Pentagon analyst looks poised to fight U.S. espionage charges

Man is suspected of passing secrets to lobbyists for Israel

October 06, 2004|By Richard B. Schmitt | Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - A Pentagon analyst being investigated for allegedly passing secrets to Israel has stopped cooperating with authorities and retained a new lawyer to fight possible espionage charges, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.

The analyst, Larry Franklin, has been a key witness in a continuing FBI investigation looking into whether classified intelligence was passed to Israel by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential Washington lobbying group.

Franklin has been accused of passing the contents of a classified document about U.S. policy on Iran to two AIPAC officials, who in turn might have given the information to Israeli officials in Washington, sources have said.

Federal prosecutors had proposed an agreement under which Franklin would plead guilty to some of the charges. Such agreements usually are done in exchange for leniency and accompanied by a pledge of continued cooperation.

But sources said that Franklin has rejected a proposed deal because he believes the terms are too onerous. He recently replaced his court-appointed lawyer.

"It looks like there is going to be a battle," a source familiar with the case said.

FBI officials have not yet sought charges against Franklin or anyone else in the case, although the breakdown of plea negotiations would appear to raise the odds that he could be charged soon.

The scope of the investigation is believed to encompass a top diplomat at the Israeli Embassy in Washington; two high-ranking analysts at AIPAC; and the Pentagon office in which Franklin works as an Iran analyst, which is headed up by Defense Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith.

The case has attracted widespread attention because it spotlights U.S. relations with a longtime ally and raises questions about whether those relations have become too close in recent years.

Israel has become acutely sensitive to the growing nuclear capabilities of Iran, which it considers to be its most worrisome and deadly foe.

Both the Israeli government and AIPAC have denied that they engaged in any wrongdoing or were given unauthorized access to secrets.

A spokesman for Paul McNulty, the United States attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, whose office has been assigned the case, declined to comment on the matter.

A prominent Washington defense lawyer, Plato Cacheris, confirmed this week that he recently had been retained by Franklin.

"We consider him a loyal American who did not engage in any espionage activities," said Cacheris, the first person representing Franklin to speak out on his behalf since the investigation surfaced a month ago. "Any charge of espionage will be met with fierce resistance."

Cacheris has represented a number of accused turncoats, including CIA operative Aldrich Ames, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1994 after confessing to years of spying for the Soviet Union. Cacheris also represented former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert P. Hanssen, who also was convicted of passing secrets to the Soviets and who received a life sentence in 2002.

Cacheris' other clients have included Monica Lewinsky and Nixon administration Attorney General John Mitchell.

Some U.S. officials familiar with the investigation have said there is little hard evidence that Franklin intended to commit espionage and no hint that he was paid for any role he might have played.

U.S. officials believe there is more evidence that Franklin - described by colleagues and friends as diligent and thoughtful yet periodically unreliable and disorganized - might have handed over information without understanding the gravity of his actions.

During two decades at the Pentagon spent tracking threats, he was considered a journeyman analyst who often could be found in his office buried behind huge stacks of documents.

The classified information he is suspected of sharing included the contents of a draft version of a national security presidential directive, or NSPD, on Iran. The draft advocated measures the United States could take to help destabilize the regime in Tehran, a subject of intense interest to the Israelis.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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