On June 30, Colonel Larry Franklin marked the fifth anniversary of his meeting with FBI agents, in which he first learned he was a suspect in what would later be known as “the AIPAC case,” referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Along with Franklin, two of the Washington lobby’s senior officials were charged with violating the seldom-used federal Espionage Act of 1917. Mustang gives us the details of what went wrong.
Justice Denied and the Larry Franklin Debacle
In late November 2020, Israeli journalist Caroline Glick wrote an opinion article for Newsweek that called for justice on behalf of former U. S. Air Force (Reserve) Colonel Lawrence A. Franklin. Glick described Franklin as a brilliant, fearless intelligence officer who worked in the Department of Defense and whose efforts saved the lives of countless US service members.
Image by NATHAN GUTTMAN
In 2003, Franklin worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as the Secretary’s expert on Iranian affairs. Then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needed fresh (practical) intelligence on Iran concerning that country’s efforts to undermine US war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, its terror networks, and information on the Iranian nuclear weapons program. Within the framework of Franklin’s duties, he was authorized to share intelligence information with US allies — more specifically, Israel — because no other country’s intelligence services know as much about what is going on in Iran as the Israelis. Franklin had long-standing contacts with Israeli intelligence, including surrogates connected to the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC.
Typically, the intelligence communities work on a quid pro quo basis: you give me something, I’ll give you something in return. In return for information about Iran, Israel wanted to know what in the hell George W. Bush was up to. As it happens, Bush’s policy toward Iran was a series of incomprehensible contradictions. The State Department and CIA supported appeasing Iran, the White House (Dick Cheney), and some members of the National Security Council did not think it was possible to appease Iran. What was needed, they believed, was a head-on confrontation with Iran. President Bush mediated these two sides by opting for incoherence.
Franklin agreed with Cheney (and others) that a hardline approach was the correct position, and, concerned that Bush was insufficiently aware of Iran’s intentions relating to US involvement in Iraq, Franklin opened a discussion with AIPAC officials to have them communicate his concerns to their NSC friends, who in turn, would convey them to President Bush. There was nothing particularly unusual in Franklin’s actions.
What Franklin did not realize at the time was that the policy disagreements in the Bush administration involved more than a mere dispute over a certain measure of distrust of Israeli intelligence information among some of the doves; an FBI inquiry about Franklin’s contact with AIPAC officials soon followed. Glick contends that these concerns by Bush administration doves were predicated on their inherent anti-Semitism. Whether that argument has any merit is impossible to know. One of the DIA investigators, however, according to Franklin, was known to have sympathies for the Hezbollah organization, which makes one wonder why an Islamicist would be working in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Franklin willingly spoke with investigators to explain his actions. He did not feel that he needed an attorney present during any of these interviews. In any case, as the inquiry continued, Franklin realized that investigators seemed more interested in Jewish employees in the Pentagon than with any discussion Franklin had with his AIPAC contacts — that is until they informed Franklin that he was suspected of being a “closet Jew” and opened an espionage case against him. Ultimately, the FBI charged Franklin with spying for Israel; he pled guilty to taking “classified information” home as homework and having an “unauthorized discussion” with members of AIPAC. The case against the two AIPAC individuals was later dismissed, which reduced Franklin’s sentence from 12 years in prison to ten months of house arrest.
Franklin’s conviction, however, resulted in the loss of his civil service pension and his Air Force pension. He now lives on the edge of poverty in West Virginia. Despite his appeal to President Trump for a pardon, which would have restored his pension, the President denied his request.
It is difficult for me to imagine that someone like Franklin or Michael Flynn, mature, experienced officers and/or civil servants, would ever agree to an FBI/DIA/CIA interview without the presence of an attorney. It is also unseemly that a 35-year veteran intelligence officer would have failed to cover his ass with a memorandum for the record governing his actions, with page initials by his immediate superiors. That’s just nuts.
It also seems bizarre that President Trump could find it in his heart to pardon a Memphis cocaine dealer while refusing to entertain a pardon for someone like Franklin (although Franklin is white), who was only trying to serve his country. Errors in judgment, most certainly … criminal or treasonous conduct, hardly … and the impact of his conviction, for being open and upfront with FBI investigators, has far exceeded his trivial misstep. Who in their right mind would want to join the US military today, or become an intelligence officer/analyst with the Defense Department, or join the police force?
Today, Lawrence Franklin is an area expert writer for Gatestone Institute. He writes almost exclusively about Sino-American relations.
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