Saturday, August 28, 2004

The FBI is investigating a senior Pentagon official who is suspected of passing classified information to the Israeli government through a pro-Israel lobbying group, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The probe is focusing on whether the senior official, who has not been identified by name, disclosed classified information related to White House policy toward Iran.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the suspected mole works in the office of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy who is considered one of the top three officials in the Pentagon.

One U.S. official said the FBI had unconfirmed information that Mr. Feith supplied information to Israel in the 1980s. However, the officials declined to provide further information citing the ongoing investigation. It could not be learned whether arrests are expected in the case.

But a third official, also speaking anonymously, said an arrest could come as early as next week.

If the charges of a Pentagon mole are confirmed, the case would be the first Israeli intelligence-gathering effort against the United States exposed since the spy case involving Navy analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard, who pleaded guilty to passing highly classified information to the Jewish state in 1985.

Officials confirmed details of the probe after it was first reported by CBS News, Associated Press and Reuters news agency.

The reports quoted U.S. law enforcement officials as saying the suspected mole within the Pentagon supplied documents and information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential, pro-Israeli lobbying group in Washington.

Two persons within AIPAC are said to have been the recipients of the information, which was passed on to Israel’s government.

Israel is focused intently on Iran because the Islamic government in Tehran has declared Israel an avowed enemy.

A senior Iranian defense official recently said that Iran had weapons that could knock out Israel’s nuclear complex at Dimona.

Bush administration officials have said tensions are rising between Israel and Iran and there are concerns that Israel may conduct a military strike on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor, which is being built with Russian assistance, but which has not been supplied with nuclear fuel.

One official said the suspected Pentagon spy supplied Israel with a draft presidential directive relating to U.S. policy toward Iran.

Critics of Mr. Feith have said that he and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz are pro-Israel “neoconservatives” who sway U.S. policy, including policy on Iraq, favoring Israel.

Supporters of Mr. Feith and Mr. Wolfowitz have dismissed the criticism as anti-Semitic.

Officials said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been notified about the investigation.

An AIPAC official told CBS News that the organization cooperating with the government in the investigation and has hired lawyers. AIPAC denied any wrongdoing by the organization or any of its employees.

At the Israeli Embassy, a spokesman said: “We categorically deny these allegations. They are completely false and outrageous.”

The Pollard case was considered a major counterintelligence breakthrough for the FBI in 1985, which had been seeing indications of Israeli intelligence gathering for years but had been limited from taking action.

The Israeli intelligence services have worked closely with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies for decades and have provided valuable information on international terrorism. However, the Pollard case led to temporary disruption in U.S.-Israeli intelligence sharing.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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