Wednesday, September 08, 2004

KRT Wire | 09/02/2004 | Alleged Pentagon leaks may be connected to Iran policy

KRT Wire | 09/02/2004 | Alleged Pentagon leaks may be connected to Iran policy: "Alleged Pentagon leaks may be connected to Iran policy

By WARREN P. STROBEL

Knight Ridder Newspapers


WASHINGTON - Pentagon civilians in the office in which analyst Larry A. Franklin worked lobbied for a hawkish policy toward Iran and tried to have those views inserted into a highly classified presidential document that's a focus of an FBI espionage investigation, current and former U.S. officials said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Franklin shared the document with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby, in an attempt to enlist Israeli support for their proposals.

Policy-makers in the office of Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith argued that the United States should explore ways to overthrow the Iranian regime and should contemplate military strikes on Tehran's nuclear program if it came close to producing a nuclear weapon, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation.

The Pentagon met fierce resistance from the State Department, the CIA and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Those agencies opposed the Pentagon's willingness to cooperate with an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group that the State Department has designated a terrorist organization.

The Bush administration's bitter internal battle over how to deal with Iran - a country President Bush included in his "Axis of Evil" and that's thought to be edging closer to developing nuclear weapons - has been known for some time. But new light is being shed on it after the disclosure of the FBI investigation.

Israel sees Iran as its No. 1 adversary and might have been able to influence U.S. policymaking if it had access to confidential high-level planning documents.

The Israeli government and AIPAC have denied the allegations, and Franklin, an Iran expert, hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing.

Several U.S. officials and law enforcement sources said Thursday that the scope of the FBI probe of Pentagon intelligence activities appeared to go well beyond the Franklin matter.

FBI agents have briefed top White House, Pentagon and State Department officials on the probe in recent days. Based on those briefings, officials said, the bureau appears to be looking into other controversies that have roiled the Bush administration, some of which also touch Feith's office.

They include how the Iraqi National Congress, a former exile group backed by the Pentagon, allegedly received highly classified U.S. intelligence on Iran; the leaking of the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters; and the production of bogus documents suggesting that Iraq tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from the African country of Niger. Bush repeated the Niger claim in making the case for war against Iraq.

"The whole ball of wax" was how one U.S. official privy to the briefings described the inquiry.

In the Franklin matter, the FBI has interviewed two top AIPAC staffers - foreign policy director Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, an Iran specialist - about their contacts with the Pentagon analyst.

Rosen and Weissman have hired prominent Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell to represent them. Lowell's firm, Chadbourne & Park, had no comment Thursday.

In a statement, AIPAC said "we have yet to be told by the authorities what the nature of their inquiry into the activities of AIPAC or its employees actually are."

The FBI probe is more than two years old. The lobby group said suggestions of disloyalty were refuted by the fact that, during that period, Bush addressed the group's annual policy conference and "scores" of executive branch and congressional officials had spoken "regularly and candidly with AIPAC officials."

Officials at the State Department, the CIA and other U.S. government agencies long have suspected that the Pentagon has pursued its own Middle East policy, aimed at overthrowing hostile regimes.

"Policy officials in the Pentagon repeatedly bypassed the normal interagency process, and there are questions about whether they also may have tried to mobilize Israel's political influence in Washington to lobby for some of their proposals, especially on Iraq and Iran," one of the administration officials said.

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment Thursday on Feith's policy proposals.

"Policy-making is like sausage-making. What matters, though, is the sausage," the spokesman said, citing unified concern across the Bush administration about Iran's nuclear program.

Defense officials referred other questions related to the Franklin matter to the Justice Department, which had no comment.

Officials outside the Pentagon have questions about still-unexplained meetings that Franklin and Defense Department official Harold Rhode had in December 2001 in Rome with Manucher Ghorbanifar, an Iranian arms dealer who played a role in the Iran-Contra affair.

The first meeting was intended to put U.S. officials in contact with Iranian dissidents who claimed to have information about threats to American forces in Afghanistan, according to former Reagan administration official Michael Ledeen, who helped broker it.

Officials in Feith's office also argued for maintaining contacts with an Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, that's dedicated to overthrowing the theocracy in Tehran.

The administration official said Pentagon aides and contractors tried to conceal some of their contacts with Ghorbanifar and the Mujahedeen Khalq from the State Department and the CIA. He stressed that doing so isn't new or necessarily wrong, and that the CIA itself does that to other agencies routinely.

In a June 2003 news conference, Feith and his deputy, William Luti, disputed reports that the Pentagon wanted the U.S. government to ally with the Mujahedeen Khalq.

"There never was such a plan," Feith said. "We will not do that."

A former senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon also tried to kill a dialogue between the United States and Iran that began around the time the United States invaded Afghanistan. Washington eventually broke off the dialogue after terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia were traced to Iran-based al-Qaida operatives.

The Washington infighting over Iran policy was so severe that the presidential policy document was never completed.

(Knight Ridder correspondents John Walcott and Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.)"

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