Last June, leading neoconservative Richard Perle received an unexpected phone call at his home. It was Larry Franklin calling. Franklin is the veteran Iran specialist in the Pentagon's Near East South Asia office and the key Iraq War planner who had been pressured by the FBI into launching a series of counterintelligence stings. Perle, a former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, was an architect of the 2003 Iraq War.
Franklin, who never had phoned before, asked Perle to "convey a message to Chalabi" in Iraq, according to sources aware of the call. Ahmad Chalabi is the embattled president of the Iraqi National Congress. He is currently at the vortex of a Pentagon-intelligence community conflict over pre- and post-war policy, but is still endorsed by neoconservatives, such as Perle.
Something about Franklin's unexpected call struck Perle as "weird," according to the sources. Why was Franklin calling?
In the recent past, Perle had only encountered Franklin a few times in passing, the sources said. Perle became "impatient" to end his brief conversation with Franklin, and finally just declined to pass a message to Chalabi or to cooperate in any way, according to the sources.
Perle refused to comment.
While the purpose of the mysterious call to Perle is still unclear, a source with knowledge of Franklin's calls suggested that Franklin might have been trying to warn Perle and Chalabi that conflict between the counterintelligence community and the neoconservatives and the Chalabi camp was spinning out of control.
Unbeknownst to Franklin, the FBI was listening.
By the time Franklin phoned Perle, Franklin had been under surveillance for at least a year by the FBI's counterintelligence division, which is led by controversial counterintelligence chief David Szady. Franklin had been monitored since a meeting June 26, 2003, at the Tivoli Restaurant in Virginia, where he discussed a classified Iran policy document with officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
He also was monitored late last May while responding to a routine media inquiry by CBS reporters about Iran's intelligence activities in Iraq, according to multiple sources. The CBS call was pivotal.
Among the reporters who spoke to Franklin in late May, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the call, was former CIA attorney Adam Ciralsky, who had joined CBS as a reporter. During that call, Franklin purportedly revealed classified information, according to the sources.
In late June, Szady's FBI counterintelligence division finally confronted a shocked Franklin with evidence of his monitored calls. The bureau arranged for Franklin to be placed on administrative leave without pay, and then threatened him with years of imprisonment unless Franklin engaged in a series of stings against a list of prominent Washington targets, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the FBI's actions in the case.
Terrified, needing to provide for a wheelchair-bound wife and five children and without the benefit of legal representation, Franklin agreed to ensnare the individuals on the FBI sting list, the sources said. The list might include as many as six names, according to sources.
In a special Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigation, this reporter first revealed Franklin's stings and the circumstances surrounding them.
AIPAC was stung July 21. That day, Franklin met an AIPAC official in a Virginia mall and urged that information be passed to Israel that Israelis operating in northern Kurdistan were in danger of being kidnapped and killed by Iranian intelligence, according to multiple sources. That information -- the validity of which has been questioned -- was reportedly passed to the Israeli Embassy, thereby providing the FBI with a basis for search warrants and threats of an espionage prosecution against AIPAC Policy Director Steve Rosen and AIPAC Iran specialist Keith Weissman, according to the sources.
AIPAC officials contacted declined to comment.
Attorneys familiar with FBI security prosecutions identified Section 794 and 798 of the Espionage Act as ideally suited to the FBI's sting strategy. Section 798, titled, "Disclosure of Classified Information," applies to "whoever knowingly and willfully communicates, furnishes [or] transmits -- for the benefit of any foreign government to the detriment of the United States any classified information -- concerning the communication of intelligence activities of the United States or any foreign government." The sweeping statute would cover classified information not only about America but also about Iran and Iraq.
Reporter Janine Zacharia first revealed initial news of the July AIPAC sting in The Jerusalem Post.
After the AIPAC sting on or about Aug. 20, Franklin -- still without legal representation -- was directed by his FBI handlers to launch a sting against Chalabi's Washington-based political adviser, Francis Brooke, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of Franklin's stings.
At the time, Washington intelligence circles were accusing Chalabi of passing sensitive American intelligence code-breaking information to Iranian intelligence. The charges against Chalabi have since fallen from view.
Brooke, a southerner who lives in a Washington-area home owned by Chalabi, took the August call from Franklin on the kitchen phone.
