Larry Franklin, the former Pentagon analyst convicted of revealing classified information, says he worked undercover as an FBI double agent to gather information on the pro-Israel lobby in the United States before the bureau turned on him and pressured him to plead guilty to spying for Israel.
Talking to a U.S. newspaper for the first time since his arrest five years ago, Franklin told The Washington Times that he wore a portable recording device for the FBI to capture conversations between Keith Weissman, a lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Israeli Embassy official Naor Gilon and that he cooperated on other matters during a 10-week period in 2004.
He said he never sought to spy for Israel and felt betrayed when the same FBI agents whom he had assisted suddenly told him to get an attorney and threatened to send him to prison for disclosing classified information to AIPAC officials and the Israeli Embassy.
“I cooperated without a lawyer because I thought we were on the same side,” Franklin said in a wide-ranging interview with The Times last week at the office of his attorney, Plato Cacheris. “And I was dumbfounded. I had no money, I told them, for a lawyer. They assigned me a lawyer who was paid by the government who wanted me to sign something that was anathema to me, an abomination.”
FBI Assistant Director John Miller declined to comment on the case or Franklin’s cooperation.
Franklin eventually pleaded guilty to releasing classified information on Iraq and Iran and was sentenced in 2006 to nearly 13 years in prison. A federal judge reduced the sentence to probation and spared him from having to spend any time in prison after considering his cooperation with the FBI and the Justice Department.
Franklin had been a top Pentagon analyst on Iran during the early days of the George W. Bush administration and acknowledged he was talking to the news media and AIPAC officials because he was concerned about the administration’s plan to go to war with Iraq without a policy for containing Iran.
Franklin said the FBI first pressed him about working undercover in an investigation into alleged Israeli spying in the United States in May 2004, after he had become a subject of investigation into whether he provided sensitive information to reporters at CBS News on Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi’s relations with Iran.
He said his FBI handlers convinced him that AIPAC analysts Steven Rosen and Mr. Weissman were “bad people” and that the agency needed his help in making a criminal case against the pro-Israel lobby officials. The two AIPAC officials were eventually indicted, but this spring — after years of legal wrangling — the government reversed course and dropped all charges against them.
Prior to his FBI work, Franklin said he began talking to AIPAC officials in an attempt to influence the Bush administration over a policy dispute about Iran prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The two-year dispute involved setting U.S. policy on Iran in a national security presidential directive.
“The differences were insoluble between the secretary of defense’s office — represented by me, an Iran desk officer, and a couple of others — and the State Department. And CIA was kind of in the middle,” he said.
Mr. Franklin said that as part of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans — a special analytical group in the office of Douglas J. Feith, then the undersecretary of defense for policy — he also felt an urgency to influence Iran policy because he knew in advance the dates for the March 23, 2003, invasion of Iraq.
“And not having a policy on the country next door [to the one] that you are invading I thought was a problem,” he said. “I knew what the Iranians had prepared for us in Iraq. Sure, they were glad we would knock off Saddam. But as soon as we got in, they were not going to allow us to succeed, nor were they going to allow us to pull out without pain.”
Franklin, who held a “top secret” security clearance during his Pentagon work, said the Iranians had prepared “an entire mosaic of agents and cooperatives inside Iraq before we had invaded.”
“And I knew we would be coming home in bunches of body bags if we didn’t do something to frighten Iran into neutrality,” he said.
Senior Pentagon officials, he said, mistakenly thought the United States could “persuade Iran to be part of the solution and not part of the problem” in Iraq. However, Franklin was convinced that Iranian officials would not cooperate and that Tehran remembered U.S. support to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988.
“So I wanted to delay and shock the National Security Council staff into convincing [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice and others that, hey, maybe we ought to think this out a little more because there was so little time,” Franklin said.
His plan was to use Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman to relay his concerns to the National Security Council (NSC) staff. Instead, the AIPAC officials, without telling Franklin, took his information, some of which was classified, to Mr. Gilon at the Israeli Embassy and to a Washington Post reporter.
“I felt betrayed by Rosen and Weissman because I had risked everything for what I had thought were the interests of our republic,” he said. “And, yeah, second of all, I felt very disappointed in the FBI.”
Abbe Lowell, the lawyer who successfully represented Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman, disputed Franklin’s account about his interests in talking to the AIPAC officials.
