Pentagon Analyst to Plead Guilty to Leak

Matthew Barakat - Associated Press - Sept. 29, 2005

A Pentagon analyst charged with providing classified information to an Israeli official and members of a pro-Israeli lobbying group planned to plead guilty to one or more charges, a court said Thursday.

Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, of Kearneysville, W.Va., was one of the Pentagon's policy experts on Iran and the Middle East. He was indicted in June on charges of disclosing national defense information to people not entitled to receive it, including two members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The indictment also alleges he leaked top secret information about two unidentified Middle Eastern officials to the media.

Franklin had previously pleaded innocent, but on Thursday a change of plea hearing was added to the court calendar for next Wednesday. A statement issued by the U.S. District Court clerk's office said Franklin "is scheduled to plead guilty to a charge or charges" but did not specify which.

Court records include no details about Franklin's plea; such details normally are not made public until the plea is officially entered.

Four of the five counts against Franklin carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and the fifth carries a sentence of up to five years.

Prosecutors declined comment, but a Justice Department official confirmed that a plea agreement was being negotiated. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because nothing has been filed with the court. Messages left Thursday with Franklin's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, were not immediately returned.

The two AIPAC officials who allegedly received the information, Steven Rosen of Silver Spring, Md., and Keith Weissman of Bethesda, Md., also have been charged with conspiring to obtain and disclose classified U.S. defense information. No plea hearings are scheduled in their cases.

Franklin had been cooperating with the government in its case against Rosen and Weissman as far back as July 2004, according to the indictment. Such cooperation is typically a factor in determining what sentence prosecutors will seek in connection with a plea.

According to the indictment, Franklin met periodically with Rosen and Weissman between 2002 and 2004 and discussed classified information, including information about potential attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. Rosen and Weissman would subsequently share what they learned with reporters and Israeli officials. On at least one occasion, Franklin spoke directly to an Israeli official.

The government is not charging any of the three with espionage, although the FBI has questioned at least one Israeli official.

Rosen, a top lobbyist for Washington-based AIPAC for more than 20 years, and Weissman, the organization's top Iran expert, allegedly disclosed sensitive information as far back as 1999 on a variety of topics, including al-Qaida, terrorist activities in Central Asia, the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and U.S. policy in Iran, according to the indictment.

Franklin at one time worked for the Pentagon's No. 3 official, policy undersecretary Douglas Feith, on issues involving Iran and the Middle East. Weissman and Rosen saw Franklin as a potentially valuable source of information.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty, whose office is prosecuting the case, has said the three were motivated by the desire to advance their careers and their own foreign-policy agendas.

According to the indictment, Franklin asked Rosen to put in a good word for him when Franklin was under consideration for a job at the National Security Council. Rosen said that such a job would put Franklin "by the elbow of the president."

Weissman's lawyer, John Nassikas, said he was unfamiliar with the details of Franklin's plea but said Weissman still plans to go to trial in January and that he plans to file numerous motions in coming weeks challenging the government's factual and legal claims.

"We're preparing and we're confident," Nassikas said.

Both AIPAC and Israel deny any wrongdoing. AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman in April.

The long-running investigation has been closely followed in Washington, where AIPAC is an influential interest group. The case also has served as a reminder of a tense time in U.S.-Israeli relations: the 1985 scandal in which civilian Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard was caught spying for Israel.

Israel has said it imposed a ban on espionage in the United States after the Pollard scandal. He was sentenced to life in prison.

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page