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Press Releases
September 25, 2000


Orthodox Group Points to Pattern of Religious Profiling

New York – Agudath Israel of America has expressed concern to U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen about what appears to be a pattern of religious profiling in the nation's defense establishment. As a result of this pattern, the Orthodox Jewish group charges, a number of Jewish employees in the defense and intelligence services are working under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their religious identities.

The immediate impetus for raising the issue was a recent investigation of a Jewish military employee, David Tenenbaum, whose security clearance was suspended, and whose home was raided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the Jewish Sabbath. Mr. Tenenbaum, an Orthodox Jew who works for the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM), has sued officials of the defense agency, alleging that he was singled out as a likely spy for Israel solely because of his religion.

In pre-trial deposition testimony, TACOM's director of research stated that the investigation had been prompted by Mr. Tenenbaum's speaking of Hebrew and wearing of a yarmulke, which raised suspicions that "he was doing something improper with the Israelis." He further testified that "none of this would have happened" had Tenenbaum not been Jewish.

Other evidence that came to light in the Tenenbaum case include a 1996 memo from TACOM's director of intelligence/counter-intelligence stating that "[s]ubject's behavior, actions and statements fit a classic profile that warrant and create security concerns…"

And, in a 1997 memo to the director of the FBI, an FBI special agent recounted the opinion of the person who administered a polygraph test to Mr. Tenenbaum "that because of his [Tenenbaum's] devout religious beliefs and his strong affinity to Israel, Tenenbaum would have provided restricted information to the Israelis… [Tenenbaum] makes his life's decisions based on his deep rooted beliefs in his Jewish faith."

In a letter conveying this information to Defense Secretary Cohen, Agudath Israel's executive vice president for government and public affairs, David Zwiebel, makes the point that Tenenbaum's case is only the latest wrinkle in a disturbing pattern. "In 1996," he recounts, "a Defense Department memorandum warned American defense contractors about those with 'strong ties to Israel'." Though that memo was subsequently repudiated, its effects, says Mr. Zwiebel, "seem to have lived on."

He cites, for one example, a "60 Minutes" report this past February that featured an anonymous Central Intelligence Agency official who contended that religious Jews with intelligence clearance within the CIA are suspect as Israeli spies. That program came in the wake of the investigation of a CIA employee, Adam Ciralsky. At that time, Agudath Israel expressed its concern to CIA director George J. Tenet, who, in response, "categorically reject[ed]" the allegation "that CIA employs ethnic profiling or that we treat Jewish employees or applicants for employment any differently from anyone else." Neither Tenenbaum nor Ciralsky, in the end, was charged with any criminal activity.

In recent weeks, concerns over racial and ethnic profiling within the defense and intelligence establishments have escalated, in the wake of the FBI's widely criticized actions in the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, the Asian-American nuclear scientist accused of spying for China – as it turned out, without any evidence.

In reference to the evidence introduced in the Tenenbaum case, Agudath Israel's Zwiebel told Secretary Cohen that "We are troubled by the notion that loyal and dedicated American Jews within the defense community may be subject to suspicion because of their religious beliefs and observances.

"We are particularly alarmed that there may exist a 'counter-intelligence profile' that specifically singles out religiously observant Jews for investigation by the Defense Security Service, the FBI, and other intelligen ce agencies."

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