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Former officials with pro-Israel group indicted

WASHINGTON—The Justice Department indicted two top former officials with a prominent pro-Israel lobbying group Thursday for allegedly conspiring to communicate classified defense information.

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty said the men were attempting to influence U.S. foreign policy. He said trafficking in information is commonplace in the nation's capital but a "clear line separates classified information from everything else."

"Today's charges are about crossing that clear line," McNulty said.

The indictment paints a more detailed picture of the case against Pentagon analyst Lawrence Franklin, who was charged in May with leaking classified information to the pro-Israel lobbyists about possible attacks by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq.

The indictment charges Steven Rosen, former foreign policy director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, with conspiring to communicate classified information.

Franklin, who worked on the Iran desk in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's office, had also been charged with three counts of communication of national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it. In Thursday's indictment, Rosen was charged with aiding and abetting Franklin in one of those counts by passing along written classified information.

Keith Weissman, a former senior Middle East analyst with AIPAC, was charged with one count of conspiracy to communicate classified national defense information.

Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman denied the allegations.

Rosen's attorney, Abbe Lowell, called the charges "entirely unjustified."

"We expect that the trial will show that this prosecution represents a misguided attempt to criminalize the public's right to participate in the political process," Lowell said in a statement.

Weissman's attorney, John Nassikas, said, "We are disappointed that the government has decided to pursue these charges, which Mr. Weissman strongly denies. We look forward to challenging them vigorously in court both factually and legally."

People sympathetic to Rosen and Weissman have argued that while Franklin allegedly violated his government security vows, the two former AIPAC employees did little more than trade in information, which is the stuff of daily business in Washington.

AIPAC fired Rosen and Weissman earlier this year.

The Israeli government has denied trying to pry secrets from the United States, with officials pointing out that, given the close ties between the two countries, it has no need to spy.

"We're fully confident in the conduct of our diplomats," said Israeli Embassy spokesman David Siegel.

One of the Israeli diplomats whom Franklin allegedly met with, Naor Gilon, recently returned home as "part of the normal diplomatic rotation," Siegel said.

Thursday's indictment adds some new facts to a case that has been shrouded in uncertainty from the beginning.

It charges that Rosen, 63, of Silver Spring, Md., and Weissman, 53, of Bethesda, Md., dealt in secret information as far back as 1999, several years before they are alleged to have met Franklin. Rosen met with "Foreign Official 1"—presumably an Israeli diplomat—on April 13, 1999, and disclosed sensitive intelligence he had picked up regarding terrorist activities in central Asia, it alleges.

Franklin and Rosen first made contact in a phone call on Aug. 15, 2002, after Rosen sought out someone at the Defense Department with expertise on Iran, the indictment alleges.

The three men met at a restaurant in Arlington, Va., in February 2003. In a phone call on the way to that initial meeting, Rosen said he was excited to meet with the "Pentagon guy," who he described as a "real insider."

They remained in contact over the next several months, meeting at various restaurants, and Weissman and Franklin attended a Baltimore Orioles game together, according to the indictment.

Franklin also faxed classified information to Rosen from a Pentagon fax machine, authorities allege.

Rosen and Weissman allegedly fed much of the sensitive information they received to journalists, on topics ranging from the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia to U.S. policy toward Iran. They continued to provide information to reporters even after being contacted by the FBI, the indictment charges.

McNulty said the investigation, which he described as "several years" old, is ongoing. He said there's no basis to charge other individuals, but wouldn't rule that out in the future.

Franklin, 58, of Kearnysville, W.Va., pleaded not guilty to the charges filed against him in May. His lawyer, Plato Cacheris, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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