Israeli Lobbyists Took Classified Data, U.S. Says

Indictment alleges 2 men were aided by Pentagon analyst

Dan Eggen, Jamie Stockwell - Washington Post - August 5, 2005

Washington - Two former employees of an influential pro-Israeli lobbying group were indicted Thursday on charges that they illegally received and passed on classified information to foreign officials and reporters over a period of five years, part of a case that has complicated relations between the United States and one of its closest allies.

Although no foreign government is named in the indictment, U.S. government sources have identified Israel as the country at the center of the investigation. The Israeli Embassy in Washington confirmed Thursday that it has been "approached" by investigators in the case.

The 26-page indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., represents the first formal allegations of criminal wrongdoing against the former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in Washington and one that has cultivated close ties to both Congress and the Bush administration.

The indictment also recasts the U.S. government's allegations against Defense Department analyst Lawrence Franklin, who already is charged with disclosing secret information about possible attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and other topics. One of six original counts was dropped against Franklin, 58, of Kearneysville, W.Va.

The former director of foreign policy issues for the American Israel committee, Steven Rosen, 63, of Silver Spring, Md., was indicted on two counts related to unlawful disclosure of "national defense information" obtained from Franklin and other unidentified government officials since 1999, on topics ranging from Iran to Saudi Arabia to al Qaeda. A former committee analyst, Keith Weissman, 53, of Bethesda, Md., was indicted on one count of conspiracy to illegally communicate classified information.

Rosen was instrumental in making the American Israel Public Affairs Committee a formidable political force and helped pioneer the strategy of lobbying the executive branch as energetically as Capitol Hill, beginning in the Reagan administration. The FBI's long-running investigation -- which has involved wiretaps and other surveillance dating back years -- has angered many political supporters of Israel and has caused friction between the two governments.

The lobbying group has fired Rosen and Weissman but is paying their legal fees. Attorneys for the two men vigorously disputed the charges. Both are scheduled to appear in court Aug. 16.

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, David Siegel, denied any wrongdoing by embassy diplomats. "We've expressed our willingness to cooperate in this process," he said.

Franklin's attorney, Plato Cacheris, said the charges were "not welcome but expected."

The indictment alleges that beginning in April 1999, Rosen and later Weissman sought to influence people in the U.S. government, including Franklin, with whom they first met in February 2003, and would use those contacts to gather sensitive and classified information.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said Rosen and Weissman's motivation was simply to "advance their foreign policy agendas and personal careers."

Rosen faces up to 20 years in prison, Weissman up to 10 years. Franklin, who pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges, faces up to 45 years in prison, officials said.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page