Mike Pompeo waits to be sworn in as director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Jan. 23. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

New CIA head meets with Abbas in West Bank ahead of Trump-Netanyahu meeting


CIA director Mike Pompeo reportedly met secretly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the P.A. headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The meeting was held Tuesday, The Associated Press reported, citing two unnamed senior officials. The White House and the CIA declined to comment to the AP.

The talks came a day before the scheduled meeting in Washington, D.C., between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Abbas reportedly briefed Pompeo on Palestinian positions ahead of the Trump-Netanyahu meeting. He also reportedly expressed concern about a statement made Tuesday night to reporters by a senior White House official that a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

None dare call it treason


In 1964, when Barry Goldwater ran against Lyndon Johnson, a man named John A. Stormer self-published a book called, “None Dare Call It Treason.” It accused America’s left-leaning elites of paving the way for a Soviet victory in the Cold War. The book sold seven million copies, but Johnson crushed Goldwater in the election.

Now that the C.I.A. has determined that the Russians intervened in the presidential election to help Trump win, the Cold War politics of left and right have been flipped. If Stormer rewrote his book for 2016, its thesis might go like this:

Beware of Donald Trump. Witlessly or willfully, he’s doing the Kremlin’s bidding. Anyone who enables him – on his payroll or in the press, by sucking up or by silence, out of good will or cowardice – is Vladimir Putin’s useful idiot. This is a national emergency, and treating it like normal is criminally negligent of our duty to American democracy.

Trump as traitor: I can just imagine the reaction from the Tower penthouse. Lying media. Paranoid hyperbole. Partisan libel. Sour grapes. A pathetic bid for clicks. A desperate assault on the will of the people. Sad! (Note to Tweeter-in-Chief: You’re welcome.)

As a kid in a New Jersey household where Adlai Stevenson was worshipped, I thought Stormer was a nut job, so I won’t pretend that accepting the modern inverse of his case is a no-brainer. I’m also not trying to recast my political differences with the president-elect as a national security crisis. Trump won. Elections have consequences. I get that.

I may not like it, but I’m not surprised that Trump tapped Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a crusading climate change denier and an advocate of dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency, to run the E.P.A., presumably into the ground. Anyone who interpreted Al Gore’s meeting with Trump as a sign of his open-mindedness on climate change got played, just like Gore got played.

Similarly, I’m cynical, but not shocked that Trump’s picks for treasury secretary, National Economic Council and chief adviser – Steven Mnuchin, Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon – are alumni of Goldman Sachs. A billionaire managed to hijack Bernie Sanders’ indictment of Wall Street and brand Hillary Clinton as the stooge of Goldman Sachs. The success of that impersonation isn’t on Trump, it’s on us.

I’m infuriated, but not startled that Trump refuses to disclose his tax returns, divest his assets, create a credible blind trust, obey the constitutional prohibition of foreign emoluments or eliminate the conflict between fattening his family fortune and advancing American interests.  That’s not draining the swamp, it’s drinking it.

It’s abysmal that Democrats didn’t have a good enough jobs message to convince enough Rust Belt voters to choose their economic alternative to Trump’s tax cuts for the rich. It’s disgraceful that the media normalized Trump, propagated his lies, monetized his notoriety and lapped up his tweet porn. It’s maddening that the Electoral College apportions ballot power inequitably. But as enervating as any of that is, none of it is as dangerous to democracy as the C.I.A.’s finding that Putin hacked the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. Without firing a single shot, the Kremlin is weeks away from installing its puppet in the White House.

Within days, Trump is expected to name Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil’s CEO, as his secretary of state. Putin bestowed the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest civilian honors, on Tillerson, after Exxon signed a deal with Rosneft, the Russian government-owned oil company, to jointly explore the Black Sea and Arctic. The plan died when the U.S. and E.U. sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea; Tillerson, whose Exxon shares’ value will skyrocket if sanctions are lifted, favors lifting them.

The Tillerson appointment is the latest dot in the pattern of Trump’s Putinophilia. When 17 U.S. intelligence agencies concurred that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic emails, Trump – who’s refused most of his security briefings – rejected their conclusion, claiming at one point that it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” at another that “it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.” I knew that Trump is a serial fat-shamer, but I didn’t know until now that being a Newarker puts me in his crosshairs, too.

It’s entirely conceivable that Russia has something on Trump. They may hold hundreds of millions of dollars of Trump debt. They may have spousally unsettling video of him – a K.G.B. specialty, and a plausible Trump susceptibility. Surely the Kremlin has mapped his character disorder. In the third debate, when Trump said Putin had no respect for Clinton, and she shot back, “Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president,” Trump’s interruption – “No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet, no, you’re the puppet” – sounded like a third-grader. Actually, it was a confession, what clinicians call projective identification. Putin’s psy ops must know every such string on him to play.

