August 27, 2004
The FBI investigation.
From War and Piece
For months, I have been working with my colleagues Paul Glastris and Josh Marshall on a story for the Washington Monthly about pre-war intelligence. In particular, the component I have been focusing on involves a particular series of meetings involving officials from the office of the undersecretary of defense for Policy Doug Feith and Iranian dissidents.
As part of our reporting, I have come into possession of information that points to an official who is the most likely target of the FBI investigation into who allegedly passed intelligence on deliberations on US foreign policy to Iran to officials with the pro-Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, as alleged by the CBS report. That individual is Larry Franklin, a veteran DIA Iran analyst seconded to Feith’s office.
Here is what I was told in the days before the FBI investigation came to light.
A source told me that some time in July, Larry Franklin called him and asked him to meet him in a coffee shop in Northern Virginia. Franklin had intelligence on hostile Iranian activities in Iraq and was extremely frustrated that he did not feel this intelligence was getting the attention and response it deserved. The intelligence included information that the Iranians had called all of their intelligence operatives who speak Arabic to southern Iraq, that it had moved their top operative for Afghanistan, a guy named Qudzi, to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, that its operatives were targeting Iraqi state oil facilities, and that Iranian agents were infiltrating into northern Iraq to target the Israelis written about in a report by Seymour Hersh. According to my source, Franklin passed the information to the individual from AIPAC with the hope it could reach people at higher levels of the US government who would act on it. AIPAC presented the information to Elliot Abrams in the NSC. They also presented the part that involved Israelis who might be targeted to the Israelis, with the motivation to protect Israeli lives.
A couple weeks ago, my source told me, he was visited by two agents of the FBI, who were asking about Franklin. My source couldn’t tell if Franklin was being investigated for possible wrongdoing, or if the FBI was visiting him because Franklin required some sort of higher level security clearance or clearance renewal, perhaps in order to get some sort of new position or posting abroad. My source soon after ran into another official from Feith's office, the polyglot Middle East expert and Bernard Lewis protege, Harold Rhode. My source mentioned the FBI meeting and asked Rhode if Franklin was in trouble. “It’s not clear,” Rhode allegedly told my source.
[Indeed, I have since learned that Rhode has been interviewed by the FBI, but not, allegedly, as a subject of the investigation.]
A second source I met with this past week told me another story. A couple weeks ago, he got called by a consultant to the Pentagon he knows. A small group of Air Force reservists who speak Persian were being trained by the Pentagon at a camp in Virginia in a kind of Iran immersion course, that involved not only language immersion, but “how to play Iranian card games.” The consultant called my second source, an Iran expert, to see if this small elite group could meet with him. He said among the group of four that was supposed to come was Larry Franklin. Franklin in fact did not come, but sent his regrets in a note. My second source said by the way he was terribly impressed with the Iranian language skills that the group that did come possessed.
When the news broke tonight on CBS about the FBI investigation, I tried to get in touch with my first source. But when he answered his phone, he said he couldn’t talk, there were attorneys involved and he wasn’t free to discuss the case.
It’s no secret that some prominent neoconservative officials like Doug Feith, Vice Presidential advisor David Wurmser, and the former Defense Policy Board chair Richard Perle are sympathetic to the government of Ariel Sharon and the Likud government. Feith, Wurmser and Perle co-authored the paper, A Clean Break, which advocated that Israel abandon the Oslo peace process. But Franklin, although a passionate advocate of regime change in Iran, is not really among them. From modest beginnings, Franklin reportedly put himself through school, earned a PhD, and is now the Pentagon’s top Iran analyst. It would be an irony if he were to be the target of an investigation into passing US intelligence to Israel.
