Disgraced Spy Is Now Parking Guy

Adam Lisberg - New York Daily News - February 19th, 2006


. - The valets at the racetrack all wear bright-red jackets and khaki pants, but on a slow afternoon, only one of them takes out that day's New York Times and pores over articles about foreign policy and international terrorism.

Larry Franklin, 59, may be the best-educated valet manager in West Virginia. He spent a career in the highest levels of the Defense Department, ending with a top secret clearance and a voice in reshaping American foreign policy for a dangerous world. He speaks Farsi, teaches college classes and has contacts around the globe.

And he's a convicted spy.

The FBI caught Franklin passing some of America's most sensitive secrets about Iran, Iraq and Al Qaeda to an Israeli diplomat and two pro-Israel lobbyists in the summer of 2004 - not for money, but so they could pressure the Bush administration to take a harder line against Iran.

"It was never my intent to harm the United States, not even for a second," Franklin told a federal judge in Virginia when he pleaded guilty in October.

Now he's waiting to begin a 12-1/2-year prison term at a date yet to be determined. And just as America and the world are suddenly wrestling with Iran's nuclear ambitions, Franklin is sidelined in a valet booth, watching a parade of rural gamblers dropping off their cars.

He forfeited his pension. His wife is sick and can't work, friends say. So to make a few bucks in the meantime, he works in the valet office at Charles Town Races and Slots, a horse track connected to acres of slot machines, a few miles down the road from his home. He has also told the judge he worked part-time as a waiter and bartender at a restaurant near his home.

The transformation from defense analyst to admitted turncoat has shocked his friends and neighbors, who say Franklin is a devoted husband and father of five, a staunch patriot, a popular professor at a local college and a man who must have believed he was serving a larger good.

"I don't think that Larry Franklin is a threat to society or a threat to the United States," said his friend Bob Tabb, a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who has known Franklin through the local schools and 4-H club for more than a decade.

Franklin has long viewed Iran as a serious and gathering threat to the U.S., and when the Bush administration began, he became part of an influential group of neoconservatives in the Defense Department pushing for a hard line against Iran. He and his boss, undersecretary Douglas Feith, would meet directly with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

But he grew frustrated that their warnings on Iran weren't being taken seriously enough - so he passed secrets to a political officer at the Israeli Embassy, as well as to two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, in hopes they could have more impact with the information.

"He wanted the information to go where it could do the most good. And I think he was frustrated that he had information that he felt could change the dynamics in another part of the world, he believed, for the better," Tabb said.

The last American to be caught passing secrets to Israel, Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, is serving life in prison, though pro-Israel groups have lobbied to ease his sentence.

"That hasn't happened with Franklin," said Franklin's attorney, Plato Cacheris, who expects his client's sentence will be substantially cut after he testifies against the former AIPAC officials at their upcoming trial.

Franklin's plea agreement prohibits him from talking to the press. At his modest home with American flags draped over the front windows, his wife Patricia politely declined to speak with a reporter.

A few miles away at Shepherd University, where he has taught night classes since 1999, he was a popular professor who taught world history and a class about terrorism.

"The man truly has a passion for teaching, and the students have responded to him very well," said Anders Henriksson, chairman of the school's history department. "The man is very credentialed. All I can say is that I hope things improve for him."

  • See Also: The Franklin/AIPAC Spy Case Page