Before the election, when both parties’ congressional leaders were secretly informed that Russia had its thumb on the scale for Trump, Republican leader Mitch McConnell torpedoed a bipartisan plan to decry their intervention. Now that the news is out, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Sunday that the intel “should alarm every American,” and they called for a bipartisan investigation to stop “the grave threats that cyberattacks… pose to our national security.”

Trump’s response? “I think it is ridiculous. It’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it. Every week it’s another excuse. We had a massive landslide victory, as you know, in the Electoral College.”

As we don’t know. Trump’s Electoral College margin will rank 44th among the 54 presidential elections that have been held since the 12th Amendment was ratified.  Nate Silver called Trump’s “landslide” claim “Orwellian.” The Washington Post gave it Four Pinocchios. Why not just call it a lie?

Trump blew off the Kremlin’s intervention in our election the way Putin denied Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Do we call that a lie, too?

Maybe there’s a better word we should dare to use.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Former Clinton CIA director advising Trump on national security


The Donald Trump campaign announced on Monday that James Woolsey, former CIA director under President Bill Clinton, is formally advising the Republican presidential candidate on national security matters.

“I have been a ‘Scoop Jackson,’ ‘Joe Lieberman,’ Democrat all of my adult life, but I am pleased to be asked to participate with others I respect in advising GOP candidate Donald J. Trump on the urgent need to reinvest in and modernize our military in order to confront the challenges of the 21st century,” Woolsey said in a statement. “Mr. Trump understands the magnitude of the threats we face and is holding his cards close to the vest. Bravo Zulu, Mr. Trump.”

Woolsey headed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the years 1993-1995. He currently chairs the Strategic Advisory Group of the Washington, D.C. private equity fund, Paladin Capital Group.

The announcement comes after former CIA Director Michael Morrell and former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers, both serving under President George W. Bush, penned an “>JP Updates and the Friedlander Group in Brooklyn. “I would not do so to Hillary’s campaign.”

But, Woolsey said, he is not doing it “with enthusiasm,” since he is not pleased with either candidate in this election. “But I am of the view that there’s at least a chance of something positive developing. I see no chance of something positive developing in our future if Hillary Clinton is elected.”

In the statement released by the Trump campaign, Woolsey claimed, “Based on the emails thus far released we know that Secretary Clinton also lacks the ability to lead her senior managers while complying with and maintaining the basic protocols designed to protect our government’s sensitive and classified information.”

Obama says Iran has pledged to help find Robert Levinson


Iran will “deepen its coordination” with the United States to locate a Jewish-American man missing since 2007, President Barack Obama said.

“Iran has agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson, missing from Iran for more than eight years,” Obama said, speaking Sunday from the White House.

Levinson, 68, of Coral Springs, Florida, has been missing since disappearing from Iran’s Kish Island during what has since been revealed as a rogue CIA operation. His family told the media they were “devastated” that he was not among the five Americans released this weekend as part of a U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange that marked the launch of the nuclear deal.

“Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others we will never forget about Bob,” Obama said. “Each and every day but especially today our hearts are with the Levinson family and we will never rest until their family is whole again.”

The Iran nuclear deal was launched formally Saturday as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirmed that Iran had met its nuclear restriction requirements. The United States and the European Union responded by suspending an array of nuclear-related sanctions on the country.

“Engaging directly with the Iranian government on a sustained basis, for the first time in decades, has created a unique opportunity, a window, to resolve important issues,” Obama said.

“We’ve now closed off every single path Iran had to building a bomb,” he said. “We’ll know if Iran ever tries to break out.”

The White House website posted abundant material defending the deal, along with a video animation depicting all paths to a nuclear weapon as being choked off, accompanied by triumphant swells of a string orchestra.

Obama insisted that the United States remains vigilant in confronting Iranian mischief in the region, addressing a key anxiety expressed by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Even as we implement the nuclear deal and welcome our Americans home we recognize that there remain profound differences between the United States and Iran,” Obama said. “We remain steadfast in opposing Iran’s destabilizing behavior elsewhere, including its threats against Israel and our Gulf partners and its support for violent proxies in Syria and Yemen.”

Netanyahu in a statement Sunday simultaneously reiterated his skepticism of Obama’s ability to make good on that pledge while promising to vigilantly monitor Iran’s compliance.

“Israel’s policy is exactly as it has been – not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” he said. “What is clear is that Iran will now have more resources to divert to terrorism and its aggression in the region and around the world, and Israel is prepared to deal with any threat.”

Obama also said that the he would sanction Iran for its recent ballistic missile tests. Congress and pro-Israel groups had urged him to do so, but Obama initially slowed down such sanctions. Subsequent to the release this weekend of the prisoners, it was revealed that the delay was in part not to scuttle the exchange.

