Aipac Case Impacting Security Clearance
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The Pentagon is invoking the prosecution of two pro-Israel lobbyists and a Defense Department analyst for illegal use of classified information as a basis for stripping security clearances from government contractor employees who have dual citizenship in America and Israel or family members living in the Jewish state.
In at least three instances, Defense Department attorneys have used or attempted to use the case involving the former staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to justify withdrawing a security clearance or denying one in the first place, according to a Virginia lawyer who closely tracks such disputes, Sheldon Cohen.
“In my personal experience, I know of at least three cases,” Mr. Cohen told The New York Sun yesterday. “I assume they’re raising it in every Israel case.”
Asked why government lawyers were invoking the Aipac case in security clearance disputes with no known connection to the pro-Israel group, Mr. Cohen said, “The only reason to possibly use it is to implicate anybody with a connection to Israel, to imply they cannot be trusted. There is no other conceivable reason to bring it up.”
The two former Aipac staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, and the Pentagon analyst, Lawrence Franklin, were indicted in August 2005 on charges they conspired to pass classified information to persons not entitled to receive it, including Israeli officials and members of the press.
Franklin pleaded guilty in October. Messrs. Rosen and Weissman, who were fired by Aipac last year, have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Alexandria, Va. in August. However, a judge is considering their motion to throw out the case on the grounds that they were not government employees and had no legal obligation to protect any secrets Franklin may have provided.
Lawyers familiar with the security clearance review process said it is impossible to determine the full impact of the Aipac case on clearances because large swaths of the clearance process take place out of public view, including nearly all cases involving government employees. Only a few hundred cases involving government contractor employees are made public each year by the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals, a quasi-judicial body which is overseen by the defense department’s general counsel. The most recent cases on the Pentagon’s Web site are from 2005.
Mr. Cohen, who recently completed a study of the Israel-related security clearance cases, found that “an unusually large number” of the public cases involving concerns about foreign influence appear to relate to Israel. The names are deleted from cases made public by the Pentagon and most of those involved in clearance disputes do not wish to be identified, Mr. Cohen said.
One of the pending clearance cases where government lawyers have sought to rely on the Aipac prosecution involves an Israeli-born mechanical engineer who has worked at a major defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, for more than two decades, the employee’s attorney, David Schoen, told the Sun.
“There was some basis for McCarthyism. Here there’s nothing, just this dual loyalty business,” Mr. Schoen said. “It really strikes me as un-American.”
The Lockheed employee, whom Mr. Schoen declined to name, was born in Israel but emigrated to America 25 years ago. “His wife is American. His kids are American,” the lawyer said. “He has never had a problem at Lockheed.”
More than 7 years ago, the engineer was assigned to the F-22 fighter jet project and granted a “secret” clearance, Mr. Schoen said. A few months ago, defense department officials moved to revoke the employee’s clearance, citing his dual Israeli citizenship, his possession of an Israeli passport, and the fact that his mother and siblings live in Israel.
Mr. Schoen said his client fully disclosed the citizenship, the passport, and the family ties when he was first granted the clearance and was puzzled by the sudden claim that he was a security risk.
At a hearing a few weeks ago on the Lockheed engineer’s case, Mr. Schoen said, a government attorney sought to file the indictment of Messrs. Franklin, Rosen, and Weissman as an exhibit. The government argued that the indictment showed Israel was actively spying on America, Mr. Schoen said.
Mr. Schoen said he strenuously objected that the indictment was irrelevant to his client’s case and, as a charging document, no proof of anything. “The only relevance can be is here are two Jews in Washington who are accused of spying for Israel so now any Jew is suspect for that,” he said.
Mr. Schoen said the government argued that Franklin’s guilty plea confirmed the validity of the charges, but the administrative judge conducting the clearance review hearing declined to admit the exhibit.
Mr. Schoen said his client, whose hearing was continued to June, was recently laid off by Lockheed.
The Defense Department public affairs office initially referred the Sun’s questions about these issues to the Defense Security Service, which said it could not respond. A Pentagon spokesman later referred the questions to the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals. An official there, Peregrine Russell-Hunter, said no one in the office was authorized to speak with the press. “We haven’t had a press inquiry here in a very long time,” he said.
After courts ruled that dual citizenship alone was insufficient to deny a clearance, in 2002, the defense department adopted a policy that denied clearances to most people who hold foreign passports. Mr. Schoen said his client offered to give up his Israeli passport if the government would agree to grant him a clearance, but the government declined.
A law professor who studies issues of dual nationality, Peter Spiro, said he saw no legitimate connection between the Aipac prosecution and the security clearance cases involving dual citizens. The professor, who teaches at the University of Georgia, noted that Messrs. Franklin and Weissman are not Israeli citizens. “All it says then is that somebody of a certain ethnicity may be more amenable to do the bidding of a foreign government,” Mr. Spiro said. “These folks are being picked out for their national association which in this case is a proxy for their ethnic identity…. It’s sort of like corruption of the extended blood.”
The professor said there have been no major espionage cases involving dual nationals and intelligence agencies would be foolish to enlist people with such obvious ties.
A Jewish leader in Washington, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, said he was disturbed by the challenges to security clearances. “This is terrible,” he said. “People around the country are turning to use and telling us of ongoing cases where people are stripped of their livelihoods just because they’re Jewish.”
Mr. Cohen said he has not seen evidence the Pentagon is hostile to Jews. Rather, he said, people with ties to Israel have been casualties of a general tightening of the clearance process since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. “There is an intensification of government interest in people who have ties to any country in the Middle East,” he said. “Aipac may just have added fuel to the fire.”
In 2000, an attorney for the CIA, Adam Ciralsky, made headlines when he charged that the agency fired him because he is Jewish, studied Hebrew, and traveled to Israel. The agency denied that anti-Semitism played any role in his firing, but acknowledged that some memos written by investigators were offensive and inappropriate.
Nearly six years after Mr. Ciralsky filed suit over his firing, his case against the CIA is still pending before a federal court in Washington.