Discrimination Seen in Michigan Spy Case
Tenenbaum falsely accused as spy for Israel
Eli Lake - The New York Sun - May 21, 2008
WASHINGTON - For the past 11 years, Army tank engineer David Tenenbaum has been trying to undo the damage the government did to him in four days in 1997, when he was accused of being a spy for Israel.
It started with a polygraph test administered February 13, where one interrogator yelled epithets about how they knew how to deal with Jews. The next day, Mr. Tenenbaum arrived at work and found his computer gone and his name erased from the classified e-mail system at the Tank Automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, Mich.
He was then asked to enter a conference room, where agents from the FBI informed him he should confess to the crime of espionage. When Mr. Tenenbaum learned he would not be arrested, he walked out of the room and to his Toyota Camry parked on the base outside of Detroit. A guard asked him for his badge and proceeded to use it to scrape away the parking decal on his windshield.
Then the Jewish Sabbath came and the investigators he met in his office the day before began ransacking his home and confiscated this amateur violinist and guitarist's music books as well as the coloring books that belonged to his 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
The ordeal was complete on the following Monday. Mr. Tenenbaum read in the Detroit Free Press that he was an alleged spy and learned later that the FBI had forgotten to seal the court request for the Eastern District Federal Court of Michigan asking for a search warrant of his home. Some newspapers even began to call him the next Jonathan Pollard, the Naval officer who was sentenced to life in prison for stealing technology for Israel in 1986.
"It was like the twilight zone," Mr. Tenenbaum said. The U.S. attorney ultimately declined to prosecute the case, stating in a letter that the government failed to produce enough evidence to warrant prosecution despite a thorough investigation. This month, new details emerged when an independent watchdog organization called the Project on Government Oversight published new internal documents relating to the Pentagon inspector general's investigation into the handling of the Tenenbaum case.
Among the documents is a presentation laying out the inspector general's findings. The presentation's third slide says, "Mr. Tenenbaum experienced religious discrimination when his Judaism was weighed as a significant factor in the decision to submit him for an increase in his security clearance."
The investigation then went on to quote several Pentagon officials involved in the case against Mr. Tenenbaum acknowledging that his religion and his contacts in Israel were grounds at least in part for launching the investigation against him. A discrimination suit brought by Mr. Tenenbaum was thrown out of federal court after the government requested the judge acknowledge that the Army would need to disclose state secrets in order to mount its defense.
According to a sworn affidavit of Mr. Tenenbaum, when he took his first polygraph test in 1997, his questioner said to him: "I have done other Jews before and gotten them to confess and I'll get you to confess too," and, "I can tell you are lying by looking into your eyes."
Jewish community leaders and former Defense Department officials say Mr. Tenenbaum's case represents a disturbing phenomenon.
"There are other cases that have been brought to our attention over the years. Often people are afraid to go public for fear of further retribution, but there clearly has to be a systemic approach to this and let justice be done for those who have been discriminated against," said the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein. "This case is a blatant example of discrimination that is tolerated within the system against Jews and perhaps others. For 11 years this innocent man has suffered and paid a heavy price, personally, financially, socially. There is no compensation that is adequate for that suffering."
A former chairman of the Defense Policy Advisory Board and a senior Pentagon official in the Reagan administration, Richard Perle, said, "There is no balanced commitment to a sense of judgment from the people who are responsible for conducting these investigations. They fix on a target. They are disappointed if they cannot establish wrongdoing. And they resist fairness when they fail to show wrongdoing."
He added, "There is a wholly unjustified suspicion of Jews in sensitive positions, and especially Orthodox Jews."
Internal Pentagon documents indicate a fight has now broken out between the Pentagon's lawyers and the Pentagon inspector general that concluded the case against Mr. Tenenbaum exhibited the hallmarks of employment discrimination. That conclusion, a potential embarrassment for the Army, has yet to be published, in part because the Pentagon's general counsel has launched its own investigation into the case, which the inspector general's office complained was intended to undermine the findings of the report.
According to the inspector general's presentation, "OGC objections centered on undermining evidence presented above as either 'opinion' or circumstantial (indirect) evidence."
A spokesman for the Pentagon Thursday declined to comment for the story.
The lead investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, Beverly Lumpkin, said the case underscores the need for the Pentagon to allow its inspector general its own independent legal counsel.
"We are not taking a position on the underlying case," Ms. Lumpkin said. "We would like to see justice done for Mr. Tenenbaum. Obviously we do care what happens to him. Our focus is not on him personally. We think his story is a good illustration of the larger systemic problem with the inspector general at the Pentagon."
Mr. Tenenbaum said he is not surprised that the military would try to suppress the report.
"For almost 12 years I have been fighting for justice," he said. He added that many of the security officials he regards as his tormentors have been promoted in the military. Meanwhile, he is still seen as something of a pariah in his office. He is no longer allowed to work on his favored project of designing armor for Humvees. In the interim, he has earned a doctorate in chemical engineering.
"For 11 years I have been waiting for vindication," he said. "You have to imagine this, I was wrongfully accused of espionage. The punishment is either death or life in prison. I believe the only worse crime is assassinating a U.S. president." He went on: "My father was a Holocaust survivor. He was the only one who survived. He passed away a year before this happened. Can you imagine him seeing his only son being singled out for the same reason he was, being a Jew?"
See Also: The Adam Ciraskly and David Tenenbaum Cases (articles and information)