franklin, and Mr. Franklin will never be able to say otherwise." John N. Nassikas, a lawyer for Mr. Weissman, declined to discuss the case.
For its part, Aipac has been advised by the government that the group itself is not a target of the investigation, according to a person who has been briefed on Aipac's legal strategy.
Still, the organization recently took action to distance itself from the two men. Two weeks ago, Aipac said it had dismissed Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman after months of defending them. On Wednesday, Patrick Dorton, a spokesman for the group, declined to discuss the case.
Mr. Franklin, 58, was suspended last year, as was his security clearance, but he had been rehired in recent months in a nonsensitive job. He has been employed by the Defense Department since 1979 and is a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
He made a brief appearance on Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria, Va., and was released on $100,000 bond. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for May 27. If convicted, Mr. Franklin could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison. One of Mr. Franklin's lawyers said that he expected his client would plead not guilty.
Associates of the influential circle at the Pentagon that had been headed by Mr. Wolfowitz attributed the scrutiny of Mr. Franklin to the continuing struggle inside the administration over intelligence. They said they had been unfairly attacked by critics at the country's intelligence agencies with whom they had clashed since before the war in Iraq.
They have said other efforts to embarrass them include one last year when American officials said Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress and a longtime ally of Pentagon conservatives, told Iranian intelligence officials that the United States had broken its communications codes. A federal investigation into who might have provided the information to Mr. Chalabi remained unresolved.
Friends of Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman said the two men have been singled out unfairly. The friends say the men operated no differently than many corporate representatives, lobbyists and journalists in Washington who cultivate sources inside the government to barter information about competitors, personal gossip and, sometimes, classified intelligence.
But Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman had regular discussions with Israeli officials about the Middle East, and investigators have long said that they believed that the Aipac employees had veered into the area of national security, meeting with Israeli officials, including intelligence agents, although the affidavit made no mention of Israel as a recipient of any information.
The absence of any mention of Israel appears to reflect the acutely sensitive relationship between two allies with close political, military and intelligence relationships. Israel says it has banned espionage operations against the United States, but American counterintelligence officials have said that Israel still spies on the United States, looking for technological data and inside information about American thinking about the Middle East.
After Mr. Franklin's arrest, the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalon, said in an interview on Israel's Channel One that Israel had no role in the case. But American officials confirmed a report by The Associated Press report from Jerusalem on Monday that said F.B.I. agents had interviewed a former senior Israeli intelligence official, Uzi Arad, about the Franklin inquiry.
At the heart of the government's case against Mr. Franklin is the lunch he had in June at a restaurant in Arlington, Va. At the lunch, Mr. Franklin spoke of the information related to potential attacks on American forces in Iraq, the affidavit says.
The affidavit said Mr. Franklin told the two men that the information was highly classified and asked them not to "use" it. There is no indication that Mr. Franklin provided any documents to the two men.
The affidavit, signed by Catherine M. Hanna, a F.B.I. agent, said Mr. Franklin had engaged in other illegal acts. The complaint said he disclosed government information to an unidentified foreign official and journalists. In addition, investigators found 83 classified documents in his home in West Virginia. The documents were stored throughout the house in open and closed containers, and one was in plain view.
After the search of his office in June 2003, Mr. Franklin, according to the affidavit, admitted that he had told Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman about the classified document. He also began cooperating with the government, but he later reversed that decision. Investigators pursued espionage charges against Mr. Franklin for more than a year, but Wednesday's complaint charges him not with spying but with the lesser offense of illegal disclosure of classified information.
A senior Justice Department official, while not ruling out the possibility of future espionage charges, noted that such charges required an intent to act on behalf of a foreign power. "That is not the case here," the official said. "He was charged with the appropriate crime here, and that's the crime the investigators believe he committed."