"Franklin called," Brooke related, "and said, 'You have a real problem on your hands with Iran and Chalabi.' I told him, 'It is all horse----.' Larry got very angry at me. He said it was 'deadly serious.' I said, 'What the hell, if you say it is serious, OK. But we have no information about American code-breaking of Iranian intelligence.'"
"So Larry says, 'I am talking to a bunch of media people, and I can spin this -- but you need to level with me to get this straight,'" Brooke recalled. "This was not very much like Larry, and I just said, 'There is nothing to spin.'"
Brooke dismissed the entire effort as part of a "vendetta against Chalabi organized by [then-CIA Director George] Tenet and others at the CIA."
Franklin refused to comment.
In August, Franklin, still without legal counsel, was also directed by the FBI to call Ciralsky, who by this time had moved from CBS to NBC, where he was working on security developments in Iran, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of Franklin's calls. Franklin tried to set up a meeting with Ciralsky, but no such meeting ever occurred, according to sources familiar with the call, because shortly thereafter, on Aug. 27, the FBI's AIPAC raids were leaked to CBS. Franklin actions were now public.
Before joining CBS, reporter Ciralsky was working as an attorney for the CIA but was allegedly forced out in 1999 during the course of an inquiry into his family background and his Jewish affiliations. Ciralsky later filed a harassment lawsuit against the CIA that is still pending.
The man who supervised much of the CIA investigation of Ciralsky and then the FBI's investigation of Franklin following the May conversation with Ciralsky was Szady. In a JTA investigation, this reporter revealed exclusively his involvement with Ciralsky.
Critics of the current investigation point to Szady's involvement in the probe of Ciralsky a decade ago to raise questions about a possibly larger agenda. One question involves the media.
Because Ciralsky is a reporter with NBC, some critics raised the specter of Szady's FBI counterintelligence division consciously trying to entrap a member of the media engaged in routinely contacting sources. One source with direct knowledge of Franklin's stings said it amounted to an "enemies list."
Ciralsky refused to comment.
FBI officials repeatedly refused to discuss the Franklin stings. The bureau also refused to respond to questions about whether members of the media -- including those at CBS, NBC and even this reporter -- are under surveillance as part of their investigation. But at one point, a senior FBI official with knowledge of the case finally stated, "I cannot confirm or deny that information [due to] the pending investigation."
Some Washington insiders believe that the FBI's multiple stings are far from routine counterintelligence but represent a "war" between the counterintelligence community and policymakers, especially neocons.
One key insider explained the war this way: "It is two diametrically opposed ways of thinking. The neocons have an interventionist mindset willing to ally with anyone to defeat world terrorism, and they see the intelligence community as too passive. The intelligence community sees the neocons as wild men willing to champion any foreign source -- no matter how specious -- if it suits their ideology."
Leading neoconservative figure Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute added his own thought.
"This is a war of the intelligence community vs. the neoconservatives," Rubin observed. "It involves both the right and the left of the intelligence community. It is a war about policy, the point being, the CIA must not be involved in policy. The CIA's role is to provide intelligence and let the policymakers decide what to do with it, and it appears they are not sticking to that role -- and that is a dangerous situation."
"This is the politicizing of intelligence," he continued. "But the CIA, by its establishing principles, is not to be involved in politics."
Rubin added that the sting effort "against AIPAC is the culmination of a 20-year witch-hunt from a small corps within the counterintelligence community" that Rubin labeled "conspiracy theorists." He added, "What is the common denominator between the Ciralsky case and the AIPAC case? David Szady."
Szady, who has been decorated twice by the CIA for distinguished service, answered one critic, writing, "I am not at liberty to comment on pending investigations." Szady had issued a statement to this reporter earlier that he "has no anti-Semitic views, has never handled a case or investigation based upon an individual's ethnicity or religious views and would never do so."
One neoconservative at the center of the counterintelligence war said: "This is just the beginning. Nobody knows where this war is going."
Edwin Black is the author of "IBM and the Holocaust" (Crown, 2001). Black's current best seller is "Banking on Baghdad" (Wiley), which chronicles 7,000 years of Iraqi history. This article first appeared in the Forward.