The FBI is investigating whether someone in the U.S. Defense Department turned over secret material to Israel. No charges or arrests have been made, and Israelis have denied any involvement. But as VOA?s Ed Warner reports, there are wider implications for a process under way but still quite murky.

How can this be? asks retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowsky. The man named as the target of an FBI probe, Lawrence Franklin, was a friend who worked with her in the U.S. Defense Department or Pentagon. Quite critical of some of her other former colleagues, she says Mr. Franklin was pleasant and interesting with a fund of great stories.

Nothing new about that kind of thing, says James Carafano, an analyst of security matters at Washington?s Heritage Foundation. ?As long as there have been governments, there have been people trying to steal secrets from governments,? he says. ?Some of them are going to be people who are your friends, who are your trusted co-workers and who are the last person you could possibly think would be a spy, but often that is who those people turn out to be.?

He cites, for example, the case of Robert Hanson, a 25-year FBI veteran who while working in counter-intelligence, spied for the Russians.

Hold on, says Andrew Apostolou, director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington organization that deals with the terrorist threat. The case against Mr. Franklin, he says, seems less than certain. ?The nature of the allegations has shifted enormously,? he says, ?from potential espionage by a foreign power to a mid-level official who may have shared some frankly innocuous documents with other people who may have then shared that with a foreign power. That is a leak. It is not espionage.?

So what?s going on? Mr. Apostolou says it is part of an effort to discredit those in the Pentagon who pushed for war with Iraq. It is also a matter of political turf and ambition. ?As we all know, the current administration, if it is re-elected, will have some turnover of cabinet members,? he says. ?Many of these gentlemen are quite elderly. Many of them do not want to do a second term. There is some conflict and maneuvering for the future, and this has been drawn into that maneuvering.?

At the center of the battle is what Mr. Apostolou describes as the controversial Office of Special Plans, or OSP, a small group set up in the Pentagon to offer alternative views on key issues, in particular Iraq. Mr. Franklin belonged to this office.

OSP made some mistakes, says Mr. Apostolou, though this kind of innovation is always resented by the bureaucracy.

But it had a too obvious agenda, says Colonel Kwiatkowsky. ?People who worked in that office,? she says, ?particularly the political appointees, had come in at the very beginning of the Bush Administration with a very pro-Israel agenda and had come in with a set of social and academic ties to very pro-Israeli think tanks. And so after almost four years of the Bush Administration to have this to be an issue in some ways is surprising because it should have been an issue at the beginning.?

Colonel Kwiatkowski says she witnessed the OSP takeover at the Pentagon. Its members by-passed or removed people who opposed their determined drive to go to war in Iraq.

Israeli officials deny any involvement in this affair and insist they have not spied on the United States since 1985 when their agent Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. There is no need to spy, they add, considering the close relations between the United States and Israel.

In Tel Aviv, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom emphasized this point. He said Israel and the United States have intimate ties, and the information being exchanged is much more classified than any conversation that may have taken place.

Yuval Steinitz, a leading member of the Israeli parliament or Knesset, says after the Pollard incident ?there was a decision not to spy against the U.S. Government or its subsidiaries, and I am confident this is still the case.?

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz says the spy story has ?all the ingredients of a conspiracy theory, implying that Israel manipulated the Bush Administration to further its own interests and dragged America into a superfluous war in Iraq.?

So why all the coverage? the newspaper speculates. Maybe Americans are trying ?to send Israel a signal that it is beginning to get on their nerves in the hope that we take the hint.?

For instance, some elements within the U.S. military and intelligence are concerned about the possibility of Israel attacking Iran?s nuclear installations and Tehran responding in kind. The United States has enough problems in the Middle East, and this may be an indirect way of telling the Israelis to back off.

But no one can say for sure until the story unfolds.