2 Lobbyists Indicted in Secrets Case
Two former employees of the nation’s most influential pro-Israel lobbying organization were indicted Thursday, accused of engaging in a five-year conspiracy to collect and disseminate U.S. defense secrets.
The federal indictment provides details of encounters the two men had with former Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin, who was indicted on similar charges in June and was named again Thursday.
But it also paints a picture of a conspiracy that was broader than previously thought, asserting that the onetime aides at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee obtained information from two other unidentified U.S. government officials.
The men are alleged to have passed secrets, including classified information about Al Qaeda and a draft presidential directive concerning U.S. policy toward Iran, to unnamed foreign government officials -- believed to be employees of the Israeli Embassy in Washington -- and to journalists.
The goal, prosecutors said Thursday, was to “influence persons within and outside the United States government.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, David Siegel, said officials there had broken no laws. He also said that the Israeli government had begun cooperating with federal investigators in the probe.
“We are fully confident in the professionalism of our diplomats,” Siegel said. “They conduct themselves in full accordance with diplomatic practice, and we have seen no information that would suggest anything to the contrary.
“The U.S. and Israel share a very strong relationship, and we would have no reason to resort to any wrongdoing,” he said. “We have information-sharing at the highest levels on national security issues all the time.”
Siegel said the U.S. government had recently approached the embassy, seeking its assistance in the investigation. “We have expressed our willingness to cooperate in the process, and contacts will continue,” he said.
The case has hurt the standing of AIPAC, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups, and has raised questions about the proper boundaries of sharing sensitive defense information with a close ally. Prosecutors said the case illustrated how a public official had betrayed a trust, and how private lobbyists had succumbed to the temptation of breaking the law to obtain information.
“When it comes to classified information, there is a clear line in the law,” said Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia in Alexandria, where the grand jury indictment was unsealed Thursday. “Today’s charges are about crossing that line.”
McNulty said the investigation was continuing and did not rule out the possibility that others might be charged.
Named in the indictment Thursday were Steven J. Rosen, AIPAC’s longtime director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, a senior Middle East analyst. Both were charged with conspiring to “communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it.” Rosen was separately charged with improperly communicating classified information.
The indictment also incorporates allegations in the previous indictment against Franklin that had detailed his dealings with Rosen and Weissman without identifying them by name.
Franklin, Rosen and Weissman are scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Alexandria on Aug. 16.
A spokesman for AIPAC, Patrick Dorton, said Thursday that Rosen and Weissman had been dismissed by the lobbying group earlier this year “because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs and because their conduct did not comport in any way with the standards that AIPAC expects of its employees.”
AIPAC, he said, “does not seek, use or request anything but legally obtained appropriate information as part of its work.”
Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, called the federal charges “a misguided attempt to criminalize the public’s right to participate in the political process.”
John N. Nassikas, an attorney for Weissman, described his client as “an honest, respected foreign policy analyst and Middle East expert” who was looking forward to contesting the charges in court.
Thursday’s charges revealed that federal investigators have been tracking AIPAC and its dealings with the U.S. and Israeli governments for longer than previously thought. Earlier court filings had indicated that investigators were mainly interested in the contacts Rosen and Weissman had with Franklin, who emerged in late 2002 as a potential conduit for information.
But the indictment alleges that the plot to collect and disseminate U.S. secrets began as early as 1999 when, on separate occasions, Rosen obtained intelligence concerning what the indictment describes as “terrorist activities in Central Asia,” and Weissman obtained a secret FBI report on the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. In each instance, the information was shared with a person whom the indictment calls “Foreign Official 1.”
The indictment also describes instances where Rosen and Weissman disclosed classified information after meeting with other unnamed U.S. government officials, including a December 2000 meeting in which the men were leaked “information about classified United States strategy options against a Middle Eastern country.”
In March 2002, the indictment says, Rosen obtained classified information about Al Qaeda from one of the unnamed government officials, later disclosing it to a person identified only as “Foreign Official 2.”
According to the indictment, the contacts with Franklin began in August 2002, after Rosen called the Defense Department seeking the name of a person with expertise on Iran. He was referred to Franklin, a mid-level analyst who had long been working to harden U.S. policy toward Iran.
Six months later, over breakfast at an Arlington restaurant, Franklin allegedly disclosed to Rosen and Weissman the contents of a classified draft presidential directive on Iran policy. Rosen subsequently passed the information along to the unnamed foreign officials, as well as “a senior fellow at a Washington, D.C., think tank” and members of the media, the indictment alleges. “I’m not supposed to know this,” Rosen is said to have told a journalist.
At another meeting, in June 2003, Franklin gave Rosen and Weissman “highly classified” information related to attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, the indictment alleges.
Ultimately, Franklin agreed to cooperate with the FBI, which monitored a July 2004 meeting outside a department store. During that meeting, Franklin allegedly told Weissman that he had new, highly classified information about plans by Iranian agents to kidnap and kill Israeli intelligence agents in northern Iraq.
Weissman and Rosen passed along that information to a third foreign official who is not named in the indictment but whom sources have identified as Naor Gilon, a former political counselor at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon recently returned to Israel as part of a normal diplomatic rotation, the embassy said.
The indictment contends that over a two-year period starting in August 2002, Franklin leaked information to the foreign official sources identified as Gilon during meetings at several locations in the Washington area, including the officers’ athletic club at the Pentagon and a sandwich shop near the State Department.
FBI agents confronted Rosen and Weissman in August 2004. The indictment says both men “falsely” denied that Franklin had provided them classified information.