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(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
Larry Franklin, the former Pentagon analyst sentenced on Friday to 12 years and seven months in prison for passing classified information to Israeli diplomats and staffers in the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, will testify against those former employees when their trial begins in late April.
The sentence was part of a plea bargain between Franklin and the prosecution in which he agreed to testify against Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, in return for dismissing some of the charges against him.
Franklin's sentence may be reduced significantly if the prosecution is satisfied with his cooperation in the Rosen-Weissman trial.
At the sentence hearing of the US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, Judge T.S. Ellis seemed to show sympathy to the defendant saying he was convinced that Franklin, 59, did not intend to harm the US when he passed on classified information obtained through his work at the Iran desk in the Pentagon.
"I accept your explanation that you didn't want to hurt the United States, that you are a loyal American," the judge told Franklin, adding that the defendant was concerned about "certain threats to the United States." Yet Ellis concluded that Franklin had indeed broken the law and "we can't have that in this country."
The sentence of 151 months in prison is the lowest punishment possible by the federal sentencing guidelines.
Franklin pleaded guilty as part of his plea bargain to three charges: conspiracy to communicate national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it, conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government and unlawful retention of national defense information. The maximum punishment for the original counts with which Franklin was charged is 25 years and included a $10,000 fine, which was rescinded later on Friday because Franklin agreed to forfeit his government pension.
Franklin entered the plea bargain last October and has since been cooperating with the prosecution. The office of the US attorney now expects Franklin to take the stand and testify against Rosen and Weissman at their trial. If his appearance in court is considered satisfactory, the prosecution can then put in a motion to change his sentence to one that is less than the federal sentencing guidelines. Franklin will not have to begin his prison term until he finishes his testimony at the Rosen-Franklin trial.
Franklin, according to the indictment, was in close contact with the AIPAC staffers and on several occasions gave them information regarding threats to the US from Iran and information on Iraq. According to the prosecution, Franklin, who was frustrated from the policy of the US towards these threats, used Rosen and Weissman to convey information to the higher levels. He also gave classified information to Naor Gilon, the former political officer at the Israel Embassy in Washington, who has since returned to Israel.
US Attorney Paul McNulty, prosecutor the case, said Friday, "The defendant violated his pledge to protect classified information and in doing so compromised national security and the system that protects it."
Franklin's lawyer, Plato Cacheris, said his client was cooperating in full with the prosecution and expects the government to move to reduce his sentence once the trial is over.
The sentencing of Larry Franklin marks the end of the first phase of the AIPAC-Franklin case, but the Rosen-Weissman trial, which begins April 25, is expected to be the more significant.
Lawyers for the defendants have been struggling in the past months to force the prosecution to disclose the surveillance tapes on which the indictment was based. The tapes, that represent over four years of FBI tracking of the AIPAC staffers, are protected as classified and the government claims it cannot disclose them. The defendants claim that there is no sense in keeping the tapes classified because they document conversations with Rosen and Weissman.
Rosen and Weissman were fired by AIPAC last April and have since been engaged in a dispute with AIPAC over funding for their legal defense.
The prosecution has contacted Israeli officials requesting cooperation in the case and for possible depositions from the diplomats involved. Officials from the Israeli justice and foreign ministries have met with US officials but no agreement has been reached so far.
Israeli ambassador to the US, Daniel Ayalon said following the Franklin sentencing, that it is "an internal American issue," adding "Israel has no connection to the trial and obviously no connection to its results."
The defense has also requested that three diplomats agree to testify in the trial, but Israel has not yet responded. Sources close to the defense and Israeli sources agreed that it is unlikely that Israeli officials will consent to testify.