Israeli army to soldiers: Beware of CIA attempts to recruit you


An Israel Defense Forces intelligence department has called on its officers and soldiers to be wary of attempts to recruit them to America’s Central Intelligence Agency.

The advisory from the IDF’s information security department, which is part of the intelligence department, calls on Israeli military officers to “be aware and report any unusual incidents,” Israel’s Channel 2 reported Sunday.

“Every security body fears having its confidential information leaked,” an unnamed Israeli defense official told Channel 2.

It is not known why the advisory was being issued at this time. U.S. intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have attempted to recruit Israelis in the past, according to the report.

Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA


Hundreds of Iranian troops have arrived in Syria to join a major ground offensive in support of President Bashar al-Assad's government, Lebanese sources said on Thursday, a sign the civil war is turning still more regional and global in scope.

Russian warplanes, in a second day of strikes, bombed a camp run by rebels trained by the CIA, the group's commander said, putting Moscow and Washington on opposing sides in a Middle East conflict for the first time since the Cold War.

Speaking by video link for an hour, U.S. and Russian military officials discussed ways to ensure their warplanes do not come into conflict as they carry out separate air campaigns over Syria, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. He said it was the first in a series of conversations.

Two Lebanese sources told Reuters hundreds of Iranian troops had reached Syria in the past 10 days with weapons to mount a major ground offensive. They would also be backed by Assad's Lebanese Hezbollah allies and by Shi'ite militia fighters from Iraq, while Russia would provide air support.

“The vanguard of Iranian ground forces began arriving in Syria: soldiers and officers specifically to participate in this battle. They are not advisers … we mean hundreds with equipment and weapons. They will be followed by more,” one of the sources said.

So far, direct Iranian military support for Assad has come mostly in the form of military advisers. Iran has also mobilised Shi'ite militia fighters, including Iraqis and some Afghans, to fight alongside Syrian government forces.

Moscow said it had hit Islamic State positions, but the areas it struck near the cities of Hama and Homs are mostly held by a rival insurgent alliance, which unlike Islamic State is supported by U.S. allies including Arab states and Turkey.

Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group which is part of the Free Syrian Army, told Reuters one of the targets was his group's base in Idlib province, struck by around 20 missiles in two separate raids. His fighters had been trained by the CIA in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, part of a programme Washington says is aimed at supporting groups that oppose both Islamic State and Assad.

“Russia is challenging everyone and saying there is no alternative to Bashar,” Haj Ali said. He said the Russian jets had been identified by members of his group who once served as Syrian air force pilots.

The group is one of at least three foreign-backed FSA rebel factions to say they had been hit by the Russians in the last two days.

At the United Nations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference Moscow was targeting Islamic State. He did not specifically deny that Russian planes had attacked Free Syrian Army facilities but said Russia did not view it as a terrorist group and viewed it as part of a political solution in Syria.

The aim is to help the Syrian armed forces “in their weak spots”, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook described Thursday's military talks as “cordial and professional” and said a U.S. official raised concerns that areas targeted by Russian aircraft in Syria were not Islamic State strongholds.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the United Nations on Thursday: “Instead of lone decisions by Russia to take direct military action in Syria we need Russia to take political action advocating transition in Syria.”

SAME ENEMIES, DIFFERENT FRIENDS

Russia's decision to join the war with air strikes on behalf of Assad, as well as the increased military involvement of Iran, could mark a turning point in a conflict that has drawn in most of the world's military powers.

With the United States leading an alliance waging its own air war against Islamic State, the Cold War superpower foes, Washington and Moscow, are now engaged in combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two.

They say they have the same enemies – the Islamic State group of Sunni Muslim militants who have proclaimed a caliphate across eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

But they also have different friends, and sharply opposing views of how to resolve the 4-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven more than 10 million from their homes.

Washington and its allies oppose both Islamic State and Assad, believing he must leave power in any peace settlement.

Washington says a central part of its strategy is building “moderate” insurgents to fight Islamic State, although so far it has struggled to find many fighters to accept its training.

Moscow supports the Syrian president and believes his government should be the centrepiece of international efforts to fight the extremist groups.

It appears to be using the common campaign against Islamic State as a pretext to strike against groups supported by Washington and its allies, as a way of defending a Damascus government with which Moscow has been allied since the Cold War.

The Russian strikes represent a bold move by President Vladimir Putin to assert influence beyond his own neighbourhood: it is the first time Moscow has ordered its forces into combat outside the frontiers of the former Soviet Union since its disastrous Afghanistan campaign in the 1980s.

