Israel Spy Scandal

Analyst Who Is Target of Probe Went to Israel (Thomas E. Ricks and Robin Wright, WaPo)

The FBI investigation into whether classified information was passed to the Israeli government is focused on a Pentagon analyst who has served as an Air Force reservist in Israel, and the probe has been broadened in recent days to include interviews at the State and Defense departments and with Middle Eastern affairs specialists outside government, officials and others familiar with the inquiry said yesterday. At the center of the investigation, sources said, is Lawrence A. Franklin, a career analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency who specializes in Iran and has served in the Air Force Reserve, rising to colonel. Early in the Bush administration, Franklin moved from the DIA to the Pentagon’s policy branch headed by Undersecretary Douglas J. Feith, where he continued his work on Iranian affairs.

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FBI officials have been quietly investigating for months whether Franklin gave classified information — which officials said included a draft of a presidential directive on U.S. policies toward Iran — to two Israeli lobbyists here who are alleged to have passed it on to the Israeli government. Officials said it was not yet clear whether the probe would become an espionage case or perhaps would result in lesser charges such as improper release of classified information or mishandling of government documents.

On Friday, Pentagon officials said Franklin was not in a position to have significant influence over U.S. policy. “The Defense Department has been cooperating with the Department of Justice for an extended period of time,” a Pentagon statement said. “It is the DOD’s understanding that the investigation within DOD is very limited in its scope.”

At the Pentagon and elsewhere in Washington yesterday, people touched by the case said they were baffled by aspects of it. Colleagues said they were stunned to hear Franklin was suspected of giving secret information to a foreign government. And foreign policy specialists said they were skeptical that the pro-Israel group under FBI scrutiny, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, would jeopardize its work with classified documents from a midlevel bureaucrat when it could find out almost anything it wanted to by calling top officials in the Bush administration. “The whole thing makes no sense to me,” said Dennis Ross, special envoy on the Arab-Israeli peace process in the first Bush administration and the Clinton presidency. “The Israelis have access to all sorts of people. They have access in Congress and in the administration. They have people who talk about these things,” said Ross, now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

This contrasts with the initial breathlessness of the reports, such as CNN’s Friday night story with the lead-in:

The FBI has evidence that a person who has been working at high levels in the Pentagon may be a spy for Israel, senior U.S. officials confirmed to CNN on Friday. The suspect could have been in a position to influence Bush administration policy toward Iran and Iraq, the senior official said.

Regardless, it’s not good. This is the second spy scandal in recent years involving Israel.

Command Post
has a good roundup of and some reaction to the early stories .

FILED UNDER: Intelligence, Middle East
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.