JUSTICE DEPT. TO INDICT TWO AIPAC STAFFERS UNDER U.S. ESPIONAGE ACT
Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, 5/30/05
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Justice Department is expected to file
indictments against two former senior American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) staffers - Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman - and,
according to sources familiar with the affair, the charges will be
subsumed under the Espionage Act.
A Virginia grand jury is now examining the evidence in the case, which
involved receipt of classified defense information from Larry
Franklin, a Pentagon official, and its transfer to the representative
of a foreign country, Naor Gilon, of the Israeli embassy in Washington.
Sources involved in the case confirmed that the Espionage Act is on
the agenda. However, there is also the possibility that the Justice
Department is raising the intention to use that law with the purpose
of reaching a plea bargain concerning a lesser offense, albeit one
that is still covered by anti-espionage legislation in the U.S.
Presumably, if indeed such an indictment is filed against two former
top-level AIPAC staff members, then Gilon's name will come up, even
though he is not a suspect. Israeli officials say he was never
questioned in the affair. Gilon heads the political department at the
According to the sources, the grand jury will submit indictments
against Rosen, the former head of foreign policy for the lobbying
organization, and against Weissman, who was responsible for the
Iranian brief in AIPAC. The grand jury is expected to hand down its
indictment against Franklin this week. He is suspected of handing over
the classified information. That indictment is expected to be similar
to the criminal complaint already filed by the FBI.
The classified material is said to involve information about Iranian
intentions to harm American soldiers in Iraq, and it was supposedly
given to the two former AIPAC staffers during lunch in Virginia on
June 26, 2003.
But suspicions against Rosen and Weissman focus on a meeting a year
later, on July 12, 2004. Franklin was cooperating by then with the
FBI, which had threatened him with an indictment after tracking his
earlier meetings with the AIPAC men, discovering the alleged hand-over
of secret information. He agreed to take part in a sting operation in
which he would give the two information and the investigators would
then follow them.
Franklin called Weissman and asked for a meeting to discuss an
important subject. At the meeting, in a mall near the Pentagon,
Franklin told Weissman that Iranian agents were trying to capture
Israeli civilians working in the Kurdish area in northern Iraq. Around
the same time there had been conflicting reports in Washington about
an Israeli presence in Kurdish Iraq. Journalist Seymour Hersh of The
New Yorker had written that Israelis were operating there, but Israel
- and the Americans - denied it.
At the meeting, Franklin told Weissman that the information was
classified. This is significant in terms of the investigation, since
it prevents the AIPAC men from claiming in their defense that they did
not know they were dealing with state secrets.
Weissman left the meeting and went straight to Rosen's AIPAC office at
Capitol Hill. He said it was a matter of life or death, and that
Israeli lives were in immediate danger. The two made three phone
calls: to an administration official, to Glenn Kessler of The
Washington Post, and to Gilon, at the embassy. Rosen told Gilon about
the information and the Israeli official promised he would look into
it. All those calls were wiretapped by the FBI and are part of the
case against Rosen and Weissman.
Plato Cacheris, Franklin's lawyer, confirmed to The New York Sun this
weekend that his client indeed took part in the sting operation and
said that the investigators appealed to Franklin's sense of patriotism
to win him over.
The fact that Rosen and Weissman, as American citizens, handed
information to an official representative of a foreign power while
knowing it was classified is incriminating under the 1917 Espionage
Act, which defines as a crime receipt of classified information for
the purpose of helping any foreign entity.
The estimated 500 cases involving prosecution of this crime over the
last 90 years have always focused on the accused party initiating
receipt of the information and on the damage done to the U.S. as a
result. In this case, Franklin initiated the transferal of information
- and there is no clear-cut evidence regarding the damage done to the U.S.
Rosen, who was under FBI surveillance for at least four years, is now
planning his defense with the help of high-profile attorney Abby
Lowell. He does not want a plea bargain and prefers to fight it out in
court, so he can prove his innocence and go back to work for the lobby.
A decisive factor regarding the future of the case will be the extent
of the cooperation between Franklin and the investigators. If Franklin
depicts his relationship with Weissman and Rosen as close, and one in
which he was asked to provide information, it will help the
prosecution. Rosen and Weissman claim that the connection with him was
minimal and mostly involved trading professional assessments.
(Franklin met with Rosen three times, and more often with Weissman.)
But Franklin is not believed right now to be cooperating fully and he
faces two charges: one for handing over the information in 2003, and
the other for the illegal possession of 83 classified documents at his
home in West Virginia. The maximum punishment for each of the charges
is 10 years in prison. If he cooperates with the investigation, the
punishment could be significantly reduced.
AIPAC will presumably be discussed in the actual trials. But right
now, at least, it does not appear the organization itself will be
charged. AIPAC leaders have taken a series of steps to cut themselves
off from the two former officials suspected in the case. Sources close
to the case say the prosecution posed four conditions to AIPAC, which
would guarantee that it would not be involved in the indictments: a
change of working methods to ensure that such incidents don't happen
again; the firing of the two officials and public disassociation from
them; no offers of high compensation or anything else to make it
appear the two quit of their own volition; and no financing of their
AIPAC has abided by the first three conditions - and the severance pay
offered the two was considered very low, considering the many years
they worked for the lobby. But it is said to be helping with their
legal fees, indirectly, through its own law firm.
AIPAC's decision to cooperate with the investigators' demands and to
fire the two officials was made after it became evident that the FBI
had tape-recordings showing that Franklin explicitly said that the
material was secret. AIPAC's assessment was that it would be difficult
for the organization to continue working on Capitol Hill, and with the
administration, while two of its senior officials are facing such charges.
Although the inquiry is not focused on AIPAC, it is possible the
organization will be dragged into the affair when the trial begins. If
the two fired staffers are put in the dock, they will try to prove
that they only did what was routine and conventional work for their
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