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Knight Ridder Washington Bureau

Wednesday, December 1, 2004

FBI issues subpoenas for officials of pro-Israel lobby group

By Warren P. Strobel and Shannon McCaffrey
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - FBI agents executed search warrants Wednesday at the headquarters of a leading pro-Israel lobby and delivered grand jury subpoenas in an ongoing probe of alleged espionage for Israel, federal officials and the lobby group said.

The search and the subpoenas for four top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee indicate that the politically charged investigation remains active. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.

AIPAC, one of Washington's most influential lobbies, said in a statement that neither the group nor its employees have broken any law.

"We are fully cooperating with the governmental authorities. We believe any court of law or grand jury will conclude that AIPAC employees have always acted legally, properly and appropriately," it said.

The lobby group said that the FBI, which in August [2004] obtained computer files related to two AIPAC employees, returned Wednesday

"and requested and obtained additional files relating to the same two AIPAC staff members and delivered subpoenas requiring the appearance of four senior AIPAC staff before a grand jury."

U.S. officials previously have identified the two staff members as Steven Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, and Keith Weissman, his deputy and an Iran expert.

The two men have hired prominent Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell to represent them. Lowell's firm, Chadbourne & Park, had no comment.

The FBI investigation, which has been under way for more than two years, became public in August with news reports that authorities were looking into the handling of classified information by Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin.

Current and former U.S. officials have said that authorities are investigating whether Franklin shared a highly classified draft presidential policy document on Iran with AIPAC staffers, who in turn passed it to Israel.

Investigators have interviewed people at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, the current and former officials said. They also have asked questions about whether Ahmad Chalabi, a prominent Iraqi exile backed by the Pentagon who provided bogus intelligence on Iraq, improperly received highly classified U.S. intelligence about Iran.

Franklin, an analyst in the office of Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, hasn't been charged with wrongdoing. His lawyer, prominent Washington defense attorney Plato Cacheris, didn't immediately return a phone call Wednesday.

The Israeli government has vehemently denied that it spied on the United States. Israel says all such activities were halted following the 1985 arrest of Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, who later was convicted of selling U.S. secrets to Israel.

Federal law enforcement officials declined Wednesday to provide details of what the FBI agents were searching for at AIPAC's offices, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The search warrant is sealed.

"The investigation is continuing," said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "This is normal procedure in a case like this."

A spokesman for Paul McNulty, the U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office is handling the case, declined to comment.

Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Jonathan S. Landay contributed to this report.


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