Allegations against Defense official Larry Franklin roil Washington, shake pro-Israel lobby.
MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
llegations that a Pentagon official passed
documents to Israel through a pro-Israel
lobbying group have shaken Washington
and drawn intense attention to the close relation-
ship between the Bush administration and the
Reports surfaced Aug. 27 that a Defense
Department official was being investigated by the
FBI for passing secrets to Israel, and two staffers
at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
are accused of serving as intermediaries, receiving
the documents from the Pentagon aide and pass-
ing them to the Israelis.
Media reports have identified the Pentagon
employee as Larry Franklin, but the AIPAC
staffers have not been named. Israeli officials and
AIPAC denied the allegations.
The allegations, first reported by CBS News,
came just days before Republicans and AIPAC
leaders were expected to tout close ties between
the United States and Israel at the Republican
National Convention in New York. But the suspi-
cion that Israeli officials gained access to classified
information could hurt the close coordination the
two countries officially share, and make govern-
mental officials wary of dealing with Israeli repre-
If found true, the allegations could harm the
reputation of AIPAC, considered the most suc-
cessful foreign policy lobbying group in Washing-
ton, with numerous advocates in Congress and in
the American Jewish community.
Jewish officials downplayed the story, standing
behind AIPAC and suggesting that business at the
Republican convention would proceed as normal,
with more than a dozen Republican legislators
and party leaders expected to address closed-door
At AIPAC's first event Aug. 28 in the evening,
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Rep. Eric Cantor,
R-Va., addressed the crowd as scheduled, and
New York Gov. George Pataki made a surprise
appearance, saying he wanted to show his solidari-
ty with the pro-Israel lobby.
Other lawmakers and Jewish leaders were con-
tacting AIPAC staff to find out how they could
help or express their support. "All of us will go on
with our business," said Malcolm Hoenlein, exec-
utive vice chairman of the Conference of Pres-
idents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
"There is no change because of this story, and we
should wait to see what happens in the coming
The charges evoked memories of Jonathan
Pollard, the American Jew and former Navy intel-
Could the allegations against Larry Franklin cause a
split between President Bush and the State of Israel?
ligence officer who was sentenced to life in prison
in 1987 for spying for Israel. While some U.S.
Jewish leaders now work to free Pollard, his spy-
ing for the Jewish state temporarily strained rela-
tions between the allies. It also placed Jewish offi-
cials in the United States government under the
microscope for suspicions of dual loyalty.
Franklin is not Jewish, however, and no motive
for his alleged actions has been presented. Israeli
sources said Franklin's work relations with Israeli
officials did not exceed the boundaries of accepted
diplomatic contact, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz
The sources said checks conducted over the
weekend negated all possibility of espionage or
unacceptable conduct and that no Israeli had
received classified information from Franklin.
Because of the impact the Pollard case had on
U.S.-Israeli relations, Israel made a deep strategic
decision afterward not to spy in the United States,
Israeli officials said.
No arrests in the investigation have been made,
but according to the CBS News report, the FBI
has wiretaps, undercover surveillance and photog-
raphy showing the exchange of a classified docu-
ment regarding the formulation of Bush adminis-
tration policy for Iran.
Franklin is a desk officer on Iran within the
Near East and South Asia bureau at the Pentagon.
The division is overseen by Douglas Feith, the
undersecretary of defense for policy, who was con-
sidered a strong advocate for the Iraq war. Feith
also was one of several Jewish "neo-conservatives"
inside the government whom war critics have
sought to portray as instigating the war in Iraq.
Sources inside and outside the administration
said Franklin was a career official who was close
to retirement and not considered a main architect
of policy within the office. According to media
reports, some federal officials have suggested the
charges against Franklin may not rise to espi-
onage, and rather may be limited to mishandling
or improper use of classified materials, a more
Reuters quoted one former AIPAC official as
saying the group made it a matter of policy to
hire former Pentagon staffers to keep Israel
informed of U.S. policy. "It's a standard feature of
the lobbying scene," the staffer said, according to
Reuters. "How do you draw the line between a
lobbyist briefing and spying? It's not as clear-cut
as it should be."
Jewish leaders seemed relieved that newspaper
stories Aug. 29 suggested the case might not rise
to the level of criminal intent, and could instead
be focused on the mishandling of documents.
Some suggested that because of the close coordi-
nation that goes on between U.S. officials and
Israelis and American Jewish leaders, it was possi-
ble that a barrier to criminal conduct was inadver-
"It's starting to sound more like a case of leak-
ing than a case of spying," said Abraham Foxman,
national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
"Both are violations of trust, but one is serious
and one is less serious."
Federal officials, who have been investigating
this case for more than a year, suggest arrests
could come as early as next week. It's unclear
whether any AIPAC staffers could be charged as
well. The organization says it has made informa-
tion available to federal investigators, and staff
members have been interviewed.
"Any allegation of criminal conduct by AIPAC
or our employees is false and baseless," the pro-
Israel lobby said in a statement Aug. 27. "Neither
AIPAC nor any of its employees has violated any
laws or rules, nor has AIPAC or its employees
ever received information they believed was secret
The statement goes on to stress that AIPAC is
made up of "proud and loyal U.S. citizens com-
mitted to promoting American interests." The
statement was placed on the front page of
AIPAC's Web site Aug. 28.
David Siegel, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy
in Washington, also denied the allegations. "The
United States is Israel's most cherished friend and
ally," Siegel said. "We have a strong, ongoing,
working relationship at all levels and in no way
would Israel do anything to impair this relation-