A friend points out one other irony is that what the Pentagon official is alleged in the CBS report to have passed to AIPAC and the Israelis is essentially a diplomatic document that describes a draft US policy position to Iran; in other words -- hardly the crown jewels, and hardly enough to warrant wiretaps and surveillance of Aipac's offices, he says. "The Israelis can get that stuff by going directly to Condoleezza Rice." In other words, it's not deeply technical knowledge about US satellite technology, for instance, or information the Americans had gotten from the Jordanians, or information about say a possible secret US back channel to Hezbollah. He wonders if this case is not politically motivated. It's no secret as well that there's intense competition over who would be national security advisor in a second term Bush administration. Anything that taints Feith and Wolfowitz could benefit their internal Bush administration foes.
We obviously haven't heard the last of this yet. Stay tuned.
Update: Or does this story leaking now indicate rather, a case of "controlled burn?" An investigation that was leaked or interrupted before it could go further, as reader MC suggests? Franklin is seemingly more expendable than others.
Update II: I can't get over the sense this is a ruse, to get somebody else. As Wagster writes in the comments below:
The NYT reports tonight:
Government officials suggested Friday that investigators were seeking the cooperation of the Pentagon official being investigated.
Doesn't that seem to hint that they're using the media to put some heat on the guy, and that they suspect the involvement of others? Why else would they be seeking his cooperation?
Why else indeed.
Update III: Franklin has been investigated for this before, I'm told. What CBS has may not be the whole thing, but part of a pattern. What I have may be another part of a pattern. "There's got to be something else going on here," I'm told.
Update IV: This from Knight Ridder:
The FBI is investigating whether a Pentagon official provided highly classified information about U.S. policy toward Iran to the government of Israel, senior Bush administration officials confirmed Friday.
Investigators have conducted interviews in recent weeks in the potentially explosive case, which has been ongoing for more than a year and targets an individual in the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, the officials said.
The case involves allegations that the unnamed Pentagon official passed highly classified data to a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which in turn provided that information to the government of Israel.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity, said the FBI also is investigating the same official's contacts with Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi and with Manucher Ghorbanifar, a controversial Iranian arms dealer. Chalabi was a source of much of the discredited pre-Iraq war intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaida.
In June, U.S. intelligence officials said they had evidence that Chalabi's security chief had long been a paid agent of Iran's intelligence service and that Chalabi or an aide in his Iraqi National Congress had tipped the Iranians off that the United States had broken some Iranian communications codes. Chalabi has denied the charge.
The CIA has twice labeled Ghorbanifar, a figure in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal, untrustworthy. Nevertheless, two Pentagon officials, Harold Rhode and Larry Franklin, a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who worked on Iraq policy for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, met secretly with Ghorbanifar to discuss Iran.
I wish I could say more but it will have to wait for a few more days. But you can see where this is going. Anyhow, I am not sure Franklin really was the official in Feith's shop who had particularly close ties to Chalabi. I seriously wonder if Franklin is bait.
Update VI: The Post names Franklin too.
The Wash Times' Bill Gertz has an interesting bit of historical information:
One U.S. official said the FBI had unconfirmed information that Mr. Feith supplied information to Israel in the 1980s. However, the officials declined to provide further information citing the ongoing investigation. It could not be learned whether arrests are expected in the case.
With so many people in Feith's office and in the Vice President's office extremely sympathetic to Israel, it's hard to believe the Israelis needed the documents Franklin was providing. Or put another way: Franklin may have the misfortune of being one of the only officials in Feith's office who would need to use Aipac to pass information to the Israelis.
Update VII: Rhode denies to UPI's Richard Sale that his security clearance was suspended in 1998 pending investigation of allegations he had given classified information to Israel. I think I know who some of Sale's former US intelligence official sources are and believe they are not the most reliable, but this is worth reading.
Update VIII: Here's my latest thought on this: As I understand, Franklin wasn't motivated to pass the information to Aipac to give it to the Israelis. He wanted our own government to act. He wanted to get it to the NSC and the White House.
I'm not joking. From what I understand from my sources, Franklin was desperately trying to get the US government to act on this intelligence. Aipac was just a tool for getting influence in Washington and the White House.