September 3, 2004
Pro-Israel Lobby Said to Have Been Inquiry Target
By DAVID JOHNSTON and DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 - The inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation into whether a Pentagon analyst passed classified information to Israel grew out of a longstanding covert national security inquiry into the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, people who have been officially briefed on the matter said Thursday.
In the course of the investigation, the F.B.I. secretly gathered detailed information about two employees of the group, known as Aipac, monitored their home telephones and trailed their movements after receiving information that the group was suspected of communicating secrets to Israel, according to those who were briefed. Precisely when the investigation began remains murky. Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, were told about it early in the Bush administration, perhaps two years ago or more.
So far, no one has been charged with any wrongdoing. In a statement on Thursday, Aipac said that the group had "yet to be told by the authorities what the nature of their inquiry into the activities of Aipac or its employees actually are."
The emerging view that Aipac is at the center of the case contrasts with some initial reports that suggested that the inquiry began with Lawrence A. Franklin, the Pentagon analyst who is suspected of turning over classified material to two Aipac employees.
But according to the people briefed on the case, Mr. Franklin was unknown to investigators and did not fall under suspicion until after he was observed at a meeting with Aipac officials who were already under surveillance.
The identification of Mr. Franklin as a Pentagon employee appeared to be a highly significant development in the evolution of the inquiry, particularly after investigators concluded that the information he was thought to have provided to Aipac officials included a draft presidential policy directive related to Iran.
Most of the information in the draft was known inside and outside the administration to people who closely followed the issue, including Aipac, which regards Iran as an important policy matter. But the information was more relevant to investigators because it helped establish specific grounds for possible criminal charges.
Mr. Franklin is a career defense analyst who works in the office of Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy. Mr. Franklin is one of two desk officers who specialize in Iran in a policy unit responsible for issues related to the Persian Gulf. Efforts to contact him have been unsuccessful. Friends have said that he did not violate the law.
In terms of the investigation, Mr. Franklin apparently provided the legal basis for investigators to convert what had been a national security inquiry, meant to collect intelligence about suspected wrongdoing by a foreign power, to a criminal inquiry in which prosecutors gather evidence to use against defendants in court.
Under the law, counterintelligence inquiries assemble information under lower standards than criminal investigations, in which prosecutors cannot, for example, obtain a search warrant or court order for a wiretap on a telephone without showing there is specific and credible information to believe that a subject violated the law.
When F.B.I. agents went to Aipac's offices on Friday, they searched the office of Steven Rosen, the organization's director of policy issues, and copied the hard drive of his computer. Agents also met briefly and routinely with the group's executive director, Howard Kohr, who was asked about Aipac's structure, people who have been officially briefed on the matter said.
Aipac has said that the suspicions against the group and its officials are groundless. In its statement on Thursday, Aipac said it appeared that the lengthy counterintelligence investigation into the group's activities turned up no wrongdoing because several senior Bush administration officials had met in recent years with Aipac.
Meetings between Aipac and administration and Congressional committees, including members of the intelligence committees, provided "substantial vindication of Aipac's loyalty and trustworthiness," the group said.