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Former lobbyists charged in Pentagon probe

Suspects had been fired from pro-Israel group for 'conduct'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two former employees of a pro-Israel lobby organization have been charged in an ongoing federal investigation alleging the illegal disclosure of classified Pentagon information, a U.S. attorney said Thursday.

At a news conference in Alexandria, Virginia, where the case is being prosecuted, officials unveiled an indictment naming Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, former officials with the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC.

Both men previously had been interviewed by federal authorities. Their attorneys said the accusations are false.

Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was previously charged in the probe, but the federal indictment brought Thursday also includes him, as prosecutors have combined the cases.

"We all know that Washington is a town in which the flow of important information is virtually nonstop," said Paul McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "It constantly moves between officials, lobbyists and the press. But when it comes to classified information, there is a clear line in the law.

Thursday's "charges are about crossing that line," he said. "Those entrusted with safeguarding our nation's secrets must remain faithful to that trust and adhere to the law."

Franklin, Rosen and Weissman each are charged with one count of conspiracy to communicate national defense information to people not entitled to receive it and three counts of communication of such information to people not entitled to receive it.

"The facts alleged in this indictment tell a story of individuals who put their own interests and views of American foreign policy ahead of America's national security," McNulty said.

Franklin also is charged with conspiracy to unlawfully communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government. Sources familiar with the investigation have previously identified that agent as an Israeli Embassy official.

The former Pentagon analyst has pleaded not guilty to the previous charges.

The federal investigation focuses on allegations that Franklin passed on classified information to the lobbying group's employees, and whether they passed it on to Israel.

Sources familiar with the probe said that the FBI, as part of the investigation, wants to talk to a former official at the Israeli Embassy.

AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton said in a statement that the group "could not condone or tolerate the conduct of the two employees under any circumstances."

"AIPAC dismissed Rosen and Weissman because they engaged in conduct that was not part of their jobs, and because this conduct did not comport in any way with the standards that AIPAC expects of its employees," he said.

"The organization does not seek, use, or request anything but legally obtained appropriate information as part of its work."

Weissman's attorney, John N. Nassikas III, expressed disappointment "that the government has decided to pursue these charges, which Mr. Weissman strongly denies."

"We look forward to challenging them vigorously in court both factually and legally and to defending this hardworking, law-abiding professional and devoted husband and father of three," he said.

Rosen's attorney, Abbe Lowell, called the charges "entirely unjustified."

"The trial will show that this prosecution represents a misguided attempt to criminalize the public's right to participate in the political process," Lowell said.

"For 23 years, Dr. Steve Rosen has been a passionate advocate for America's national interests in the Middle East," Lowell said. "He regrets that the government has moved ahead with this indictment, but looks forward to being vindicated at trial."

In 1987, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, Jonathan Pollard, was sentenced to life in prison for passing classified material to Israel. (Full story)

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Kelli Arena and Justine Redman contributed to this story.

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