When Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was finally charged with passing classified information on May 3, the headlines, at least in part, should have read, ?Franklin not charged with espionage.?
Such was the media build-up last fall; almost every story on Mr. Franklin had a headline or subhead that contained the words ?espionage? or ?spying.? But in spilling the beans on an espionage investigation, the FBI (or possibly another entity) was itself leaking highly classified information. What the media never did was stop to ask: why?
Charges that have been formally leveled against Mr. Franklin are not inconsequential. He is charged with unauthorized disclosure of classified material for allegedly disclosing classified information to two U.S. lobbyists who work for the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC).
But what the charge wasn?t was espionage. It was far, far less sexy. Unauthorized disclosure?as any reader of the New York Times or the Washington Post knows?is also far, far more common. Which doesn?t excuse Mr. Franklin?s allegedly illegal behavior, but it does put it in a far different context.
Gone would have been the sexy headlines that someone in the ?pro-Israel? division at the Pentagon was about to be arrested for ?espionage? on behalf of the Jewish state. Gone would have been the stories?particularly by the Post?that tarred named individuals, all Jews and all Bush supporters, with unsubstantiated allegations that they, too, might be involved in spying for Israel.
If everything alleged by the government is true, then Mr. Franklin has committed a serious crime, one which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But it is a vastly different charge than what unnamed investigators seemed certain of last fall. Mr. Franklin, ironically, is now charged with the same behavior that most likely was committed by someone in the FBI: unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
The details of an espionage investigation are highly classified, for obvious reasons. As maligned as CBS News is, it is unlikely that it would have broken the story last August without solid, well-placed sourcing.
From an August 27 article on CBSNews.com: ?the FBI believes it has ?solid? evidence that the suspected mole supplied Israel with classified materials.? The evidence was described as coming from ?wiretaps, undercover surveillance and photography? that further showed the information being passed from two AIPAC officials ?on to the Israelis.?
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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