NEW YORK -- FBI agents on Friday copied the computer hard drive of a senior staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who has been questioned in relation to the case of a Pentagon official suspected of turning over a classified document either directly to Israel, or via the pro-Israel lobby group.
Sources in Washington said the hard drive was that of Steve Rosen, AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues.
It was not clear if FBI agents also seized other materials from Rosen's office. AIPAC says it is cooperating fully with the FBI's investigation.
Government lawyers, according to Tuesday's New York Times, are preparing to make the first arrests in the case by issuing a criminal complaint against one or more figures who are said to be involved. The case is being handled by federal prosecutors in Virginia.
But experts suggested that the rush to file a complaint could be a sign that the charge will be less severe than that of espionage, as was originally reported.
"The fact that they're going to file a complaint instead of an indictment is an indication of the weakness of their case," said one criminal defense expert. A criminal complaint would allow the government to proceed with arrests more quickly.
AIPAC and Israel have denied any wrongdoing in a case that has become increasingly muddled since CBS News reported on Friday that the FBI was about to arrest an Israeli mole in the Pentagon.
Investigators suspect that a mid-level Pentagon staffer, Larry Franklin, provided either AIPAC or Israel with a secret draft of an internal planning document on US policy toward Iran.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith have been briefed on the case, as have officials at the White House, State Department, and congressional leaders.
Congressional leaders continued on Tuesday to rally around AIPAC, whose image, many in the pro-Israel community fear, has been tarnished by accusations of wrongdoing.
"AIPAC has worked hard to build its credibility with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle," House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri said. "While the House will want to look carefully at any allegations that might endanger our national security, it will begin that look with a record of great confidence in our relationship with AIPAC and our strongest ally and the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel."
The House Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) also expressed confidence in AIPAC. "I have worked with AIPAC for many years. They are a very successful, strong, and committed organization and do a tremendous job advocating for the important US-Israel relationship."
Despite those voices of confidence, some in Washington said they expected that US officials would be reluctant to meet with AIPAC staffers, at least in the immediate short-term, now that there is a suspicion that AIPAC is being monitored by the FBI.
"The biggest implication, is that mid-level officials will not be meeting with AIPAC. They don't want to be seen with them," said one Washington lobbyist.
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