TERENCE SMITH: A day after the arrest of a Pentagon analyst charged with divulging classified information, federal authorities today continued to try to determine whether any of that information reached Israel. The analyst is Lawrence Franklin. He's suspected of passing information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington. Franklin faces up to ten years in prison if convicted.
For more on the case and its implications, we're joined by David Johnston of the New York Times. David, welcome. Tell us: Who is Lawrence Franklin, and what was his role at the time in the Pentagon?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Lawrence Franklin was a mid-level analyst at the Pentagon, and he was particularly concerned about the Middle East on countries like Iran and Iraq. And he had worked there since 1979. He worked within -- within an interesting group within the Pentagon of conservative Republicans who had been influential in the administration, particularly in the first Bush term, and who were also close to AIPAC.
TERENCE SMITH: And what was this information that he is now accused of divulging?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, according to a government affidavit that was filed in the case yesterday, the information that he disclosed related to potential attacks on Americans forces in Iraq. And this related to the charge against him yesterday, which was the illegal disclosure of national defense information.
TERENCE SMITH: And is there any evidence that this information was passed on to Israel or to any other foreign power?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, the government was careful in its papers yesterday not to disclose the identities of the people to whom he passed this information or whether they passed it on to anyone else.
But for a long time, it has been clear from intelligence officials that they believe that Franklin had dealt with two senior policy aides at AIPAC, and that they had regular discussions with Israeli authorities and possibly Israeli intelligence officials.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell us a little about AIPAC and the role that it plays in Washington particularly today.
DAVID JOHNSTON: AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group that has been increasingly influential in the Bush administration. They take positions on a number of issues in the Middle East and have wide-ranging concerns throughout the region.
TERENCE SMITH: You wrote this morning in the New York Times that AIPAC has close relations with some of these people in the Bush administration. You mentioned Franklin's former boss, Pentagon undersecretary Doug Feith; you also mentioned Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
DAVID JOHNSTON: Who has been supportive of the group and who is expected to speak at their annual meeting. President Bush has been supportive and the group, I should add, is itself not under suspicion here and in fact, two weeks ago, announced that it had dismissed the two AIPAC analysts who are thought to be the recipients of Franklin's information.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there any, in all this material, is there any suggestion of motive or purpose in passing this information along? Was it in any way related to the ongoing debate in the administration about how to deal with Iran and its nuclear ambitions?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Well, the curious thing about the government's affidavit was that it related to Iraq and not to Iran, which had long been thought to be the central issue that Franklin was concerned with. The conversation that occurred that is cited as the primary illegal activity here did relate to Iraq.
But it occurred at a lunch not far from the Pentagon in June 2003, where the primary subject matter we've been told was Iran. And that Franklin's motivation for discussing this issue may well have been that he hoped the AIPAC employees would use their influence to get these issues a wider hearing within the White House.
TERENCE SMITH: In other words, to push an argument or a point of view any way that he supported?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Franklin was thought to advocate a tough approach to Iran, and he was fearful. His views may not have been -- gotten a quality hearing at the White House.
TERENCE SMITH: And is there any suggestion that the AIPAC officials, the now dismissed AIPAC officials, did that?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Unclear. We don't know. I mean, there was certainly a relationship here but the extent to which they worked in this way, we don't know yet.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. And finally, do you expect more charges here? I mean, the charge at the moment is divulging sensitive classified information.
DAVID JOHNSTON: That charge is against Franklin again. The government was very clear yesterday in saying that the investigation was continuing and the focus appears now to be largely on the two former AIPAC officials.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. So clearly then there is more to come on this.
DAVID JOHNSTON: I would think there is.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. David Johnston of the New York Times, thank you very much.
DAVID JOHNSTON: Thank you.