FBI counterintelligence agents are investigating whether several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a law enforcement official and other people familiar with the case.
Senior White House officials, including national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, have been apprised that Chalabi is part of the investigation, according to a senior U.S. official. The inquiry is part of the larger counterintelligence probe that was disclosed last week -- the scope of which is not yet clear.
Initially, news reports revealed that the FBI was investigating whether Lawrence A. Franklin -- a mid-level analyst specializing in Middle East issues in the Pentagon office of Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy -- had passed a draft presidential directive on Iran to AIPAC, and whether the group had passed the information to Israel. AIPAC is an influential lobbying group with close ties to the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
The FBI probe is actually much broader, according to senior U.S. officials, and has been underway for at least two years. Several sources familiar with the case say the probe now extends to other Pentagon personnel who have a particular interest in assisting both Israel and Chalabi, the former Iraqi dissident who was long a Pentagon favorite but who has fallen out of favor with the U.S. government.
The sources and others interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is highly sensitive and involves classified information.
There appears to be at least two common threads in the multi-faceted investigation. First, the FBI is investigating whether the same people passed highly classified information to two disparate allies -- Chalabi and a pro-Israel lobbying group. Second, at least some of the intelligence in both instances included sensitive information about Iran.
The broader investigation is also looking into the movement of classified materials on U.S. intentions in Iraq and on the Arab-Israeli peace process, sources added.
U.S. officials said the alleged transfer of classified intelligence to Chalabi has been part of the FBI investigation at least since a raid in May by Iraqi officials on the Baghdad compound of Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress. Classified U.S. intelligence material was found in that raid, a senior official said.
This spring, U.S. officials alleged that Chalabi and a senior Iraqi National Congress official had passed critical intelligence to Iran, including extremely sensitive information about recent U.S. intercepts of official communications within the Iranian government. The intelligence allegedly shared by Chalabi's group with Tehran also included information on how the United States had deciphered encrypted Iranian messages, U.S. officials said.
As a result of that leak, the U.S. intelligence community has been forced to undertake costly and extensive repairs to U.S. signal capabilities, another senior U.S. official said.
Francis Brooke, an American aide to Chalabi's organization, vigorously denied that any classified data had been leaked to the organization. "The sooner they get finished with the investigation, the happier we'll be," he said. "No classified information flowed from the United states to the Iraqi National Congress. That's not the nature of the program."
John Markham, an attorney for Chalabi, added that he had sent two letters to the Justice Department and to the FBI months ago offering to have Chalabi discuss the issue with investigators.
"We have heard absolutely nothing from anybody," Markham said. "We've offered to make him available, and they've ignored us." He said that is inconsistent with how he saw federal investigators operate during several years he spent as a prosecutor.
An early part of the inquiry focused on the activities of a U.S. military reservist who was serving at the U.S. Embassy in Israel, a senior intelligence official said. It could not be determined last night if that reservist was Franklin, who has served for about two decades in the Air Force Reserve and has done some short tours at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Israel and AIPAC have strongly denied any involvement in espionage activities against the United States.
Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, said that "it would be inappropriate for the Defense Department to comment on an ongoing Justice Department investigation."
The revelation that Franklin was under investigation has focused attention on the policy branch of the Pentagon, which is overseen by Feith. His office has long rankled other parts of the U.S. foreign policy community, where it is seen as pursuing its own agenda.
One former CIA officer who has helped formulate U.S. policy on the Middle East complained that a number of officials in the Defense Department have difficulty distinguishing between U.S. interests and the goals of Chalabi and Israel.
Another official, an ideological ally of Feith's, said, however, that the investigation is part of an effort by some in the intelligence community to discredit Pentagon hawks. "This is part of a civil war within the administration, a basic dislike between the old CIA and neoconservatives," the official said.
Feith did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. Franklin, who officials say is cooperating with authorities, has also declined to comment.
Staff writers Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus contributed to this report.