Friday, September 3, 2004

Press leaks describing an FBI investigation into questions of whether a Pentagon analyst handed over classified Defense Department documents on Iran that were passed to Israel may have derailed the bureau probe, law enforcement authorities said yesterday.

“The investigation sort of evaporated when the leaks started,” said one source familiar with the inquiry. “Investigators were watching the activities of a few people and now they know they’re being watched. It has become a nightmare.”

The FBI surveillance is believed to have focused on Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin, who specialized in Iranian affairs within the policy branch of the Office of the Secretary of Defense under Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, officials at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israeli lobby.

Mr. Rosen is AIPAC’s foreign policy director and Mr. Weissman serves as an analyst specializing in Iran.

The surveillance also is believed to have targeted Naor Gilon, a political adviser at the Israeli Embassy here. On one occasion, the authorities said, Mr. Gilon was observed having lunch with an AIPAC official when they were joined by Mr. Franklin.

Mr. Franklin is suspected of passing classified information about U.S. policy on Iran to AIPAC, which reportedly passed the information to Israeli officials, the authorities said.

AIPAC, which said it is cooperating in the FBI probe, and the Israeli Embassy have denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Weissman have not been available for comment. Mr. Franklin also has been unavailable.

The authorities yesterday also questioned published reports saying the FBI probe had widened to include questions on whether Pentagon officials also passed classified information to former Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, who fell out of favor with the U.S. government.

The Washington Post said yesterday that the suspected transfer of Pentagon information to Mr. Chalabi was a part of the investigation, although the authorities said they were skeptical of the report.

In May, Iraqi officials raided Mr. Chalabi’s Baghdad compound, finding U.S. intelligence material. U.S. officials confirmed a month later that the FBI was investigating whether a government employee provided Mr. Chalabi with intelligence data that he later gave to Iran. A U.S. intelligence official said at the time that the unauthorized disclosure probe was focusing on officials in Baghdad.

Several news organizations, quoting anonymous U.S. officials, said Mr. Chalabi told the Iranian intelligence chief in Baghdad that the United States had cracked Iran’s communication codes and was intercepting its messages. The Iranian supposedly transmitted the information to Tehran by electronic communication that was intercepted and decoded by U.S. intelligence.

The message said Mr. Chalabi learned of the code-breaking from an intoxicated American official. The intercepted message, which was closely held by the White House National Security Council, was viewed with suspicion at the time at the Pentagon. Mr. Chalabi has dismissed the reports as false.

The FBI began the Franklin probe more than two years ago, authorities said. No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made. Among those interviewed is Douglas J. Feith, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for policy.

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in Northern Virginia, whose office is overseeing the investigation, will decide whether charges are to be brought, authorities said. He reportedly told the FBI this week that because of the leaks it needed to put its case together by next week or move on.

The information released to Iranian officials, according to the authorities, included a memo written for Mr. Feith in which some Pentagon officials urged the Bush administration to overthrow the Iranian regime and to consider military strikes on that country’s emerging nuclear weapons program.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said this week that the United States would press the U.N. Security Council on Monday for sanctions against Iran in response to concerted effort by that country to develop nuclear weapons.

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