The Boston Phoenix
August 31 - September 7, 2000

[Features]

Under suspicion

The CIA's religious profiling comes under scrutiny. Plus, the presidential candidates' bogus military debate, and Gore's weak New Hampshire operation.

by Seth Gitell

The nomination of US Senator Joseph Lieberman as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate could strike another blow for progress. No, not for religious diversity, but for putting an end to alleged racial and religious profiling within the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

A federal lawsuit filed July 19 in Washington, DC, charges that the CIA's internal screening process to weed out agency spies automatically casts suspicion on observant Jews. Adam Ciralsky, a former lawyer for the agency, is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the agency and CIA director George Tenet for alleged religious discrimination. Ciralsky, who was the subject of a CBS 60 Minutes story in February, alleges that his career was derailed in 1997 because he was unfairly targeted as a security risk. By his lawyer's reckoning, Ciralsky fits a CIA profile that flags observant Jews with close ties to Israel -- a modern version of the old canard that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America.

On Tuesday, David H. Shapiro, the attorney of record on Ciralsky's lawsuit, called on Lieberman to put an end to the practice. "I would hope that any responsible government official, whatever his or her religious background, would not tolerate this," Shapiro says.

Although Lieberman hasn't addressed the case directly, he has had to deal with doubts about his own loyalty to the United States, given his religious background. "If I'm honored and fortunate enough to become the vice-president of the United States, my first and primary loyalty is of course to the United States of America," Lieberman said on CNN's Larry King Live.

Shapiro, meanwhile, maintains not only that the "CIA engages in religious, racial profiling" and that that's what the agency did to Ciralsky, but that someone like Lieberman could fall under suspicion. CIA policy "would raise presumably the same concerns for somebody like Joe Lieberman -- or even more so because his connections are so much greater," he says.

CIA documents that have been made public seem to back up the first charge. In a redacted memo on Ciralsky, an agency official wrote: "From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect . . . his wealthy daddy to support Israeli political/social causes in some form or other be it Israeli Bonds [sic] purchased through the United Jewish Appeal, or outright financial support to the Likud Party. . . . I believe one of . . . his big problems . . . is that his mind and heart are so biased in favor of Israel that he has great difficulty separating his great pride in being such a staunch supporter of Israel in word and deed." Officials also raised concerns at the time of the security review about Ciralsky's distant family relationship to Israel's then-president, Ezer Weizman, according to his lawyers.

There's no reason to believe that some agency thick-neck wouldn't raise similar concerns about Lieberman. During his time in the Senate, Lieberman has championed various pro-Israeli causes. In 1998, when the Clinton administration was tussling with Israel's then-prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over the Middle East peace process, Lieberman wrote a Senate letter warning that "public pressure against Israel [would be] a serious mistake." And according to an August 11 article in the Jerusalem Post, Lieberman is a "distant relative" of Efraim Imbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel and a member of the institution's international advisory board. Its US equivalent would be the Rand Corporation, a California-based research organization that focuses on security and other issues.

However, not everyone agrees with Shapiro's speculation that the security profiling could harm a politician like Lieberman. Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), notes that as a senator, Lieberman has already received the requisite security clearances. He calls the notion that Lieberman could be targeted by the CIA through security profiling "poppycock."

Foxman -- who has examined records in the case and who, with the ADL, has created a diversity- and sensitivity-training program for the CIA -- also dismisses the charge that the agency engages in wholesale racial and religious profiling. "I think there have been some problems in this case," he says. "To say there is religious profiling is something the lawyer is entitled to, but we found no evidence that profiling exists." He does note, however, that the case of Wen Ho Lee, an Asian scientist accused of spying, has also raised concerns about racial profiling within the national-security establishment.

Shapiro, however, maintains that Ciralsky is being treated unfairly -- in part because he, unlike Lieberman, is a low-profile government bureaucrat. "Ciralsky is merely an observant Jew whose family gave money on occasion to things like the [United Jewish Appeal]," he says. "This is benign activity. This is like a Catholic giving to Catholic charities. The main thing is this racial, ethnic, religious profiling could happen again and for all I know is happening right now, because nothing was done to remedy or change it."

Even CIA director Tenet has acknowledged "a small number of instances of insensitivity" in the case and stated that investigators used language that was "insensitive, unprofessional, and highly inappropriate." Even he seems to understand, in other words, that activities such as giving to the UJA (the Jewish version of the United Way), or even being a board member of an organization such as the Begin-Sadat Center, are nothing more than ordinary philanthropy.

Neal Sher, the former head of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, has advised Ciralsky on his case and says he also experienced a degree of suspicion during his time in the government. "When I was in the US Justice Department, I felt the sting of the charge of dual loyalty," Sher recalls. "I have no doubt in my mind that there are some in the intelligence community -- including the CIA -- [who] are suspicious of any Jew that's supportive of Israel."

But Sher sees a big difference between Lieberman and Ciralsky: one is a vice-presidential candidate being vetted in the public eye, and the other is a lowly, faceless bureaucrat. "They're going to tread more carefully if you're in a position to affect them," says Sher, who hopes that the Lieberman nomination will put an end to the CIA's profiling. "This could be one way of demonstrating that the days of anybody harboring a notion that a Jew is a second-class citizen would be long gone."

Officially, the CIA didn't have much to say about the Ciralsky case or any "profile" that might apply to the Democratic vice-presidential candidate. "We don't comment on matters that are before the court or in litigation," says CIA spokesperson Anya Guilsher. In a statement released prior to the lawsuit, Bill Harlow, the CIA's director of public affairs, said, "The Agency is confident . . . that its actions were appropriate and nondiscriminatory, and that it would prevail in any lawsuit." He added: "The Central Intelligence Agency greatly values diversity and has succeeded on the contributions of men and women from a wide variety of ethnic, cultural, and religious backgrounds."

The CIA has not filed legal papers responding to the complaint in the Ciralsky case.

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Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell@phx.com.

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