Franklin, Mr. Lowell said, sought AIPAC’s help, through Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman, beyond the effort to reach the NSC as part of an “ideological war with the Department of State.”
“His request of them was to try to get AIPAC to weigh in on his side of the group at [the Department of] Defense,” Mr. Lowell said. “It was not singularly focused on the NSC.”
Mr. Lowell said Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman had no immediate comment on the case. Spokesmen for AIPAC and the Israeli Embassy also declined to comment.
Mr. Lowell said Franklin did not have access to all the conversations and transcript records he obtained from the government while representing the two AIPAC officials during the case. He said that the records are classified and that he could not discuss them.
Franklin, a former reserve colonel in the Air Force who worked undercover as an intelligence officer in Israel, said Mr. Gilon “was a source of mine, registered at [the Defense Intelligence Agency], and I wrote several intelligence information reports, which I cannot go into, that detailed the information that he gave me.”
The comments were used during a broadcast on CBS News and “a few weeks later, I was notified that I was a subject of interest,” Franklin said.
He pleaded guilty in October 2005 to illegally disclosing classified information on Iran and Iraq, and in January 2006 was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison.
Franklin never served prison time because a federal judge reduced the sentence to probation and 10 months in a halfway house after the espionage case against Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman was dropped by federal prosecutors in May.
On May 1, Dana J. Boente, the acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement that when Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were indicted, “the government believed it could prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt based on the [espionage] statute.”
However, subsequent unfavorable court rulings produced a “diminished likelihood” of winning at trial and the case was dropped, he said.
The government was then required to submit a motion to reduce Franklin’s sentence based on the plea agreement and sought an eight-year prison term. However, based on his attorney’s appeal for no prison time, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis sentenced him on June 11 to probation.
Franklin said his cooperation with the government was a factor in the judge’s decision to reduce the sentence.
“I didn’t do anything morally wrong,” Franklin said. “I was totally motivated by love of this republic and knowingly risked my job, my clearance and the welfare of my family because I thought it was important to do.”
Franklin also illegally kept 83 classified documents at his house in West Virginia but said he did so “because I needed to keep up my expertise that both the secretary and deputy secretary [of defense] — that is [Donald] Rumsfeld and [Paul] Wolfowitz — depended upon.
“I never showed a document, never gave a document to anyone ever,” he told The Times. “The only other illegality I performed was I talked — blurted out on May 20, 2004, over a phone call from CBS, from “60 Minutes.” They were doing a show on Chalabi, and I said: ‘Don’t ask me for any good news about Chalabi ‘cause he had just met with a nefarious Iranian who was guilty of killing Americans.’ ”
Mr. Cacheris, Franklin’s attorney, said that the FBI sought the guilty plea from Franklin because the Bureau hoped to use his testimony in its case against AIPAC and that it did not make any promises to him in exchange for the cooperation.
“Unfortunately, Larry wasn’t astute enough to find out during the time of his cooperation what was going to happen,” Mr. Cacheris said.
Franklin said he agreed to the plea deal because he hoped it would keep him out of jail so he could take care of his seriously ill wife. He thanked Mr. Cacheris for coming to his rescue in the case.
Once one of the U.S. government’s leading intelligence and policy analysts on Iran, Franklin said he does not favor using force to take out Iran’s nuclear program.
“I’m not in favor of an attack,” he said, noting that he wrote an internal paper in the late 1990s on Israel, Iran and nuclear weapons.
Franklin said U.S. policy should be “regime change without war,” and he had a list of eight or nine things that could be done to help the Iranian people overthrow that regime. He said he hopes to give some advice to President Obama or his staff on how to deal with Tehran.
Iran, he said, was able to put down recent protests over the disputed presidential election because the opposition forces do not have strong leaders and lack a cohesive ideology.
Franklin said the key to ousting the cleric-backed regime is for Iranians to launch a “Ghandi-esque” nationwide strike that would bring the ruling leadership to a standstill and prompt the regime to use force against the opposition.
“There are a couple of divisions of pasdarans [internal security troops] - whose names I can’t mention - who are trained just to do this,” he said, “to protect … the leadership center in Tehran. They would have to fire en masse on the people, and they are not confident enough to do this.
“And as soon as the people realize that there is a break in the will of the mullahs and the veterans of the Iran-Iraq war that are now in high positions in Iran, as soon as they sense there is a break in the will, it’s over.”