This could turn out to be nothing much, or it could be a major scandal that ends up affecting U.S. relations with Israel. The emerging Larry Franklin-AIPAC story bears watching because it could signify an organized effort to affect U.S. policy in the Middle East — perfectly legitimate — that veered over the edge of legality.
Last September the FBI let it be known it was investigating Franklin, a mid-level employee with the Department of Defense’s Office of Special Plans. The OSP had acquired a reputation for interpreting intelligence in ways that justified invading Iraq.
Then in May, Franklin was charged with passing classified information to two employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying outfit, and officials of a foreign government. Perhaps Franklin, known to be a strong neoconservative supporter of Israel, had let his enthusiasm lead him to disclose some classified material.
The indictment Thursday of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, the two AIPAC staffers in question, moves the case to a new level of interest.
The FBI has been interested in the activities of the two men since before Franklin came on the scene. According to the indictment, they didn’t meet Franklin until February 2003, but the first alleged “overt act” occurred in 1999, when Rosen met an unnamed “Foreign Official 1.”
Rosen and Weissman are accused of meeting with three different Israeli officials and passing along classified information, of meeting with at least two U.S. government officials before they ever met Larry Franklin, and of passing classified information to the news media.
Has the FBI been tracking and wiretapping Rosen since 1999? Was that intrusive surveillance or keen tracking of the systematic leaking of classified information? Again, we’ll wait to see what comes out at trial. But it looks like it could turn into a troubling contretemps between the United States and Israel.