A Jewish attorney on forced leave from the CIA has decided to file a lawsuit that claims that rampant anti-Semitism at the spy agency has destroyed his career.
Armed with memos from top CIA brass and similar horror stories from other Jewish government officials, Adam Ciralsky is suing for unspecified damages. He plans to file the lawsuit in federal court in Washington next month, according to his attorney, Neal Sher.
The allegations have touched a raw nerve with many current and former Jewish federal employees who have faced routine CIA background investigations. Many believe that the 1987 conviction of Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard for spying for Israel places them under heightened suspicion.
The CIA put the 27-year-old Ciralsky on leave with pay in October 1997, after he failed a lie-detector test that centered around his support for Israel and past contacts with Israelis.
Internal CIA memos released by Sher show an agency bent on dismissing Ciralsky and appear to question his loyalty to the United States based on his family's support for the United Jewish Appeal and Israel Bonds. "They trot out all the old canards and put into question any Jew who participates in the most lawful of activities, giving to charity," said Sher, a former head of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting unit and a past executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In an effort to settle the dispute out of court, the two sides engaged in settlement talks, Sher said. As the talks heated up last month, the CIA revoked his pay, according to Sher.
The talks have now broken down altogether.
The CIA refuses to talk specifically about the case, citing federal privacy law that prevents them from discussing current employees without their permission.
But after Sher launched a publicity blitz about the case earlier this month, the CIA vehemently denied any charges of anti-Semitism.
Amplifying denials made last June when Ciralsky's charges were first reported, three former CIA directors released a joint statement last Friday condemning anti-Semitism and denying any anti-Jewish bias at the agency. Former director John Deutch went one step further, adding, "I am Jewish and during my entire experience with the CIA -- since I first came into contact with it in 1975 throughout my tenure as [director] which concluded in 1997 -- I never encountered any hint of anti-Semitism at any point."
After National Public Radio reported on the case recently, CIA Director George Tenet issued a statement to employees. "I will not tolerate anti-Semitism or any other form of discrimination at the agency," he said in the statement. "Anti-Semitism is repugnant to me and to all that our agency and our country stands for."
A CIA panel that included former CIA Director William Webster and retired Adm. William Crowe established to investigate the Ciralsky allegations and the charges of anti-Semitism found no evidence to support the accusations, Tenet said.
But the internal CIA memos that Ciralsky is using to make his case paint a different picture.
As the CIA was investigating Ciralsky, who was hired in December 1996, one senior CIA official wrote, "From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect Adam's wealthy daddy to support Israeli political/social causes."
Another memo lays out the strategy for questioning Ciralsky. "I think that it is important that he state openly he and his family's support for the Likud Party," it says. "We are sophisticated enough and broad-minded enough to understand the unique ties that bind American Jews to their brethren in Israel," the memo says.
Sher said the Ciralsky family has no ties to Israeli politics and even if it did, it would not be on the Likud side of the political spectrum. Another memo that Sher believes is central to the case says that CIA director Tenet had decided to get rid of Ciralsky even before the investigation of him was completed.
"Tenet says this guy is outta here because of a lack of candor," said the Sept. 17, 1997, memo stamped "restricted handling, hand carry only, eyes only."
Other CIA memos single out Ciralsky's Jewish background, including his proficiency in Hebrew, trips to Israel and a Judaic studies minor in college. They fail to include his proficiency in Spanish, trips to China and international studies major.
During one lie-detector test and interrogation, Ciralsky was asked why he did not disclose that an Israeli chaperoned a trip to the Jewish state he took with the Milwaukee federation when he was 15 years old. He also was asked about connection to his great-grandfather's first cousin, Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president. He was not, however, asked about a previous internship at AIPAC.
"There's a dirty little secret within America's security apparatus," Sher said. "Jews who support Israel are held to a different standard. Ciralsky is not the only Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism in government positions, Sher said.
At least two other Jewish employees of the CIA who require security clearances have run into trouble with the agency. Others who do not work at the CIA reportedly have been blocked from positions because the CIA, which handles many background checks for government employees, would not grant the necessary clearances.
One such person, an employee at the State Department, has failed to received his promotion to serve on the National Security Council, reportedly because he failed a lie detector test about his contacts with Israelis. In addition, a non-Jewish CIA employee won a six-figure settlement against the CIA because she was suspended after a trip to Israel. The employee, a station chief, received approval to visit Israel on a trip she found in a tour book. While in Israel, she was asked if she would like to meet with a Mossad official. She refused and reported the conversation to the CIA. Other former CIA officials dispute the claims of anti-Jewish bias. They point out the record number of American Jews serving in high-level jobs in the Clinton administration that require security clearances and in many cases deal directly with Israel.