Indictments point to conspiracy to leak U.S. secrets to Israel

Two former employees of lobbying group accused of passing information

August 05, 2005|By Richard B. Schmitt | Richard B. Schmitt,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Two former employees of the nation's most influential pro-Israel lobbying organization were indicted yesterday, accused of engaging in a five-year conspiracy to collect and disseminate U.S. defense secrets.

The five-count indictment provides details of encounters the two men had with former Pentagon analyst Lawrence A. Franklin, who was indicted on similar charges last month. But it paints a picture of a conspiracy that was broader than previously known, asserting that the one-time aides at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee also obtained information from two other unidentified government officials.

The men are alleged to have passed secrets, including classified information about al-Qaida and a draft presidential directive concerning U.S. policy toward Iran, to unnamed foreign government officials, believed to be employees of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, as well as to journalists.

The goal, prosecutors said yesterday, was to "influence persons within and outside the United States government."

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington said officials there had broken no laws. He also revealed that the Israeli government had begun to cooperate with federal investigators in the probe.

"We are fully confident in the professionalism of our diplomats. They conduct themselves in full accordance with diplomatic practice, and we have seen no information that would suggest anything to the contrary," said David Segal, the embassy spokesman. "The U.S. and Israel share a very strong relationship, and we would have no reason to resort to any wrongdoing. We have information-sharing at the highest levels on national security issues all the time."

Segal added that the embassy had been approached recently by the U.S. government and that "we have expressed our willingness to cooperate in the process, and contacts will continue."

The spy case has been a setback to the standing of AIPAC, one of the capital's most powerful lobbying groups, and has raised questions about the proper boundaries of sharing sensitive defense information with a close ally. Prosecutors said the case illustrated how a public official had betrayed a trust, and how private lobbyists had succumbed to the temptation of breaking the law to obtain information.

"When it comes to classified information, there is a clear line in the law," said Paul McNulty, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, where the grand jury indictment was unsealed yesterday. "Today's charges are about crossing that line."

McNulty said the investigation was continuing and did not rule out the possibility that others might be charged.

Named in the indictment were Steven J. Rosen, AIPAC`s longtime director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, a senior Middle East analyst. Both were charged with conspiring to "communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it." Rosen was separately charged with improperly communicating classified information.

The indictment also incorporates allegations in a previous indictment against Franklin that detailed his dealings with Rosen and Weissman without identifying them by name.

A spokesman for AIPAC, Patrick Dorton, said yesterday that both Rosen and Weissman had been dismissed by the lobbying group earlier this year "because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs and because their conduct did not comport in any way with the standards that AIPAC expects of its employees."

Rosen's lawyer, Abbe Lowell, called the federal charges "a misguided attempt to criminalize the public's right to participate in the political process." John Nassikas, an attorney for Weissman, described his client as "an honest, respected foreign policy analyst and Middle East expert" who was looking forward to contesting the charges in court.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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