Federal prosecutors announced upgraded charges yesterday against a Defense Department analyst accused of disclosing government secrets, saying for the first time that Lawrence Franklin conspired to give classified information to a foreign government.
An indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria charged that Franklin met with a foreign diplomat last year at a coffeehouse in the District and provided classified information about a Middle Eastern country's activities in Iraq. Court documents do not identify the diplomat or the country, but sources familiar with the case said he works for the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
The indictment, filed May 26 and unsealed yesterday, revealed that another Defense Department employee is involved in the investigation into whether classified U.S. information was provided to the government of Israel. The employee, the indictment said, was present at a separate meeting at which Franklin is accused of disclosing national defense information to two people, identified as former employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group. It is unclear if the Defense employee is also a target of the probe.
Yesterday's charges mark an escalation of the government's case against Franklin, an Iran specialist who was first charged in Alexandria last month with disclosing classified information related to potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. Court documents did not reveal who received the information, but federal law enforcement sources have said it was Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential lobbying organization.
Under the original charge -- a single count of disclosing classified U.S. national defense information to a person or persons not entitled to receive it -- Franklin could have received up to 10 years in prison. If convicted of the six new counts in the indictment, which include conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government, he faces up to 55 years in prison.
In a related case, Franklin was charged last month by federal prosecutors in West Virginia, where he lives, with possessing classified documents concerning Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and Iraq.
Franklin was arraigned yesterday on the indictment filed in Alexandria and pleaded not guilty. A judge set a trial date of Sept. 6. Franklin's attorney, Plato Cacheris, declined to comment but has previously described Franklin as a patriotic American who did nothing improper.
Rosen and Weissman have been notified that prosecutors are preparing to charge them with disclosing classified information as well, sources familiar with the investigation have said, but the timetable remains unclear. Lawyers for Rosen and Weissman attended yesterday's hearing but declined to comment.
A Pentagon spokesman referred calls to federal prosecutors, who declined to comment. David Siegel, an Israeli Embassy spokesman, said Israeli diplomats "conduct themselves in full accordance with established diplomatic practice and did not do anything that would contravene these standards.''
The indictment hints for the first time at Franklin's possible motives, alleging that he was seeking "to advance his own career" and "his own personal foreign policy agenda." It says Franklin arranged a series of meetings with two officials at a Washington lobbying organization, at which he disclosed classified information. The officials are identified only as unindicted co-conspirators. Sources familiar with the case said they are Rosen and Weissman.
According to the indictment, one of the two co-conspirators initiated the relationship with Franklin in August 2002. The indictment said this conspirator called a Pentagon employee asking for an Iran expert and was given Franklin's name. Franklin called him back a week later, and Franklin began meeting with both conspirators in 2003, according to the indictment.