Last month, in a small town in West Virginia, a 74-year-old husband and his invalid wife were hospitalized for several days after eating rotten food the husband fished out of a dumpster.
For the past decade and a half, former Pentagon intelligence analyst and operative Col. (retired) Lawrence (Larry) Franklin and his wife Patricia have lived in utter destitution. During his 35 years of service, Col. Franklin was celebrated as a brilliant, fearless intelligence officer by his colleagues and bosses at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), in the U.S. Air Force and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Now, the aging hero who saved countless U.S. servicemen lives in war zones is a broken man. Col. Franklin subsists on the meager wages he earns from washing dishes, cleaning septic tanks and parking cars, while also taking care of his invalid wife.
Col. Franklin’s fall from grace is a tale that cries out for justice.
In 2003, Col. Franklin, a survivor of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, was working as the Iran desk officer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld needed constant information on Iran: namely, its efforts to undermine the U.S. war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, its sprawling terror networks and its burgeoning nuclear weapons program.
In the framework of his duties, Col. Franklin was authorized to share intelligence with U.S. allies, including Israel. He had a long-standing, warm relationship with Israeli military and intelligence officers dating back to his tenure as Air Force Defense Attaché in Israel during the 1990s. Col. Franklin also had close contacts with officials who worked on Iran-related issues for the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.
Throughout his presidency, George W. Bush‘s Iran policy was a bundle of contradictions. The State Department and the CIA supported appeasing Iran and wishing away the threat it posed to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as growing evidence of its nuclear program. Rumsfeld, then-Vice President Dick Cheney and some members of the National Security Council believed Iran could not be appeased, that its threat needed to be confronted head-on.
Facing a split among his top advisors, Bush opted for incoherence, refusing to issue clear guidance that would put him on one side against the other.
Col. Franklin’s long years studying and contending with Iran as an intelligence analyst and operative convinced him that the hawks were right. In a conversation with Newsweek earlier this week, he explained that in the lead-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, he became aware that Iran intended to turn the impending war in Iraq into a new Vietnam War by waging an insurgency against U.S. forces with unconventional terror and militia forces. Concerned that President Bush was insufficiently aware of Iran’s intentions, Col. Franklin discussed the Iranian threat with senior AIPAC officials in the hopes that they would communicate his concerns to National Security Council officials who, in turn, would report them to the president.
There was nothing out of the ordinary in Franklin’s actions. National security officials in all parts of the U.S. government often meet with civilian lobbyists, think tank scholars and other relevant officials, and discuss the issues of the day with them in the hopes of advancing their policy goals.
What Franklin hadn’t realized, at the time, was that the feud within the Bush administration regarding Iran was no mere policy dispute. As Franklin soon discovered, there was a deep-seated anti-Semitic edge to the positions of some of the administration’s Iran doves. They believed that Israel mischaracterized Iran as a threat to serve its own interests. Israel’s Jewish American supporters inside and outside government, these officials insisted, were trying to push the U.S. to adopt confrontational positions against otherwise-harmless Iran in support of the Jewish state. This anti-Semitic view was shared by some FBI investigators, who saw Jewish American support for the U.S.-Israel alliance as a sign of potential treason.
Beginning in 2003, some officers in the FBI and the DIA began investigating Jewish Pentagon and AIPAC officials for alleged spying for Israel. When they noticed Col. Franklin, a devout Irish Catholic, meeting with AIPAC officials, they brought him in for a series of friendly conversations.
In his telephone conversation with Newsweek this week, Col. Franklin recalled the intense anti-Semitism of the investigators. One of them, who served as a Middle East area specialist in the DIA, had a Hezbollah flag on his desk. The man insisted that the terror group that killed 243 Marines in Beirut in 1983, and was long viewed as the most dangerous terror group in the world, was not actually a terror group at all. An FBI agent bragged to Col. Franklin about his uncle who had served as a Nazi general in World War II.