The Russian and Iranian intervention in support of Assad comes at a time when momentum in the conflict had swung against his government and seem aimed at reversing insurgent gains.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi of neighbouring Iraq, where Washington is also leading an air war against Islamic State while Iran aids government forces on the ground, said he would be open to Russian strikes as well.

A Syrian military source said on Thursday that Russian military support would bring a “big change” in the course of the conflict, particularly through advanced surveillance capabilities that could pinpoint insurgent targets.

Putin's gamble of going to war in Syria comes a year after he defied the West to annex Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, drawing U.S. and EU economic sanctions while igniting a wave of popular nationalist support at home.

He appears to be betting that decisive action to aid Assad will improve Russia's position at future talks on a political settlement, safeguard its control of the naval base and limit the influence of regional rivals like NATO member Turkey. It could also help his image at home as a strong leader willing to challenge global rivals, first and foremost the United States.

Los Angeles’ Iranian community fears Iran nuclear deal has hidden dangers


For some, the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Argentina, which claimed 85 lives and injured hundreds more, is history. But for many Iranian Jews living in Los Angeles and elsewhere outside Iran, the terror attack, widely believed to be perpetrated by agents of the Iranian Islamic Republic, looms as a threat of things to come.

L.A.’s Iranian community has always been on high alert to the dangers posed by Iran — potential dangers to family remaining in Iran and to relatives and friends in the Iranian diaspora. Now, the proposed nuclear oversight agreement with Iran, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that is currently under consideration by Congress has stirred even more alarm. Many Iranian Jews, although not all, fear they could again be directly harmed by the country they fled long ago, many at the time of the 1979 revolution. Others take a more restrained view of what impact the deal might have on their lives here (read “Gina Nahai: Being Iranian” and “Memories of youth breed distrust of Iranian government“).

Since the announcement in mid-July that the United States and other world powers had reached an agreement with Iran that, in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program, would lift economic sanctions on the Islamic republic, some Iranian Americans in Los Angeles say they fear for their safety if the deal is finalized. Congress will vote on the proposed deal by early September, but even if it is voted down, President Barack Obama has promised he will veto a no vote, which would leave Congress in need of a two-thirds majority in both houses to overturn the veto.

Many of L.A.’s Iranian Jews and Muslims who have been are outspoken opponents of the current Iranian regime say they worry some of the estimated $150 billion in impounded Iranian assets worldwide — no one knows yet the actual amount — that would be released if the deal goes through could be used by the regime to threaten former citizens, as well as to heighten anti-Semitism in the U.S., incite hatred for Iranian Christians and Baha’is and to attempt to silence further criticism of the regime’s extensive human rights violations. 

“Many critics of the regime are left to ponder what this regime will do — especially to dissidents and religious minorities in Iran and globally — if the regime is freed from international censure and economic pressure,” Sam Yebri, an attorney and co-founder of the nonprofit Iranian-American political advocacy group Thirty Years After (30YA), said in a recent interview. “With Iranian-sponsored terrorism having reached more than 20 countries, every American should be concerned.”

Yebri said 30YA has collected approximately 1,000 signatures from Southern California Iranian Americans of various faiths for a letter urging members of Congress to vote against the proposed Iran deal. 30YA is also sponsoring a public forum on Aug. 20 at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills to discuss the Iran deal; speakers will include Yebri as well as Josh Lockman, a fellow with the Truman National Security Project and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, who supports the deal.

Some believe the process of stifling criticism of Iran has already begun. “The presence of wealthy pro-Islamic Republic of Iran elements, activists and lobbyists in Southern California has already polarized the Iranian communities in the region and has revived the level of hatred of Jews among them to unprecedented heights,” Frank Nikbakht, who heads the L.A.-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said in a recent interview. 

Some local Farsi-language radio and satellite TV shows have featured news commentators who have said Iranian Jews are more loyal to Israel than Iran in their opposition to the Iran deal, saying they do not have any loyalty to the nation of Iran. In addition, former Iranian regime “reformists” who now live in the U.S. after falling out with the regime, have authored online blogs and articles in Farsi using the term “Joo-hood,” a derogatory Farsi word to describe Jews, and questioned the validity of anti-Semitism charges against the Iranian regime. Their articles have been filled with false accusations of Jews’ treasonous acts against Iran dating back to the time of the Book of Esther. Farsi-language media outlets in Southern California have also increasingly featured commentators attacking Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with age-old Blood Libels of wanting to kill Muslim Palestinians and Iranians and wanting to destroy Iran. And some leaders within non-Jewish Iranian-American political organizations have recently charged Iranian Jews in the U.S., as well as American Jews, with allegiances to Israel, accusing them of warmongering against Iran because many Jews do not support the Iran deal.

Nikbakht said that since 1979, the oil-rich Iranian regime has harassed Jews inside Iran as well as outside in an attempt to advance its anti-Semitic ideology worldwide. He pointed as an example to the bombing of the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, widely believed to be linked to Iran, although that has never been definitively proven.

