Analysis: More Being Learned About Larry Franklin, Suspected Spy For Israel

Morning Edition: September 3, 2004

Chalabi Linked to Pentagon Leak Probe

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now in this country, we're learning more about a suspected spy for Israel at the Pentagon. Since word leaked out about him, we've learned the man's name, Larry Franklin, and a bit more about his work as a mid-level analyst on the Pentagon's Iran desk. Now there are growing indications that the FBI probe is actually much wider than just Franklin and that it's been going on for at least two years. NPR's Mary Louis Kelly is following all this and has an update on the investigation.

Good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY reporting:

Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just the basics first here. The central allegation, that we know about, anyway, is that Larry Franklin passed secrets about Iran to Israel and that he was helped by a pro-Israel lobby group here in Washington. Where do things stand now?

KELLY: First, as you say, it appears this probe is broader and has been going on a lot longer than we originally thought. It turns out that the top national security advisers at the White House, Condoleezza Rice, her deputy Steve Hadley, were briefed more than two years ago about an FBI investigation into whether AIPAC--the American Israel Public Affairs Committee--was handing classified US documents to Israel. That would signal suspicions of a more extensive breach of security that the original, very specific allegations about Franklin.

Second factor to add to the mix: Much greater focus now on AIPAC itself. Originally, the initial reports were suggesting that, if anything, AIPAC was suspected of playing a conduit role. We now know that the FBI has, in fact, questioned two AIPAC officials, has copied one of their hard drives. Third thing: more questions about whether all of this is somehow linked to Ahmad Chalabi. This is, of course, the Iraqi politician once very influential in Washington, now fallen out of favor. The Washington Post today is reporting that the FBI is also investigating whether several--so not just Franklin but several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Ahmad Chalabi.

INSKEEP: And Chalabi, of course, traveled--he was in Iraq and traveled repeatedly to Iran over the last years.

KELLY: Right. So that's the other link. Both of these things, both Larry Franklin and Ahmad Chalabi seem to have something to do with Iran.

INSKEEP: Now Israel denied the original allegations. AIPAC, the lobby group, denied the allegations. As we're learning more, are they saying more?

KELLY: A little bit more. They've put out a second statement, again, saying these allegations are false. I was talking to their lawyer yesterday, Nathan Lewin, who was citing reports emerging that perhaps this was a broader investigation as a vindication for AIPAC, saying, `Look, if there's been a probe for two years and senior officials allegedly at the White House knew all about it and yet they continued talking to us and working with us, that shows these allegations are baseless.'

INSKEEP: Well, now that we've named him on the air here, Larry Franklin, the central suspect here, if we can call him that, what is Larry Franklin saying about all of this?

KELLY: He is not talking, despite the best journalists in Washington and all their best efforts to get to him. So there are a lot of questions still about his role. You know, when this story first broke, it was reported as a full-fledged espionage investigation, a mole inside the office of the secretary of Defense. I think we're hearing that being toned down. There has been no arrest made, no charges against Larry Franklin, not clear if what charges may be brought, if any, or, indeed, whether he's still actually at the center of this, as we say.

INSKEEP: Mary Louise, thanks very much.

KELLY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

The time is 29 minutes past the hour.

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