Former U.S. Analyst to Plead Guilty
A former Pentagon analyst accused of playing a central role in a scheme to channel Defense Department secrets to Israel plans to plead guilty to one or more charges, U.S. officials said Thursday.
Lawrence A. Franklin, 58, was indicted in August on charges of giving classified information to top lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations, and to an official at the Israeli embassy in Washington.
The indictment alleged that, in meetings in restaurants, a health club and other venues in the Washington area starting in February 2003, Franklin divulged secrets such as a draft of administration policy on Iran and information about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.
The guilty plea -- expected to be made Wednesday at a hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Va. -- would mark the first conviction in a case that has strained relations between the U.S. and a major ally, and jolted the lobbying world inside the Beltway.
Franklin was indicted along with two employees of AIPAC, Steven J. Rosen, the firm’s research director for two decades, and Keith Weissman, its top Iran expert. Rosen and Weissman, who were dismissed by AIPAC this year, are scheduled to go on trial in January.
Rosen and Weissman contended they did nothing wrong, and suggested the information they discussed with Franklin involved the sort of give-and-take that occurs in Washington every day.
Franklin was originally indicted in June, but those charges were replaced by the indictment brought two months later.
None of the defendants has been charged with espionage. For a time before he was initially indicted, Franklin was a cooperating witness for the government, participating in an elaborate sting operation.
Word of the anticipated guilty plea was announced by a spokesman for the U.S. District Court in Alexandria. The court spokesman said he did not have details of the plea agreement. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Alexandria declined to comment.
“There will be a disposition next Wednesday, and while nothing has been signed yet, Mr. Franklin will in all likelihood be resuming his cooperation” with the government, said Plato Cacheris, Franklin’s lawyer, confirming that a plea agreement is in the offing. Cacheris declined to discuss what charges Franklin would be admitting to.
Franklin, who had been a longtime intelligence analyst at the Pentagon, could not be reached for comment.
Franklin was charged with five counts, including conspiracy and violating laws against the disclosure of classified information to people unauthorized to receive it. The conspiracy charge could bring up to 10 years in prison. Franklin, who lives in West Virginia, was separately indicted there on charges of keeping classified documents at his home.
Besides the AIPAC employees, Franklin was accused of sharing classified information with an official of a foreign government. Sources have identified the official as a former political director of the Israel embassy in Washington, who returned to Israel this summer in what was described as a routine rotation of diplomats.
No Israeli officials have been charged in the case, and an embassy spokesman has said none of its diplomats did anything wrong. The U.S. has sought the cooperation of Israel in the investigation, although the two governments were said to be still working out details.
Prosecutors said Franklin, Rosen and Weissman were motivated by a desire to advance foreign policy aims rather than by financial gain.
Franklin worked in a Pentagon policy office that helped plan the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he shared the hawkish views of his supervisors in seeing the need for regime change in Iraq, taking a hard-line stance against Iran and unwavering supporting for Israel.
Franklin was scheduled to go to trial with his alleged co-conspirators in January. Assuming his plea agreement with the government is approved, he is likely to emerge as a star witness for the government.
John Nassikas, a lawyer for Weissman, said “this development is not surprising, and does not affect the nature of our defense.”
Rosen’s lawyer, Abbe Lowell, declined to comment through a spokesman.