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.”