If sanctions are lifted, Nikbakht believes, “the massive infusion of money into the Islamic Republic of Iran will increase its decades-long foreign efforts in banishing Jews from their environments as they have already done successfully inside Iran, to the tune of 90 percent.” Currently, Iranian-Jewish activists in Los Angeles estimate that between 5,000 and 10,000 Jews are living in Iran today; an estimated 80,000 Jews are believed to have lived in Iran before 1979. 

Anti-Semitism is a hallmark of the Iranian regime’s influence, Nikbakht said, “from the wall graffiti and signs in Yemen today, to the ruins of Argentine-Jewish centers of previous decades, to the vast info-sphere of the Internet, we can clearly see their footsteps, as distinct even from other similar players.”

Southern California is currently home to approximately 500,000 Iranian Americans, of whom nearly 45,000 are Jewish, according to estimates from various Iranian-Jewish community leaders, the majority of whom fled or emigrated from Iran after the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution. The L.A. community’s activists also worry Iranian Americans could face threats by those in the United States who wish to advance Shiite Sharia law, including, they say, in areas of Los Angeles County that are home to expatriate Iranian communities. They point to growing anti-Semitism and violence within some large Muslims neighborhoods in London and Paris as the source of their fears.

George Haroonian, an Iranian-Jewish activist and board member of the largely Iranian Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, believes befriending the Iranian regime to any degree by the U.S. will be dangerous. “Unfortunately the naive and politically correct point of view of some — including administration officials or the U.S. public will result in opening the doors to some unsavory characters or artists from Iran who really should be banned from entry to the U.S.,” Haroonian said. 

 Already the community has identified hate-promoting artists they allege are being exported by the Iranian regime and sought to squash them. Last March, for example, local Iranian-Jewish activists launched a grass-roots campaign to boycott performances by Akbar Abdi, a notorious Iranian-Muslim anti-Semitic comedian who had planned to tour in the U.S., including performing Farsi-language shows in Southern California. The campaign ultimately resulted in the cancellation of Abdi’s show at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, as well as other shows in Southern California.

A video on YouTube from 2013 shows Abdi being given a film award by Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and using derogatory terms to describe Jews. Iranian-Jewish groups were surprised the U.S. State Department had granted Abdi an entry visa into the U.S. despite his history of overt anti-Semitism.

Nikbakht and other local Iranian Jewish activists believe once sanctions are lifted, the regime will fund anti-Semitic groups in the U.S. They point to the regime’s long history of sponsoring Holocaust denial conferences and its warm relations with notorious anti-Semites, including former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke and other American neo-Nazi groups. 

“Judging by the European experience with the Iranian regime, we can safely predict that the Iranian regime will greatly improve its ties with the American neo-Nazis, the KKK types and other anti-Semites in this country — they will massively fund and promote them and use their services toward their political ends,” Nikbakht said. “Once the open presence of the Iranian regime and pro-Islamic Republic Iranians are tolerated and normalized in the U.S., they are going to act like kids in the candy store of anti-Jewish organizations and personalities.”

Further, the Iranian regime has a history of ties to European neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers, including, as one example, paying for the legal defense in France of French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy, who was convicted and fined $80,000 in 1998 in France for denying the Holocaust. Garaudy was subsequently welcomed in Tehran, where he met with the Iranian Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. In 2012, Khamenei publicly grieved the death of Garaudy in a personal Twitter message. 

Nikbakht also said Iranian state-run media outlets have also frequently cited the writings of the neo-Nazi American leader William Pierce. In October 2014, the Anti-Defamation League reported that the regime’s annual Holocaust denial conference in Tehran last year hosted Maria Poumier, a French denier; Claudio Moffa, an Italian denier; and Kevin Barrett, an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist and frequent contributor to Iran’s Eng-lish-language, state-run news network, Press TV.

Nikbakht believes the sources of this anti-Semitism come not only from Iranian hardliners, but also other more moderate factions in the regime. 

“Long before Ahmadinejad made a name for himself among the anti-Semites, the Iranian government, under the supposed moderate President [Mohammad] Khatami, had begun funding Holocaust deniers and publishing their materials in Iran and all over the world,” Nikbakht said. “During the Green Revolution in the 2009-2010 period, several moderate leaders — even ones financially supported by the U.S. — staged a campaign of attacking the Islamic hardliners in Iran, not for their atrocities against the Iranian population or their Islamist fanaticism, but for allegedly being of Jewish descent.”

