WASHINGTON -- The official under investigation for allegedly passing US secrets about Iran to Israel was identified yesterday as a two-decade Pentagon analyst now working in the Defense Department's Near East bureau, one in a group of policy makers who have been probed in recent years for promoting their own foreign-policy priorities.
Larry Franklin, of the Defense Department's policy division, is the subject of an FBI investigation for allegedly passing secret documents about Iran to a member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and on to Israel, three Pentagon officials confirmed yesterday.
The probe also reaches beyond Franklin, including an investigation of whether more senior officials knew of the alleged document transfers, a law enforcement official said.
Franklin, an Air Force reserve officer who has served two stints in the US Embassy's defense attach office in Tel Aviv, was also an officer of the Defense Intelligence Agency. During the Bush administration, Franklin was promoted to the Pentagon policy division as a specialist on Iran, where he consistently argued for a hard-line stance against the Iranian government, the officials said.
Last fall, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld confirmed that Franklin was one of two Pentagon officials who met in 2001 with Manucher Ghorbanifar, the Middle Eastern arms dealer and onetime intermediary in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Ghorbanifar, who has said he remained in contact with Franklin and the other official until last year, is seeking US support to overthrow Iran's government.
Franklin also was a key link between the Defense Department and Iraqi National Congress Leader Ahmed Chalabi, according to the officials and Chalabi aides.
The Globe could not reach Franklin for comment.
No evidence of wrongdoing by Franklin has been made public, but the law enforcement official said the FBI was nearing the completion of its investigation, which has lasted more than a year and included wiretaps.
The official said the FBI has not decided whether the allegations against Franklin, if proved, would amount to espionage, or mishandling of classified information.
News of the probe prompted a swift denial from senior members of Israel's ruling Likud party yesterday. They said Israel has had a strict policy of not spying on the United States since naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985. He was convicted of selling secrets to Israel, which has lobbied the US government to commute his life sentence.
''Israel does not engage in intelligence activities in the US," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said. ''We deny all these reports."
Scott McClellan, President Bush's press secretary, said, ''Any time there is an allegation of this nature, it's a serious matter."
American Israel Public Affairs Committee also has denied wrongdoing.
Franklin's office, the Near East and South Asia Bureau, is a key part of the policy division headed by Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy. The office is the Bush administration's center of policy planning for the military side of the global war on terrorism and the Iraq war.
But members of the policy office have been under congressional scrutiny for going outside the normal intelligence channels to seek information, which turned out to be flawed, about Iraq's weapons systems, and for forging unauthorized links to Middle Eastern dissidents.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, in its continuing investigation of prewar intelligence, is looking into the Office of Special Plans and Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, two subgroups working out of Feith's division.
''We will pursue a better understanding of what role the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group and the Office of Special Plans played in prewar intelligence," Senator Jay Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in July.
The same division is also a part of the FBI's investigation into whether Pentagon officials leaked secrets to Chalabi, who then allegedly passed them to Iran to curry that country's support for his political ambitions in Iraq.
Franklin ''is believed by many of us to be one of the biggest proponents for regime change in Iran," said a congressional investigator who is looking into the Near East bureau on behalf of Democrats in Congress.
People who worked with Franklin describe him as a dedicated analyst committed to preserving US national security.
Within the administration, he is known as a hawk and supporter of neoconservative ideas, which hold that the best way to preserve American security is to actively promote democracy worldwide, particularly in the Middle East.
Franklin and another Near East bureau analyst, Harold Rhode, met secretly with Ghorbanifar, the arms dealer and onetime Iran-Contra figure, in December 2001. When reported last year, the meeting prompted questions about whether the Bush administration was working behind the scenes to destabilize the Iranian government.
Ghorbanifar has acknowledged seeking US support to overthrow the Iranian government.
Rumsfeld, at a press conference last October, said the meeting was prompted by a back-channel Iranian offer to provide assistance in the war on terrorism but that nothing came of it.
In addition, Franklin, like many of the administration's neoconservatives, was a supporter of Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, which lobbied for years for US support for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi National Congress also provided some of the prewar intelligence on Hussein's weapons that has been called into question by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Entifadh K. Qanbar, a senior aide to Chalabi, said yesterday: ''I know Mr. Franklin, and I think he is a person of great integrity and a very hard worker with great values and a patriotic American."
Globe correspondent Dan Ephron contributed to this report from Jerusalem.