A federal judge has virtually wiped out the prison sentence of more than 12 years he first imposed on a Pentagon analyst who pled guilty to leaking classified information to two pro-Israel lobbyists.
At a hearing Thursday evening in Alexandria, Va., Judge T.S. Ellis reduced the sentence for the former defense official, Larry Franklin, to probation plus 10 months in "community confinement," likely a halfway house.
Prosecutors had asked the judge to drop the sentence to 8 years in light of Franklin's cooperation, while a defense lawyer for Franklin, Plato Cacheris, asked for "no sentence at all."
In explaining his decision to dramatically reduce Franklin's sentence, Ellis cited the lack of punishment and light punishments imposed on other leakers, as well as Franklin's cooperation in the prosecution of the two lobbyists later fired from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman.
Last month, days before the case against the pair was set to go to trial, the government dropped the prosecution. The Justice Department said legal rulings in the case and the threat of new disclosures of classified information made a trial unadvisable.
"It's a very difficult and unusual situation," Ellis said. "This one is unique."
The judge said he did not quibble with the government's decision to drop the Rosen and Weissman prosecutions, but that the move was "significant" and had "some relevance" to what punishment Franklin should receive. He said it was "very disputable" whether some of the information at the heart of the case was actually the kind of "national defense information" it is illegal to relay outside the government.
Ellis railed Thursday against people who leak classified information, including those who leaked national intelligence estimates about Iran and revealed the existence of the warrantless wiretapping program maintained by the National Security Agency. However, he also said he had no problem with people who disclosed such information as an act of civil disobedience and accepted what followed. "Disclosing it was okay, if a person is willing to stand up and say, 'I did it. Give me the consequences,'" the judge said.
Ellis said he wanted Franklin's punishment to serve as a "beacon" to other officials that they would face serious consequences if they committed similar breaches. "Secrets are important to a nation. If we couldn't keep our secrets, we would be at great risk," the judge said.
Franklin pled guilty in 2005 to three felony counts involving illegal distribution and possession of classified information. He had been free pending the trial for the two ex-AIPAC officials. His attorney, Plato Cacheris, said the former policy analyst had trouble finding good work.
"He's been digging ditches. He's been cleaning cesspools," the attorney said.
The information that Franklin gave to the two AIPAC lobbyists has never been officially detailed, but it related to the threat Iran posed to U.S. forces in the region. He also acknowledged numerous meetings with an Israeli diplomat, Naor Gilon.
In a plea for leniency Thursday, Franklin said he was motivated solely by "love of our republic and by the safety of our military personnel that were about to go into Iraq." He insisted he wasn't trying to leak anything, but simply to use a back channel to alert "a particular NSC source" to the dangers in Iraq. The ex-Pentagon analyst didn't know at the time that Rosen and Weissman worked for the pro-Israel