Iranian Jewish activists in Southern California said the Iranian regime has a long history of advancing anti-Jewish and anti-Israel messages locally. These include anti-Semitic articles in the now defunct Farsi-language newspaper Ete-laat International, which was published for several years by the Iranian government’s outlet inside the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C., but was shut down in 2005 according to L.A.-based non-Jewish Iranian activist Rozbeh Farahanipour, who blew the whistle on the publication. Iran is also known to have paid for advertisements on local Farsi-language radio stations and satellite TV in exchange for featuring anti-Semitic or anti-Israel personalities on certain programs, according to Nikbakht and Farahanipour. Iranian Jewish activists said they also suspect some anti-Israel activities and speakers who have been sent to many Southern California university campuses may have been funded, albeit indirectly, by the Iranian regime.

Iran experts said that the anti-Semitism within Iran is not motivated only by radical Shiite Islamic dogma.

“We have to recognize the fact that the Islamic Republic or even Islamic ideology is not the only source of anti-Semitism in Iran,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Iranian trained Shiite theologian and fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Modern anti-Semitism is mostly imported to Iran through leftist intellectuals and political activists. If we ignore the anti-Israeli attitude and anti-Semitism, which are still promoted by the secular left, we will not be able to tackle the problem.”

Dalia Dassa Kaye, director of the Center for Middle East Public Policy at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit global policy think tank, expressed a more moderate view: “While concerns about Iranian meddling are understandable,” she wrote, “there are many Iranian civil society leaders and human rights advocates who are in favor of the nuclear deal, because they feel once the nuclear issue is addressed there can be more scrutiny in Iran’s continued human rights abuses.”

Iranian Jewish activists in Los Angeles add that while the Iranian regime’s leaders have long argued their message is critical of Israel but not the Jewish people as a whole, their behavior and ideology suggests anti-Semitism.

“The Iranian regime’s constant calls for the destruction of Israel is truly an anti-Semitic statement,” Haroonian said. “It is not due to the regime’s care for the misery of the Palestinian Arabs, but it is due to its clear view that the Jew is to be inferior to Muslims and it is impossible for a non-Muslim to rule over Muslims.”

Some of L.A.’s Iranian Jews have long been hesitant to publicly criticize the current Iranian regime for fear of reprisals against the Jews who remain inside Iran. There are, however, many activists in the local Iranian-Jewish community who have been very vocal in their efforts to educate Americans about what they see as the dangerous nature of the Iranian regime. 

Local Iranian Jews are not the only ones who fear potential threats and reprisals from the Iranian regime. Many groups of all faiths have also voiced concerns that they would be targeted should the sanctions be removed. 

“I personally do not feel safe, and I am very worried,” said Farahanipour, who also heads the Marze Por Gohar Iranian opposition party. The group was originally a young people’s political party in Iran that pushed for a secular democratic government to replace the country’s totalitarian Islamic theocracy. In 1999, during student protests in Iran, the party was banned by the Iranian regime, and Farahanipour and other members were arrested and imprisoned. He eventually made his way to the U.S., where he has been fighting to raise awareness of Iranian human rights violations and sponsorship of terrorism. “The Iranian regime has in the past issued a fatwa [religious edict] against my life, because I oppose them, and they will do everything in their power to squelch voices of opposition like my group outside of Iran that are constantly raising public awareness about their horrid human rights violations.”

Farahanipour added that his office in Westwood was found to have been bugged in 2005; he and a friend discovered an instrument attached to the outside of his computer when the computer wasn’t working properly one day. Farahanipour believes Iranian agents place the bug there. He also said people connected with the regime’s leadership have tried to bribe him to win his silence. Farahanipour said other local non-Jewish-Iranian activists have, in recent years, been threatened, pressured and, in some cases, bribed by agents of the regime in overt attempts to stop their activism against Iran’s government.

“In 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013, my group was protesting and raising public awareness about the Iranian regime holding illegal voting stations at various L.A.-area hotels for the Iranian presidential elections — the U.S. has no diplomatic relations with Iran, so their actions were illegal, and my ongoing efforts to expose this activity to the press upset the regime,” Farahanipour said. “Even with sanctions in place today, the Iranian regime has caused a lot of trouble for many of us in L.A. who oppose them — so God knows what havoc they will cause for us and the city when they are flooded with millions of dollars once sanctions are removed.”

In September, Farahanipour, who serves on the Westwood Neighborhood Council — a citizens group that advises the city of L.A. — worked with the neighborhood council to pass a motion calling on the Los Angeles City Council to remove Farsi-language signs in some Westwood shop windows that they alleged were advertising consular services on behalf of the Iranian government, as well as assistance for travel to Iran and for trade with companies inside Iran. Iranian business owners in Westwood vehemently denied any illegal Iranian regime activity was connected with the signs and said the signs were misinterpreted. Since the neighborhood council took up the motion, the signs have been removed. 

