Charges Filed in Pentagon Secrets Case

Times Staff Writer

A Pentagon policy analyst was arrested Wednesday and charged with disclosing classified information about U.S. troops in Iraq to two members of an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.

A criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday against Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, an Iran specialist and Defense Department employee since 1979, also alleges that he made unauthorized disclosures to a “foreign official” and to unidentified members of the news media.

Franklin also was charged with illegally storing dozens of classified documents -- with dates spanning his government service -- at his home in West Virginia.


Franklin denies any wrongdoing. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

The charges are the first stemming from a more than two-year FBI investigation that has raised questions about U.S. relations with a long-standing ally and the activities of one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Investigators have focused on whether pro-Israel Pentagon officials crossed a line in sharing U.S. secrets and whether Israel may have broken the rules about access to government data in an attempt to gain sensitive intelligence about such foes as Iran and Iraq.

The complaint against Franklin does not allege that he engaged in espionage or that he directly shared secrets with Israel. Lawyers for Franklin and for the two lobbyists that allegedly received the classified information issued vigorous denials.

And the complaint does not ascribe a motive to Franklin’s disclosures, or identify Israel as an ultimate beneficiary.

“He intends to plead not guilty and vigorously defend himself,” said John Richards, a Washington lawyer representing Franklin. “We expect the judicial process to exonerate him.”

Franklin was released after posting a $100,000 bond, agreeing to surrender his passport and firearms and accepting other restrictions. Federal prosecutors did not object to his release. A preliminary hearing was set for May 27.


Franklin had been previously identified as a pivotal figure in the investigation, and until last fall he had been cooperating with federal agents. Earlier, he rejected a plea bargain agreement proposed by the government that he and his lawyers considered overly punitive.

The federal complaint offered few new details about the investigation, and raised questions about the information that he was handling and its value to foreign governments.

Sources have said that investigators were looking into whether Franklin passed information about a draft White House policy toward Iran, although the complaint makes no mention of any information exchanges regarding Iran.

The government’s case, outlined in a 10-page federal court filing, hinges on a previously reported meeting between Franklin and two others, identified by sources as then-AIPAC policy director Steve Rosen and Iran specialist Keith Weissman, at an Arlington, Va., restaurant in June 2003. Rosen and Weissman were fired by AIPAC last month. They have denied any wrongdoing and have not been charged with any crimes.

At the meeting, Franklin allegedly disclosed top-secret information about “potential attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq,” according to the complaint signed by Catherine Hanna. She was identified as an FBI special agent in Washington assigned to a squad responsible for counterespionage matters.

Hanna did not provide details of the information but said that it was contained in a top-secret government document that was dated the day before the men had lunch, and that the information “could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign country.”


The complaint alleged that Franklin was aware of the sensitivities involved, and told his lunch companions that the information was “highly classified” and asked them not to “use” it.

Hanna said that Franklin “admitted that he provided the classified” information to the lobbyists when the FBI confronted him during a search of his Pentagon office and in an interview in June 2004.

Franklin had an obligation not to divulge such information, based on Defense Department nondisclosure agreements he had signed four times since 1979, Hanna said. The complaint also alleges that Franklin knowingly disclosed classified information to “a foreign official and members of the media.” It also alleges that Franklin kept dozens of classified documents at his home in Kearneysville, W.Va., in violation of federal law. During a search there last year, investigators found 83 classified government documents, including 38 that were labeled top secret, according to the complaint.

“The dates of these documents spanned three decades,” the complaint said.

Justice Department spokes-man Bryan Sierra said the investigation was continuing.

A lawyer for Rosen, Abbe Lowell, said Wednesday that his client had done nothing wrong.

“Steve Rosen never solicited, received, or passed on any classified documents from Larry Franklin and Mr. Franklin will never be able to say otherwise,” Lowell said in a statement released by his office.

John N. Nassikas, a lawyer for Weissman, declined to comment.

A spokesman for the pro-Israel lobby also declined to comment Wednesday. People close to the organization have said that it has been informed that it was not a target of the Justice Department investigation.

The Pentagon’s Near East and South Asian Affairs office where Franklin worked was the top nonmilitary section developing plans for war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The office also helps write U.S. policy in Iran and Syria.


A former Defense Intelligence Agency expert in Soviet counterespionage, Franklin studied Farsi and became an Iran expert.

Ideologically, he shared the views of some of his Pentagon supervisors on Iraq, a hard-line stance against Iran and unwavering support for Israel.

An Air Force reserve officer, Franklin often fulfilled his annual two-week military commitments by serving as a defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.