An FBI investigation into alleged Israeli espionage against the United States and the possibility a pro-Israel lobby group was involved in passing classified U.S data to Tel Aviv has intensified because a confessed Pentagon spy has stopped cooperating with federal law enforcement officials, U.S. government sources said.
Larry Franklin, a Pentagon analyst in the Near East and South Asia office who worked for the Defense Department's Office of Special Plans confessed last August to federal agents he had held meetings with a contact from the Israeli government during which he passed a highly classified document on U.S. policy toward Iran, these sources said. The document advocated support for Iranian dissidents, covert actions to destabilize the Iranian government, arming opponents of the Islamic regime, propaganda broadcasts into Iran, and other programs, these sources said.
The FBI was also interested in finding out if Franklin was involved or could name any Pentagon colleagues who were involved in passing to Israel certain data about National Security Agency intercepts, these sources said.
Franklin was caught quite by accident last summer as part of a larger investigation, these sources said.
In 2001, the FBI discovered new, "massive" Israeli spying operations in the East Coast, including New York and New Jersey, said one former senior U.S. government official. The FBI began intensive surveillance on certain Israeli diplomats and other suspects and was videotaping Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, who was having lunch at a Washington hotel with two lobbyists from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group. Federal law enforcement officials said they were floored when Franklin came up to their table and sat down.
The FBI confronted Franklin in August 2004, and there seemed to be progress on the case, but after Franklin hired Washington lawyer Plato Cacheris, Franklin's cooperation abruptly ceased, federal law enforcement officials said. The turnabout apparently infuriated the FBI, former federal law enforcement officials said. Franklin could not be reached for comment.
Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism chief, who has good ties with law enforcement officials said, "The FBI was extremely displeased."
An FBI consultant told United Press International: "The FBI were hopping mad. The FBI had been kicked very hard in their macho. They are very, very macho."
On Dec. 1, FBI agents visited the AIPAC offices in Washington and seized the hard drives and files of Steven Rosen, director of research, and Keith Weissman, deputy director of foreign policy issues.
The FBI also served subpoenas on AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, Managing Director Richard Fishman, Communications Director Renee Rothstein, and Research Director Raphael Danziger.
All are suspected of having acted as "cut outs" or intermediaries who passed highly sensitive U.S. data from high-level Pentagon and administration officials to Israel, said one former federal law enforcement official.
One current FBI consultant said Rosen's name had first been given to the FBI in 1986, along with 70 possible incidents of Israeli espionage against the United States. No action was taken against him, this source said. Rosen's attorney did not return phone calls.
AIPAC has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the affair. In a public statement, the group said its continuing access to the White House and senior administration officials would be "inconceivable...if any shred of evidence of disloyalty oar even negligence on AIPAC's part" had been discovered.
At the time of Franklin's arrest, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, repeated his government's denials, saying on CNN: "I can tell you here, very authoritatively, very categorically, Israel does not spy on the United States."
Another Israeli government statement referred to America as "a deeply cherished ally."
But a former federal law enforcement official said Israeli spying against the United States had been "widespread" for many years, and that during the Cold War, Israeli penetration of U.S. operations was second "only to the Soviet Union."
"Few people realize that the Israeli Counterintelligence Desk at the Bureau was second in size only to the CI Soviet desk," he said.
A former very senior CIA counterintelligence official told UPI that in 1998-99, the CIA discovered an Israeli couple, who were subcontracted to a U.S. phone company, were working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.
"They did incredible damage -- they got incredibly sensitive data, including key words identifying individuals or projects," this source said, adding he himself gave the case to the FBI.
Perhaps the most notorious Israeli operation was the recruitment of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former U.S. Navy analyst, who was convicted in U.S. federal court and sentenced to life in prison for selling military documents to Israel. UPI reported in 1987, quoting FBI officials, the FBI had traced stolen Pollard data up into the Eastern Bloc where it was traded in return for the Soviet Union raising the emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel.