WASHINGTON - A Pentagon analyst charged with mishandling classified information at first cooperated with an FBI probe of two lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee when he allowed the bureau to surveil a meeting with Aipac lobbyist Keith Weissman in July 2004.
Plato Cacheris, the lawyer for the Pentagon Iran analyst Lawrence Franklin, told The New York Sun yesterday that the FBI persuaded his client to set up a meeting with Mr. Weissman on July 9, 2004, before being threatened with jail time. "They appealed to his sense of patriotism, and he cooperated," Mr. Cacheris said in an interview.
The charges against the two lobbyists, Mr. Weissman and Steven Rosen, will hang on their July 9, 2004, meeting with Mr. Franklin when he allegedly shared information verbally with Mr. Weissman - while under FBI surveillance - that American soldiers and Israeli agents in northern Iraq were under threat from Iranian Revolutionary Guard units. Mr. Rosen, after receiving the information from his colleague, Mr. Weissman, then allegedly shared it with the Israeli Embassy and the Washington Post. Sources familiar with the FBI's case said that the Justice Department is prepared to charge that Mr. Rosen passed the classified information on to the embassy and the newspaper.
Until August 2004, Mr. Franklin was unaware that the FBI was prepared to charge him with a crime, Mr. Cacheris said. It was after he voluntarily told the bureau that he had kept 83 classified documents at his home in West Virginia and had agreed to convey the intelligence to Mr. Weissman that the FBI said that it would press charges and arranged for a court-appointed attorney for Mr. Franklin. Originally, the bureau, according to Mr. Cacheris, asked Mr. Franklin to plead guilty to espionage, specifically under section 794 of the U.S. Code for crimes of "gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government." Notorious Soviet spy Aldridge Ames was charged under this section of the U.S. Code, which carries a maximum penalty of execution or life in prison.
Mr. Franklin sought Mr. Cacheris out, the lawyer said, after he was asked to admit that he was a spy. Mr. Cacheris, who represented Mr. Ames as well as Monica Lewinsky, agreed to take the case free of charge. "I feel the government is overreaching in this case. I think he's a patriot and a loyal American who intends no harm to this country," Mr. Cacheris said.
Following Mr. Cacheris's agreement to defend Mr. Franklin, the bureau offered a deal whereby Mr. Franklin would plead guilty to the lesser charge of mishandling classified material, or section 793 of the U.S. Code. The lesser charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Mr. Cacheris said he refused the deal and that he intends to take the case to trial. Despite turning down the offer and ceasing to cooperate with the FBI, Mr. Franklin was charged with only mishandling, not espionage, on Tuesday.
Mr. Cacheris likened Mr. Franklin's conduct to that of a former national security adviser, Samuel Berger, who was recently charged with a misdemeanor for stealing documents from the National Archives in his socks, and a former CIA director, John Deutsch, who had taken classified material to his home. In both these cases, Messrs. Berger and Deutsch were charged with misdemeanors. "We don't think Mr. Franklin's conduct was any more egregious," Mr. Cacheris said.
Mr. Cacheris told the Sun yesterday that he believed the FBI did not originally intend to investigate Mr. Franklin. "We believe there was a pre-existing investigation that Larry Franklin is not involved in," he said yesterday. While Mr. Cacheris refused to discuss the details of the meetings, other sources familiar with the case told the Sun that Mr. Franklin first approached Messrs. Rosen and Weissman in February or March 2003 for a meeting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City, Va., with the intention of passing on threat information regarding Iran's plans for American soldiers in Iraq.
According to one source familiar with the case, Mr. Franklin was told by an aide to an undersecretary of defense, Douglas Feith, that the two Aipac lobbyists could get the threat information to the National Security Council. Mr. Rosen, in particular, has a reputation for high-level contacts with policy-makers in the executive branch. According to sources familiar with the case, the three men at this 2003 meeting discussed passing the threat information to National Security Council official Elliott Abrams.
By March 2003, the Bush administration had decided to work with Iranian-sponsored opposition groups to build an interim government in Baghdad. Indeed, the recently elected prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, was initially a leader of an Iranian-supported party, Dawa, and was included in the first Iraqi Governing Council. At the same time, American envoys were holding intensive negotiations about Iraq with the Iranians under the auspices of a U.N. multicountry group designed to coordinate Afghanistan policy.
These developments, according to Mr. Franklin's former colleagues and other government officials, worried the Pentagon analyst, who, in turn, attempted to reverse what he saw as a disastrous policy decision. Mr. Franklin had, in his work on Iran at the Pentagon in late 2001, identified what one source described as "Iranian hunter-killer teams" in Afghanistan that were threatening American Special Forces. By the spring of 2003, he believed American forces in Iraq would be under a similar threat from units of Iran's Revolutionary Guard and that this information had to get to the White House.
On June 26, 2003, Mr. Franklin held a second lunch with Messrs. Weissman and Rosen and discussed, among other things, developments in the formation of an Iran policy paper and new threats he had learned about in Iraq. In that meeting, Mr. Cacheris said he provided the two lobbyists with a list of events and names of Iranian officials that he had compiled personally elaborating the threat to American soldiers. "No classified documents were passed," Mr. Cacheris said. "A list of events and names on Iran and Iraq was passed in the June 2003 meeting." Mr. Cacheris emphasized that this list was neither a classified nor official document.
Mr. Franklin would not meet with Mr. Weissman again for more than a year, when he would meet him in northern Virginia under FBI surveillance on July 9. A grand jury convening in Alexandria, Va., is expected to release a formal indictment of Mr. Franklin today.