A former Pentagon analyst who admitted scheming with two pro-Israel lobbyists and an Israeli Embassy official to influence U.S. policy in the Middle East was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison Friday for disclosing classified information.
The sentencing of Lawrence A. Franklin, 59, of Kearneysville, W.Va., a former Iran desk officer in the office of the secretary of Defense, followed an October plea agreement in which he admitted illegally leaking defense secrets, but denied that he intended to harm the U.S.
Franklin's prosecution has attracted particular attention because he leaked the information to representatives of a close U.S. ally. He was never accused of espionage.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, in sentencing him Friday, called Franklin's case "odd," but added that he clearly broke the law.
The sentence is at the lower end of federal guidelines, and is likely to be further softened because of testimony Franklin is expected to offer at the trial of two alleged co-conspirators this spring.
A former colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Franklin was indicted last year along with two former lobbyists for the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, based in Washington. The government alleged a wide-ranging conspiracy to gather and disseminate secrets with the intent of influencing U.S. policy on Iran, and included regular contacts and meetings with an official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, who was not charged.
In pleading guilty to three felonies in October, Franklin said he never intended to break the law, and that he saw the plan as a "back-channel" way to arouse what he saw as a slumbering U.S. bureaucracy that was not taking threats to the Middle East seriously enough.
He did not elaborate Friday, deferring to a written statement he had previously submitted, under seal, to the court. But officials close to the case say Franklin was specifically concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. officials said Friday that Franklin had committed serious crimes and deserved a tough sentence. Federal prosecutor Kevin DiGregory noted that as part of his plea agreement, Franklin had acknowledged knowingly disclosing classified information to unauthorized people.
"The danger of such unauthorized disclosure ... is that the United States government loses control," and the information could find its way into the hands of people who would harm the country, he said.
Ellis said in court Friday that Franklin believed the National Security Council was insufficiently concerned with threats to the Middle East, and thought that leaking information might persuade officials to take action. He said Franklin appeared to genuinely believe that his actions would help the country, and that the case bore few of the earmarks of previous spy cases.
In addition, the judge, apparently based on a pre-sentence investigation of Franklin, said there were "elements of personal ambition" that motivated him. Ellis said there was evidence that Franklin was angling for an appointment to the prestigious Security Council, and "thought these people might help" him.
"That's not as laudable a motive," the judge said.
The two former AIPAC lobbyists, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, are scheduled to go to trial in April. Their lawyers have argued that they were engaged in routine lobbying work and were not trafficking in classified information. Both have pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to communicate national defense information provided by Franklin.
Prosecutors said that starting in early 2003, Franklin regularly met with Rosen and Weissman in restaurants and other locations around the Washington area to discuss policy and exchange information. Among the information that Franklin allegedly provided was intelligence about potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. The U.S. government alleges that Rosen and Weissman subsequently shared what they learned with Israeli officials and reporters.
Rosen was the longtime AIPAC research director; Weissman was the group's Iran expert. AIPAC fired them in April.
Ellis said that Franklin would not have to begin serving his sentence until after the prosecution of his two co-defendants.
Franklin said in October that he had been parking cars at a horse track and tending bar to make ends meets since he was suspended last year by the Defense Department. In return for his cooperation, he has asked that he be allowed to serve his sentence at a minimum-security prison near his home, so he can be near his wife, who is ill. Ellis indicated on Friday he would grant the request.