Clear the air on Israel spy charges

The allegation that Israel had a spy inside the Pentagon seems to be baseless. The news came to light with a CBS report Friday, Aug. 27, saying that an indictment is being prepared. But three days later, we learned that at the very most a non-Jewish officer in the Pentagon might be charged with mishandling classified information and possibly passing it to the American Israel Political Affairs Committee — if he is charged at all.

All this comes at the end of an investigation that has lasted 12 to 18 months, depending on which news report you read. Apparently there was no espionage. The main Pentagon employee in question, Larry Franklin, has been cooperating with the FBI for months.

But why was AIPAC dragged into this mess? Because it seems Franklin had some friends in the pro-Israel lobby, and made the big mistake of talking to them publicly at restaurants. In turn, some voiced concerns that AIPAC may have forwarded that information to Israeli officials.

But Israel says it would never think of spying again on the United States after the black eye it received during the Jonathan Pollard affair. Pollard is in his 19th year in prison after passing actual documents on to his Israeli handler.

Franklin is merely accused of telling two AIPAC employees how the United States views what is happening in Iran. It’s hard to believe those AIPAC folks couldn’t get the same information if they read The New York Times.

That is the kind of information Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell is quoted on regularly. It’s no secret how the current administration feels about Iran and its nuclear threat.

There seems to be no evidence Franklin, or anyone else, handed documents to the AIPAC employees. At best, Franklin may have talked a little bit out of school.

So all this leaves us wondering why the story about Israeli spying broke when it did, on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Was it an attempt to embarrass President Bush? Was it an attempt to hurt Israel? Was it an attempt to influence the Jewish vote? Does it help or hurt Sen. John Kerry?

There is no clear answer to those questions. But certainly there is something afoul when the information comes to light 12 to 18 months after the investigation began.

We hope that answers are forthcoming. Now that the allegations are public, we call upon the FBI to wrap up its investigation and tell us all what was found. Once that is done, we expect that the Bush administration will be able to publicly exonerate Israel and AIPAC as quickly as possible.