Official: FBI investigating whether Pentagon official spied for Israel

Friday, August 27th 2004, 8:26 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI is investigating whether an analyst for the Pentagon's No. 3 official acted as a spy for Israel, giving the Jewish state classified materials about secret White House deliberations on Iran, two federal law enforcement officials said Friday.

No arrests have been made, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. But a third law enforcement official, also speaking anonymously, said an arrest in the case could come as early as next week.

The officials refused to identify the Pentagon employee who is under investigation, but said the person works in the office of Douglas J. Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.

Feith is a key aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, working on sensitive policy issues including U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. There are slightly more than a handful of people in Feith's office who specifically work on Iranian issues.

The investigation centers on whether the employee in Feith's office passed secrets about Bush administration policy toward Iran to the main pro-Israeli lobbying group in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which then allegedly gave them to the Israeli government, one official said.

David Siegel, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, said: ``We categorically deny these allegations. They are completely false and outrageous.''

AIPAC said in a statement that the lobbying group was ``fully cooperating with the governmental authorities, and will continue to do so.''

It said any allegation of criminal conduct by the organization or its employees was ``baseless and false,'' adding that the group ``would not condone or tolerate for a second any violation of U.S. law or interests.''

Pentagon officials refused to comment, referring all questions to the Justice Department.

The investigation, first reported by CBS News, has included wiretapping and surveillance, and searches of the Pentagon employee's computer, the law enforcement officials said.

President Bush has identified Iran as part of an ``axis of evil,'' along with North Korea and the former Iraqi regime. Yet, his administration has battled internally over how hard a line to take toward Iran, with the State Department generally advocating a more moderate position and more conservative officials in the Pentagon and at the White House's National Security Council advocating a tougher policy.

Israel _ one of the United States' strongest allies _ and its conservative prime minister, Ariel Sharon, have pushed the Bush administration toward a harder line toward Iran.

Israel and Iran have been in an increasingly harsh war of words in recent months. Senior Israeli officials have left open the possibility of an Israeli attack on suspected Iranian nuclear weapons development sites.

In response, Iran threatened last week to destroy Israel's Dimona reactor should Israel carry out such an attack.

In 1981, Israel destroyed a nuclear facility in Iraq after becoming suspicious that Saddam Hussein was developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Despite the close U.S.-Israeli relations, this is not the first allegation of spying by Israel.

Jonathan Pollard, a former naval intelligence officer who gave top-secret documents to Israel, has been a point of contention in U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israeli government has repeatedly pressed for his release, but intelligence officials have called the information he passed to the Israelis highly damaging.

Pollard was caught in Washington in November 1985, and was arrested after unsuccessfully seeking refuge at the Israeli Embassy.

A congressional aide declined to say if the Senate Intelligence Committee had been briefed on the case but said the panel is generally briefed on espionage cases.