- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

EXCLUSIVE:

A long-running FBI espionage probe of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington appears to have been motivated in part by anti-Semitism, says a former Pentagon official who revealed this week he had cooperated for 10 weeks with federal agents conducting the probe.

Larry Franklin, a former Pentagon analyst who pleaded guilty in 2005 to revealing classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), made the charge in an interview with The Washington Times, his first conversation with an American newspaper since his arrest five years ago.

Franklin said in that interview that he became disturbed by several apparently anti-Semitic remarks by his FBI handlers. His cooperation with the agency, which involved taping his conversations with officials of AIPAC and the Israeli Embassy, was first reported by the Times on Wednesday.

“One agent said to me, ‘How can an Irish Catholic from the Bronx get mixed up with all these …,’ and I finished the sentence for him: ‘Jews?’ And I proceeded to tell him that Christ and all the Apostles and even his mom were Jewish,” Franklin said in the interview.

“So it was that sort of thing. And just sarcastic turns of the phrase from time to time. You know, I felt dirty sometimes,” he said.

FBI Assistant Director John Miller declined to address the charges of anti-Semitism.

“We have no way to respond to thirdhand characterizations of partial statements allegedly made by unnamed FBI employees several years ago,” Mr. Miller said. “If Mr. Franklin would like to make a formal complaint about the conduct of any FBI employee, there is a process to do.”

Franklin, a prominent Iran analyst with the Defense Department before his arrest, said he did not want to tarnish the FBI, and noted that he had come to know many valorous FBI agents in the process of working with the agency on Iran issues and other matters.

“But that [anti-Semitism] dimension was part of this investigation and may have been an initial incitement of this investigation,” he said.

During the AIPAC probe, Franklin said, FBI agents whom he declined to identify by name “asked me about every Jew I knew in [the office of the secretary of defense]. There was an element of that.”

Several Jews held prominent positions in the department at the time, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

Both were associated with the “neoconservative” faction in the Bush administration that supported close U.S. ties with Israel and was accused by critics of having exercised undue influence on President Bush and his top aides leading up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Franklin said he is a “practicing Catholic” and opposes prejudice. “I guess I embraced Pope John Paul II’s view that the Jewish people are our elder brothers, and there was never any prejudice in my family and should not be in my faith,” he said.

The FBI investigation targeted AIPAC lobbyists Steven B. Rosen and Keith Weissman as well Naor Gilon, an official at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Franklin said he wore a portable recording device during meetings with two of the officials during a 10-week period in 2004.

The agency later informed Franklin that it intended to prosecute him and advised him to retain an attorney. The Pentagon analyst was eventually sentenced to almost 13 years in prison but had the sentence reduced to probation after charges were dropped against Mr. Weissman and Mr. Rosen this year.

Franklin, during the interview at the office of his attorney, Plato Cacheris, said he learned while working as a double agent for the FBI that the bureau had been investigating AIPAC and Mr. Rosen, its former policy director, since at least the 1990s, although he did not learn the specifics of the probe.

An AIPAC spokesman declined to comment.

Former U.S. counterintelligence officials have said the FBI has aggressively pursued Israeli intelligence-gathering in the United States since the arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a Navy intelligence analyst caught during the 1980s passing classified documents to Israel.

The officials said the FBI thinks Pollard, who is serving a life prison term, was part of a larger Israeli spy ring operating inside the U.S. government and that it was led by a “Mr. X.” No such spymaster has ever been uncovered.

The FBI complaint in the AIPAC case, signed by FBI counterintelligence agent Catherine Hanna, said the FBI thought Franklin committed espionage by talking with two people about highly classified information on potential attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. The FBI said it also thought Franklin disclosed classified information improperly to a foreign official and the news media.

The May 2005 indictment stated that Franklin held meetings with Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman and had sought to secure a White House job on the staff of the National Security Council.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent and supervisor I.C. Smith said anti-Semitism in pursuing Israeli spying was “not my experience” during a lengthy career in the FBI.

“There was a great deal of frustration within the FBI in dealing with the Israelis,” Mr. Smith said. “In my time in the Intelligence Division [later the National Security Division], the Israelis displayed a very real arrogance and with their constant contacts on Capitol Hill, they showed a confidence that they could do just about anything they wanted to do, and they could.”

He said the Pollard case, in which Israel ran a clandestine agent in the U.S. intelligence community, was “simply shameful” and not in keeping with Israel’s role as a staunch U.S. ally.

In another case, Mr. Smith said, a Jewish presidential appointee was found during an FBI background check to have “very real problems” related to Israeli interests, but the White House ignored the FBI and went ahead with the appointment.

But, he said, “This frustration the FBI had with the Israelis did not cross over into anti-Semitism, at least in my experience.”

Mr. Smith also said he was troubled by the FBI using Franklin as an informant and then prosecuting him.

“When I was in the FBI, it was ingrained that one would go to great lengths to protect sources, not prosecute them,” he said.

A former U.S. counterintelligence official familiar with the AIPAC case said the case was handled “extremely carefully” from the beginning.

“The case was handled by numerous agents and supervisors over a period of time, so the allegations of anti-Semitism are either wildly out of line, or a large portion of the bureau is anti-Semitic, which would come as a great surprise to a very large number of Jewish agents and analysts,” said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the case.

The official said the case was an investigation of “systemic leaking,” more than a major Israeli spying case, and that it was influenced by the political clout of AIPAC in Washington.

“AIPAC is powerful … and even if it weren’t, investigations that focus on or around a First Amendment activity have significant oversight to ensure that no boundaries are crossed,” the official said.

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