Monday, August 30, 2004

Two senior Pentagon officials were briefed Sunday on the investigation of a midlevel analyst suspected of passing classified information to Israel, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, were asked by FBI agents during the briefing whether the information involved in the case was authorized for transfer to the Israeli government, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The FBI investigation is focusing on Lawrence A. Franklin, a career defense analyst involved in Iran policy.

Mr. Franklin, who is cooperating with the probe, is under investigation for discussing information from a classified draft policy directive on Iran with representatives of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group that is suspected of passing it on to the government of Israel.

Both AIPAC and the Israeli government have denied receiving any classified documents. An Israeli diplomat said there has been no formal or informal approach to his government about the matter. Also, there has been disruption in information-sharing between the United States and Israel, the diplomat said.

The Defense Department said Saturday that the Pentagon “has been cooperating with the Department of Justice on this matter for an extended period of time,” and characterized the investigation as “limited in its scope.”

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that the department will cooperate fully with the investigation.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell “made clear at [yesterday’s] … staff meeting to all the senior staff that we cooperate in any way we could with any requests that may come from the investigators,” Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Powell discussed the issue with Deputy Attorney General James Comey over the weekend, Mr. Boucher said.

Officials said yesterday that Mr. Franklin was not in a position to influence U.S. policy toward Iran or Iraq. “He was a desk officer six levels removed from Feith,” one official said.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told reporters that the spying accusations are false. “There is no truth whatsoever in the claims that Israel spied, or in any way acted against our great friend and ally, the United States,” he said.

The United States and Israel have long-standing arrangements to share highly classified policy and intelligence information.

Law enforcement officials yesterday said it was not clear if the Franklin probe would ultimately lead to an arrest.

One senior intelligence official said FBI counterintelligence officials are divided over whether the purported activities by Mr. Franklin amount to espionage or the lesser crime of mishandling classified data.

“If the FBI had a case, he would have been arrested,” this official said, blaming the disclosure of the probe — first reported Friday by CBS News — on politics within the FBI or Congress.

The disclosure appeared timed to embarrass the Bush administration on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the official said.

Another person familiar with the investigation said Mr. Franklin began working with the FBI several weeks ago in an effort to learn how Israeli intelligence cooperated with AIPAC, but public disclosure of the probe has undermined the national security investigation.

The senior intelligence official said Israel is not known to have engaged in espionage against the United States since the 1985 case of Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard, now serving a life prison term for passing U.S. intelligence to Israel.

Mr. Franklin could not be reached for comment, but the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv reported yesterday that Mr. Franklin met a senior Israeli diplomat, Naor Gilon, who was head of the Israeli Embassy political section.

Law enforcement authorities yesterday confirmed that both Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Feith were briefed on the case, which began more than a year ago. Authorities also said officials at AIPAC have agreed to cooperate in the FBI investigation.

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