Experts on Iran argue the Iranian regime’s history of retaliation against opposition groups outside of Iran gives local opposition activists legitimate cause for worry.

“The [Iranian] Revolutionary Guards are especially paranoid with regard to the Iranian diaspora,” said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “With additional money, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at the very least, they stepped up their espionage of the Iranian community abroad.”

While the majority of local Iranian Jews and non-Muslim Iranian Americans oppose the current Iran deal, there is a small minority with ties to family and business in Iran who have quietly been supportive of efforts by the Obama administration to reach out to improve relations with the Iranian regime. A substantial number of Iranian-American Muslims living in Orange and San Diego counties have been more vocal in their support for the Iran deal because of a potential for economic and financial improvement for their families in Iran.

There are also a small number of L.A.-area Iranian Jews who operate businesses inside Iran, all of whom interviewed for this article asked that their names not be published because of concerns for their safety. These L.A. residents said they frequently travel to Iran using identification papers indicating they are Muslim in order to operate their companies or to sell property left behind after the 1979 Iranian revolution. Some Iranian Jews in Southern California and New York have even traveled to Iran in recent years for personal visits, despite the known risk of being randomly imprisoned by Iranian authorities, or held for ransom by the regime’s security apparatus, or prohibited altogether from leaving Iran.

Currently, four Americans are in prison in Iran, the best known of whom is Iranian-American Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, arrested in July 2014 and charged with spying for the United States; after more than a year, Rezaian is still awaiting trial. (A closed-door hearing on Rezaian’s case was held this week, and his fate is expected to be decided soon, according to the BBC.) Other Americans detained in Iran include Saeed Abedini, a Christian pastor accused of apostasy; and Amir Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine who was imprisoned in January 2012 for allegedly spying for the CIA during a visit to his family in Iran. 

Iranian-Jewish activists said that since the 2013 election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, members of the Iranian regime have tried to reach out to Iranian-Jewish community leaders in Los Angeles and in New York, including inviting them to kosher dinners hosted by Rouhani during his 2013 and 2014 visits to New York after addressing the United Nations General Assembly. 

In the past, community leaders and activists have declined these dinner invitations, citing the Iranian regime’s fervent policy of wanting to destroy Israel, the regime’s sponsoring of terrorism against Israel and the regime’s Holocaust denial, calling the invitations a public relations attempt to improve the regime’s image in the U.S. media.

“We have legitimate demands, which the least of is the antagonistic position of the Iranian regime toward Israel,” Haroonian said. “We should not become their propaganda pawns, but rather use our peculiar and special position to publicly and privately pressure the Iranian regime for changing their behavior.”

Local Iranian-Jewish activists and non-Jewish-Iranian activists said whatever the outcome of the proposed nuclear agreement, they will continue to raise red flags about the Iranian regime’s potential anti-Semitism and harassment with local law enforcement and local elected officials.

Representatives at the Iranian Mission to the United Nations did not return calls for comment. 


Karmel Melamed blogs about the Iranian-American community at jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.

As David Cohen becomes CIA’s No. 2, Jews appear to have smoother sailing at security agencies


David Cohen’s path to second in command at the Central Intelligence Agency is, in many respects, a typical one in Washington.

A seasoned Ivy League lawyer who began his career defending the right of religious groups to display menorahs on government property, Cohen was the Obama administration’s top Iran sanctions official as the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

But in other respects, the 51-year-old Cohen’s ascent to deputy director is less typical.

A number of Jews have long alleged that they hit speed bumps in the American security services, their careers in some cases temporarily obstructed over security clearance questions. For others, accusations of espionage based on ties to Israel, however remote, have driven them from their jobs following home raids and round-the-clock surveillance.

Two federal employees — Adam Ciralsky, a CIA lawyer who was investigated in 1999, and David Tenenbaum, a civilian army engineer whose home was raided by the FBI in 1997 — uncovered evidence that they were targeted because they were Jewish.

Ciralsky learned that his distant relationship to Israel’s first and long dead president, Chaim Weizmann, and the fact that his father had purchased Israel Bonds were held against him. Tenenbaum was deemed suspicious in part because he spoke Hebrew even though it was helpful in performing his official duties as a liaison to Israeli counterparts.

Ciralsky and Tenenbaum each filed suit against their respective agencies, both of which ultimately admitted that the men were victims of religious discrimination. Ciralsky quietly dropped his case in 2012. Tenenbaum’s case is ongoing.

Jewish leaders said those incidents, along with the most notorious case of a Jewish government career run aground — the Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for passing on state secrets to Israel — are now fading from memory. In their wake, they said, the outlook for Jews at the highest levels of the American security apparatus are improving.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that complaints to his organization of bias against Jews in government have diminished nearly to zero in recent years.