Initially unsuspicious of their intentions, Col. Franklin willingly spoke to the investigators without legal counsel. But as his interrogations went on, he realized that his interlocutors were only interested in information about Jews—particularly, Jews at the Pentagon. The investigators subscribed to a conspiracy theory that placed American Jews and Israel at the heart of America’s troubles. When their bigotry became obvious, Col. Franklin stopped cooperating and confronted his investigators from the DIA and FBI about their anti-Semitism. They, in turn, accused him of being a closet Jew and opened an espionage probe against him.
In mid-2004, 30 agents escorted Franklin to his home and conducted a 10-hour search. They interrogated his elderly father and his 15-year-old son. They found classified documents that Col. Franklin had brought home from work so that he would be able to study them until late at night, while he cared for his ailing wife.
Col. Franklin, along with the two AIPAC officials, were charged with “spying for Israel.” While the charges against the AIPAC officials were dismissed five years later, Col. Franklin, bankrupt, had already pleaded guilty for taking home classified documents and having an “unauthorized discussion” with the AIPAC officials about a “classified subject”—despite the fact he shared no classified information with them.
Wanting to make an example of Col. Franklin, prosecutors in the case asked the judge to sentence him to 12 years in prison. But after the charges against the AIPAC officials were dismissed and after receiving letters of support for Col. Franklin from members of the top echelon of the U.S. national security community, who attested to his unswerving patriotism and enormous contribution to U.S. national security, the judge sentenced Col. Franklin to 10 months in a halfway house in order to enable him to work and take care of his wife. But because of his felony conviction, Col. Franklin was stripped of all his military benefits and pensions, rendering him destitute and incapable of properly supporting his family.
Time has proven the prescience of Franklin’s warnings. Iran is now on the precipice of a nuclear arsenal. It has fueled wars in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. And as Col. Franklin warned, the Pentagon last year released previously classified details about Iran’s direct role in killing U.S. forces in Iraq. According to the Pentagon data, Iran was directly responsible for one out of every six soldiers killed in combat in Iraq from 2003 through 2011.
Col. Franklin’s personal suffering speaks to the main goal of his persecutors. The fact is that his “crime” happens all the time in Washington. Government employees remove classified documents from classified locations all the time. Whether it is Hillary Clinton‘s server, former CIA Director John Deutch’s transfer of classified information to his unclassified home computer or thousands of mid-level bureaucrats who print out documents (as Col. Franklin did) to work from home, the decision to charge Col. Franklin with a felony count of mishandling classified documents—rather than demote him, reprimand him or charge him with a misdemeanor—constituted an inherently selective, and therefore prejudicial, prosecution. So too, his communications with the AIPAC officials were not a crime. The Justice Department dropped the charges against the AIPAC officials because they couldn’t prove either criminal intent or harm caused to the U.S. government. Moreover, the Justice Department had to acknowledge that its conversations with Col. Franklin were no different than its conversations with countless other administration officials far more senior than Col. Franklin.
The problem with Col. Franklin’s plight isn’t simply that he is a long-suffering innocent patriot. It’s that Col. Franklin was targeted and prosecuted, and his life was destroyed, to advance an anti-Semitic political agenda. That agenda sought to make an example of a mid-level bureaucrat in order to send a signal to other public servants that they shouldn’t oppose a policy of appeasing Iran, and that they must have nothing to do with Jews inside or outside of government who consider Iran a threat to America.
Earlier this week, Col. Franklin’s pro bono lawyer, Allen Lowy, submitted an official request to President Donald Trump to pardon Col. Franklin and restore his military and civilian service pensions and benefits. As the U.S. and its allies look toward a Biden administration that is committed to reinstating Obama’s policies of nuclear appeasement toward Iran and—at best—diffidence toward Israel, a pardon for Franklin would send a clear message that patriotic concern about Iran, a U.S. enemy, and thinking well of Israel and American Jews are not crimes.