The computer hard drive of a senior official at a pro-Israel lobbying group, the focus of an FBI investigation into the suspected release by a Pentagon analyst of classified information on Iran that went to Israel, has been copied by FBI agents investigating the leak, law enforcement authorities confirmed yesterday.
Agents copied the hard drive after interviews with American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s Steven Rosen, longtime director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, an Iran analyst, on AIPAC’s contacts with Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin, authorities said.
Mr. Franklin, a career civil servant, specialized in Iranian affairs within the policy branch of the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Donald H. Rumsfeld. Mr. Franklin is suspected of passing classified information about U.S. policy on Iran to AIPAC, which reportedly passed on the information to Israeli officials.
Authorities said FBI agents copied the hard drive of a computer used by Mr. Rosen. AIPAC officials also provided agents with other documents, they said. The hard drive search was first reported by the Jerusalem Post.
AIPAC, which consistently has ranked among the most powerful special-interest groups in the United States, has denied wrongdoing, saying any suspicion of criminal misconduct by the organization or its employees was “false and baseless.”
“AIPAC is cooperating fully with the governmental authorities,” the group’s statement said. “It has provided documents and information to the government and has made staff available for interviews. We will continue to offer our full cooperation and are confident the government will find absolutely no wrongdoing.”
Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman were not available for comment. Mr. Franklin, who has been on sick leave, also was unavailable.
The Israel Embassy has denied receiving classified information from Mr. Franklin or anyone else.
The FBI investigation began more than two years ago, authorities said, adding that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, were informed almost immediately.
No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made, although several White House, Pentagon and State Department officials, including Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy, have been interviewed or briefed by FBI agents in the ongoing probe.
U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in Northern Virginia, whose office oversees the investigation, will make the final determination whether any charges are to be brought, authorities said.
AIPAC thinks it is likely that Iran will have within a few years nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them and has lobbied Congress as well as the White House to “contain Iran and to expand U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation to build a defense against this threat.”
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who was briefed Sunday about the probe by Deputy Attorney General James Comey, said Wednesday that the United States will call for possible U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran in response to a concerted effort by Tehran to develop nuclear weapons. He said the United States will urge the Security Council at a Sept. 13 meeting to consider political, economic or diplomatic action.
The AIPAC interviews occurred Friday, but were left unfinished when Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman wanted a lawyer to represent them and for him to be present during any further questioning. They have since hired Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell.
It was not certain yesterday when the interview would resume. The FBI has declined comment, and Mr. Lowell did not return calls to his office.
Meanwhile, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called yesterday for an investigation. In a letter to Committee Chairman Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, he said the accusation that a “rogue element of the United States government” may have worked with a foreign government in possible contravention of foreign policy was “a grave matter that should be of concern to every American.”