CIA Denies Allegations it Discriminated Based on Religion

Michael Shapiro - Staff Writer, Washington Jewish Week - April 16, 1999

A Jewish lawyer with the CIA who has accused the spy agency of denying him a job on the staff of the National Security Council because of his religion and connection with Israel is threatening to sue the agency, and has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to launch an investigation into the matter.

In raising the specter of a lawsuit and requesting an investigation by the Justice Department, Adam Ciralsky's attorney, Neal Sher, cited CIA documents that show officials raising questions about Ciralsky and his family's contributions to Jewish causes and contacts with Israelis. The memos also indicate the officials' belief that Ciralsky failed to fully disclose such information during questioning.

The documents from Ciralsky's official security and counterintelligence files "are a study in classical anti-Semitism and unadulterated paranoia," Sher, the former head of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit and a columnist for Washington Jewish Week, wrote in a March 22 letter to Reno requesting the investigation.

John Russell, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said Reno has received the letter and that the request is "under review." He would not indicate when a decision would be made.

William Harlow, the CIA's director of public affairs, said he could not talk about the specifics of Ciralsky's case because of concerns that discussing them would break privacy laws, something Sher has accused CIA officials of already doing by sharing information in Ciralsky's security file with people who had no reason to see it. Harlow denied that allegation, saying the individuals shown the file were "authorized to see the documents."

Last Friday, after National Public Radio ran a story about Ciralsky's case, CIA Director George Tenet sent a message to the agency's employees saying that a five-member panel set up to investigate the matter found "nothing whatsoever to substantiate the charges of anti-Semitism in this case."

The panel included former CIA director William Webster, retired Adm. William Crowe, and attorneys Nicole Seligman, Ely Jacobs and Henry Rosovsky. "I will not tolerate anti-Semitism, or any other form of discrimination, at the agency," Tenet said. "Anti-Semitism is repugnant to me and to all that our agency and our country stand for."

However, Sher and his client are alleging that the agency maintains a "double-standard" for Jews" especially in light of the Jonathan Pollard case "who are put through more rigorous security checks because of their religion and possible ties to the state of Israel.

*[NOTE: The Jonathan Pollard Case is a case study in systemic anti-semitism in the CIA. Pollard was not the cause of this anti-Semitism but a victim of it. See Editorial "The Chicken and The Egg".

The charge of "dual loyalty is just under the surface," said Sher, who added that other Jews in government service have reportedly faced similar treatment.

In December 1997, Ciralsky, who was then 24 and a member of the CIA's honor program for lawyers, was slated to rotate into a one-year stint at the White House to work for National Security Council terrorism expert Richard Clark. However, on Oct. 20, 1997, the CIA placed Ciralsky on "indefinite administrative leave," saying that there were "legitimate" counterintelligence concerns, according to Sher.

Sher, in his recent letter to Reno, said Ciralsky, now 27, was 'subject to patently unlawful and discriminatory treatment by security and counterintelligence personnel at the CIA who sought to characterize as subversive his and his family's "lawful and protected exercise of their Jewish faith."

One document, which Sher said was written to the head of the CIA's Middle East counterintelligence group from a more senior official (all the names on the once-classified documents are blacked out), suggested a number of questions to ask Ciralsky about his relations with Israel and Israeli officials.

Under one suggested question, the official, in giving his or her reason to ask such a questions, wrote: "From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect [Adam's] wealthy daddy to support Israeli political/social causes in some form or other, be it Israeli [sic] Bonds purchased through the United Jewish Appeal, or outright financial support to the Likud Party. I believe that this is an issue that [Adam] is withholding information, and assuming he is sincere, I think that it is important that he state openly he and his family's support for the Likud Party. He may simply be withholding on this issue because it paints him and his family as extreme supporters of Israel's hard-liners in the Likud Party, and he wishes to avoid being seen such a lover of Israel."

Such "assumptions" were wrong, Sher said, adding that Ciralsky's family is an "average Jewish family" who donates money to UJA and Israel Bonds but is not involved in Israeli politics. Ciralsky's family lives in Milwaukee, where his father is a surgeon.

Further down in the memo, the official wrote that "it will be very important for you to get him to admit clearly and unequivocally that he and his family (daddy, david [sic], mom, etc.) all are deep supporters of Israel. He must be made to understand that this will not be misunderstood by the CIA, for we are sophisticated and broad-minded enough to understand the unique ties that bind American Jews to their brethren in Israel."

While Harlow said the members of the panel investigating Ciralsky's case dismissed the allegations of anti-Semitism, he acknowledged that they had some "heartburn with some of the language" contained in the memos written about Ciralsky. Agency officials, according to Sher, contend that Ciralsky failed his initial polygraph test, which was conducted in the summer of 1997. Sher said Ciralsky, who is still a CIA employee and therefore cannot talk about his allegations, was "harassed" during the more than seven-hour test.

Sher, however, said a document, dated Sept. 19, 1997, shows that there was a coordinated effort, which included Tenet, the CIA director, to scuttle Ciralsky's career. The memo is dated two weeks before Ciralsky was scheduled to undergo another polygraph test administered by security officials.

In the memo, an unidentified CIA official wrote: "Tenet says this guy is outta here because of lack of candor. ... Subject is scheduled for a poly on Thursday, 2 Oct. Once that's over, it looks like we"ll be waving goodbye to our friend."

Ciralsky has subsequently passed a polygraph test administered late last year by the former chief of the FBI polygraph lab, according to Sher. Now, with attempts to settle the matter out of court having broken down, Sher, who accused the CIA of reneging on a commitment it made to create a "fair polygraph procedure," went public with the documents which he said are rife with the old "canards" of Jewish money and influence. Sher said he intends to file later this month a lawsuit alleging discrimination. He would not say how much in damages Ciralsky would seek.

While Harlow, the CIA spokesman, said the agency cannot get into the details of the case, it did reach out to four former CIA directors " John Deutch, James Woolsey, Robert Gates and Webster " to rebuff charges of systemic anti-Semitism. The four said in a joint statement that such allegations "are completely inconsistent with everything we know about the CIA and the entire intelligence community."

Deutch, who is Jewish, added in a personal note that during his 22 years with the CIA, he "never encountered any hint of anti-Semitism at any point."

  • Return to Ciralsky page