'Not Guilty' Pleas in AIPAC Spying Case

Three men plead not guilty to charges of passing on classified information to a foreign embassy. One man is a former Pentagon analyst; the other two are former employees of AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group based in Washington, D.C.

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At a federal courthouse in Virginia today, three men pleaded not guilty to charges of passing along top-secret information. One of the men, Larry Franklin, is a former Pentagon employee, an expert on Iran. The other two men, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are former high-ranking members of a pro-Israel lobbying group. The charges against the three men involve information about Iraq, Iran and terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

The arraignment of Larry Franklin, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman is part of a government investigation that stretches back more than five years. The charges against the three men fall just short of espionage. Franklin faces five counts of conspiring to pass on classified information and mishandling government secrets. Rosen and Weissman face charges of repeatedly seeking top-secret information from Franklin and other US officials and then passing that information on to journalists and unnamed foreign embassy officials. Rosen and Weissman were both with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. The pro-Israel lobbying group fired both men in April.

The arraignment is designed to enter pleas, sort out problems and set dates for the trial, motion hearings and the like. But today's court session offered a glimpse as to how this trial will play out. In the first place, there was some hint by the defense lawyers that they may ask for separate trials; the three men are currently due to be tried together in early January. The judge, T.S. Ellis, wanted an earlier court date, but there were vigorous arguments from all sides that more time be given to prepare. That, it became clear, is because of the amount of classified information that will be presented.

US attorney Kevin DiGregory described it as `voluminous' because of the nature of the investigation and the manner in which the government acquired much of the evidence. Members of the defense team will need special clearance to see the evidence, which must be viewed in a tightly secured area.

While their lawyers argued over logistics, the three defendants sat quietly, including Steve Rosen. He was AIPAC's director of research and was with the pro-Israel lobby for more than 20 years. He helped shape it into one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country. Rosen was a man who had the ear of many senior officials in this and earlier administrations. Today he and the others agreed to surrender their passports, and each was released on a hundred-thousand-dollar bond. Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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