But current and former U.S. officials, including some who were interviewed by the FBI, are still puzzled by the nature of the investigation involving Israel, because its profoundly close ties with the United States date back six decades and have involved sharing sensitive intelligence. Yet officials also concede that Israel is one of the three countries most active in spying on the United States. Israel denies conducting espionage in the United States.
Also yesterday, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee demanded that a new prosecutor be assigned to investigate the alleged leaks, questioning the "political leanings" of the U.S. attorney in Alexandria who is handling the criminal portion of the case.
In a letter to Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said the role of U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty in the case has "obvious political implications" in an election year, and Conyers cited anonymous allegations in a news report that McNulty had "put the brakes on" the probe.
"While I have no reason to question Mr. McNulty's integrity, he is not a career prosecutor, but instead is a political appointee whose previous employment was principally with Republican politicians," Conyers wrote.
Conyers suggested that either a special counsel or U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, who is overseeing a separate probe into the disclosure of CIA operative Valerie Plame, should take over the Pentagon probe.
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo declined to comment on the specifics of Conyers's allegations. "We will review the congressman's letter and give it the attention it is due," Corallo said. A spokesman for McNulty also declined comment, referring a reporter to Corallo's statement.
Several law enforcement officials have said in recent days that the FBI had initially considered making rapid arrests in the Franklin probe when it became clear that news of the investigation was about to become public last week. But, these officials said, prosecutors urged caution, arguing that investigators needed more time to gather evidence and assess the case.
Franklin has been cooperating in the probe for several weeks, officials familiar with the investigation said. He has not responded to numerous requests for comment at his office and his home in West Virginia.
Staff writers Josh White and Jerry Markon contributed to this report.