NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO Broadcast on the Adam Ciralsky Case

SHOW: Morning Edition
DATE: April 9, 1999

This is NPR's MORNING EDITION. I'm Bob Edwards.

At a time when the nation is focused on national security, a scandal is brewing among intelligence agents involving charges of systematic anti-Semitism at the highest levels. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.


Three years ago, 24-year-old Adam Ciralsky was a wunderkind of the national security establishment. Promoted by his one-time bosses in the Pentagon, he won a coveted position in the CIA honors program, and having just graduated from law school, he went to work in the general counsel's office, where he was singled out with a cash award for his good work. But within months, he found himself accused of a dual loyalty to the state of Israel and a lack of candor in disclosing his contacts with foreign nationals. Today Ciralsky is still technically employed by the CIA, so he can't talk, but he's on leave without pay and has not been permitted to set foot in the agency for 18 months.

Meanwhile, his once shining prospects of a career in national security are in ruins, and later this month, he expects to file a lawsuit charging the CIA with a pattern of rank anti-Semitism against its Jewish employees and Jewish employees in other agencies screened by the CIA for security clearance. Ciralsky's lawyer is Neal Sher, the one-time head of the Justice Department's Nazi hunting section. He says that what he's learned in the last two years about the CIA's disparate treatment of religious Jews and security clearances has, quote, "stood my hair on end."

Mr. NEAL SHER (Attorney): In the course of our dealing with Adam, we, I think, have come across a much more pervasive and pernicious pattern of conduct that could only be described as blatant anti-Semitism, and now it's been documented.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, the CIA security apparatus, presided over in part now by the FBI, has produced a number of cases similar to Ciralsky's. Item: a Jewish State Department employee promoted to the National Security Council is blocked because he's told he failed a polygraph question about contacts with Israelis. The man's lawyer, a former Reagan administration Defense Department officials who is not Jewish, says he's amazed at what he calls a clearly different screen to evaluate Jews. Item: an FBI counterintelligence agent wins a six-figure settlement and a lifetime annuity for being suspended after a trip to Israel. Jonathan Weisgold(ph) is her lawyer.

Mr. JONATHAN WEISGOLD (Attorney): She found the vacation in a travel book. She told her superiors she went over there, was asked if she wanted to meet with a Mossad agent, said, `Thank you, no.' When she came back, she reported that contact and then she was found to be lacking in candor and it unraveled from there. It was quite clear that her Jewishness was a factor. She was told, `We do not want this to be another Jonathan Pollard case.'

TOTENBERG: And there are more cases like this. In the Ciralsky case, the CIA's own internal documents obtained by NPR indicate that the agency had been suspicious of Ciralsky from the time of his arrival at CIA. The suspicion centered on his Jewish background and are illustrated in a memorandum written to the chief of the Middle East counterintelligence group from her boss. It begins, quote, "I'd like to know if he admits his family had actual contacts with right-wing politicians like Prime Minister Netanyahu. If not contacts, then maybe his family has donated money to Israeli government causes.

From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect Adam's wealthy daddy to support Israeli political or social causes in some form or other, perhaps through the United Jewish Appeal." Lawyer Neal Sher responds.

Mr. SHER: If contributing to the UJA and Israel bonds made one suspicious, if it questioned your loyalty, then the vast majority of the Jewish community in the United States would be under suspicion. If there's evidence that they violated the laws, they ought to take action against them. But there's nothing here.

TOTENBERG: Adam Ciralsky's troubles at the CIA began the week he got there, even though he didn't know it at the time. He'd passed an entry polygraph test, but as he later learned, his name had been flagged for, quote, "strong ethnic ties," and his file sent to the counter espionage section.

An internal CIA summary of his background is illustrative. It lists his proficiency in Hebrew, but not Spanish, his trips to Israel, but not China, his Judaic studies minor in college, but not his international affairs major. Ciralsky did not learn of the CIA's suspicions until August of 1997, shortly before he was to be rotated to the National Security Council.

On August 19th, he was ordered to report for a polygraph. During a seven-and-a-half-hour interrogation, Ciralsky was accused of deception, of being a spy, a dupe and a terrorist. In September, he was interrogated by the chief of the Middle East section, who'd received the wealthy Jewish daddy memo beforehand. He was asked why he'd failed to report that when he'd gone on a high school trip to Israel at age 15, the trip's chaperone was Israeli and why he failed to disclose that his college Hebrew teacher was Israeli. Ciralsky answered that he'd not seen either of these individuals for years and that under CIA regulations, he was only supposed to report close or continuing contacts.

Many more interrogations followed, during which he was asked, for example, about his connections to his great-grandfather's first cousin, Chaim Weizmann, who was the first president of Israel.

But both Weizmann and the great-grandfather died long before Ciralsky was born. Indeed, Ciralsky's family has lived in the United States since the 1860s. His great-great-grandfather fought in the Civil War. But now Adam Ciralsky, son of a Milwaukee surgeon, was under suspicion at the CIA.

As the investigation progressed, agency documents show that CIA director George Tenet was kept informed by special memos. Finally, Ciralsky was ordered to take another polygraph. Once again, he was told he'd flunked, and his lawyers believe that the internal CIA memos show the test was rigged.

In one memorandum, an unidentified official writes, quote, "Tenet," meaning the CIA director, "says this guy is out of here. Subject is scheduled for a poly. Once that's over, it looks like we'll be waving goodbye to our friend." Shortly thereafter, Ciralsky's lawyers had him take a polygraph administered by the former chief of the FBI polygraph lab, a man who'd trained CIA polygraphers for years.

Mr. SHER: And it came out as clean as could be. He passed it perfectly. There were no problems whatsoever.

TOTENBERG: Ciralsky's lawyer, Neal Sher, then started talking to prominent Jewish-Americans who, in turn, made contact with Vice President Gore's office. Sher also wrote to the president's national security adviser Sandy Berger. He got no answer.

White House sources say that they were told by the CIA that suspicion had been raised about Ciralsky's contacts by another agency, but one senior intelligence source not in the CIA has told NPR that the information about Ciralsky is considered not credible, even by the FBI.

Said this source, `The security folks are out of control, and the higher-ups are unwilling to take them on.' In fact, CIA higher-ups, not long ago, proposed settling the Ciralsky case for a substantial sum if, among other things, Ciralsky agreed to take a polygraph administered by an independent tester who would not be briefed in advance by either side. Lawyer Neal Sher.

Mr. SHER: The CIA actually reneged on a written deal.

TOTENBERG: Bill Harlow, a spokesman for the CIA, denies any wrongdoing by the agency, but says he cannot comment on the specifics of the case.

Mr. BILL HARLOW (CIA Spokesman): We find anti-Semitism repugnant and reprehensible, and the circumstances that Mr. Ciralsky finds himself in today have nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

TOTENBERG: Whether or not Adam Ciralsky wins his lawsuit, the effect it's likely to have on the agency is profound. Michael Sirfrino(ph) is a former top intelligence officer who now serves as general counsel for the Ballistic Missile Defense Program at the Pentagon. Adam Ciralsky worked for him there, and it was Sirfrino who recommended him to the CIA. The problem Ciralsky faces now, says Sirfrino, is that he cannot prove a negative. He can't prove he hasn't done anything wrong.

Mr. MICHAEL SIRFRINO (Pentagon Employee): I think they've--I think Adam has probably been misled, at best, and there could even have been worse that was undertaken.

TOTENBERG: Would you recommend anybody over there now?

Mr. SIRFRINO: Absolutely not. I think they have an internal problem. I think it's a cultural problem. And I think they need to fix it if they're gonna--welfare of the American public.

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