FBI agents thought they were hunting a spy for Israel in 2004 when they sought to raid the offices of a top lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), according to a search warrant affidavit obtained by The Washington Times.
The 27-page document, which is still under court seal, provides an extraordinary look at what the agents considered to be espionage activity in a nearly five-year counterintelligence probe of one of the pro-Israel lobby’s top officials.
It also shows that the everyday activities of diplomats, lobbyists and reporters — namely, meeting with U.S. officials, taking notes and then trading that information with other officials — was considered spying by the bureau.
In addition, the AIPAC investigation has had a lasting effect on U.S.-Israel relations: The FBI blocked Israel’s current national security adviser from entering the United States between 2007 and 2009 on grounds that he had met with a secondary target of the probe.
According to the search warrant affidavit, agents thought Steven J. Rosen, then-director of foreign-policy issues for AIPAC, was collecting classified U.S. information from government officials and passing it on to American reporters and Israeli officials.
“Based upon my training and experience as an counterintelligence investigator, I believe Rosen is collecting U.S. government sensitive and classified information, not only as part of his employment at AIPAC, but as an agent of Country 1,” FBI agent Eric Lurie wrote in the affidavit.
Country 1 refers to Israel, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the investigation.
The probe resulted in only one conviction: Lawrence A. Franklin, a Pentagon analyst whom the FBI coaxed into offering Mr. Rosen and his AIPAC colleague, Keith Weissman, classified data about Iran as part of a sting. Franklin pleaded guilty in 2006 to three counts of mishandling classified information.
‘Part of the work’
Among the potential crimes Mr. Lurie focused on in the search warrant affidavit was a section of the Espionage Act dealing with “gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government.”
The list of items to be seized included “safety deposit box records, including signature cards, bills and payment records” and “any and all copies of classified documents, books, reports, photographic negatives, blueprints, plans, maps, models and notes,” according to the warrant.
In a recent interview, Mr. Rosen told The Times that the FBI’s claim about the documents was false. The documents discussed in the warrant were academic papers the CIA sent him as preparation for a conference he attended. “The CIA sent me those documents at their own behest,” he said.