“The problem related to Pollard and the stereotype of dual loyalty,” said Foxman, whose group until two years ago provided diversity training to the CIA. “I would say we have mostly overcome the residual issue of trust of Jews in intelligence issues.”

Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called Cohen “one of the heroes” of the effort to pressure Iran economically over its nuclear program and said his appointment shows the government is sensitive to cases of past bias.

“The message from on top is very important,” said Hoenlein, though he cautioned that such messages don’t always trickle down. “It doesn’t necessarily get down to the operatives who make decisions about promotions.”

Jewish-Americans have been working in American intelligence since the days of the CIA’s predecessor, the World War II-era Office of Strategic Services. Their skills were in demand in part because so many were recent immigrants, or were the children of immigrants, and were familiar with European languages and customs.

Some Jewish agents enjoyed long careers in U.S. security agencies with nary a hiccup. A smaller number have risen to its upper echelons. John Deutsch served as CIA director for 17 months in 1995-96, the second Jew to hold that position. James Schlesinger, who was born Jewish but converted to Christianity as an adult, served as CIA director for several months in 1973. Another David Cohen was the agency’s deputy director of operations in the 1990s.

The number of Jewish security personnel who have hit roadblocks is not clear. Lawyers who represent security personnel denied the clearance necessary for advancement say they have fielded dozens of complaints from Jews.

Mark Zaid, a Washington attorney who specializes in government and intelligence matters, said the security issue his clients most often face has to do with relatives overseas, which prompts worry from federal authorities about their susceptibility to pressures from foreign governments. Israel presents a special challenge, he said, because of the closeness of its alliance with the United States and the country’s reputation for “aggressive” espionage stemming in part from the Pollard case.

“You suspect the Russians of wanting your wallet, so you stay a foot away,” Zaid said. “The Israelis, you hug, but you don’t know if they’re picking your pocket.”

Sheldon Cohen, another lawyer who handles security clearance cases, said he has won every Jewish case he has taken. Like Zaid, he said he was likelier to hit a brick wall representing clients from Muslim countries. Sheldon Cohen said he has lost a number of those cases.

“More scrutiny is given to countries that are not on the best relations with the United States than countries that are on good relations with the United States,” said Sheldon Cohen, who has been working on security clearances since 1964.

One reason David Cohen may have avoided such pitfalls is that he rose up through the Treasury, a relative latecomer to the intelligence game, but which has become one of the busiest intelligence hubs in the government. The department that Cohen headed there, the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has existed only since 2004. His immediate predecessor, Stuart Levey, also was Jewish.

Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that has worked closely with Treasury on Iran sanctions, said Cohen represents a new brand of intelligence professional who uses the international financial system to track and punish America’s enemies.

“There’s a real lineage of these Treasury professionals who took Treasury from an institution that was a minor player on national security to what is now being described as President Obama’s favorite noncombatant command,” Dubowitz said.

The CIA did not consent to an interview with Cohen, but noted its director’s statement welcoming him to the agency.

“David brings a wealth of experience on many of the issues that we focus on as an agency and I look forward to his insights, expertise, and energy as we address the growing number and diversity of national security challenges facing America today,” John Brennan said.

Cohen is from Boston and in high school became friends with Jamin Dershowitz, the son of Harvard professor and well-known Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz.

“He practically lived in my house,” said Alan Dershowitz, who recalled having Cohen’s family over for Passover seders. Cohen and the younger Dershowitz, who is general counsel to the WNBA, are still close.

Alan Dershowitz recommended Cohen to his alma mater, Yale Law School, and then for his first job working for the prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, where he battled civil liberties groups who challenged the display of menorahs on public property.

“He is very consciously Jewish,” Lewin said of Cohen.

Alan Dershowitz said Cohen is adept at bringing people together on an issue, calling him a forceful advocate for the Iran nuclear talks favored by the Obama administration but which many in the pro-Israel community treat with skepticism.

“He combines likability with smarts and tough-mindedness,” Dershowitz said. “The kid from Boston became the No. 2 man at the CIA.”

How to hack the Sony hackers


I know what I’m doing on Christmas Day: First Chinese food, then “The Interview.”

I’ll be eating Chinese food on Christmas because I’m a Jew, and that’s tradition.

Then I’m going to go to a theater to watch “The Interview” because I’m an American, and that’s patriotism.

That’s right, patriotism.

Substantial evidence points to the North Korean regime, or people working for the regime, as the ones who attacked Sony’s computer system. North Korea is upset because Sony Pictures Entertainment made the Seth Rogen comedy about two shallow, inexperienced TV journalists who land an interview with North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un and are tasked by the CIA with assassinating him. The regime repeatedly warned Sony not to release the movie and has threatened severe consequences if it does. On Dec. 16, the Guardians of Peace hacking group further threatened to carry out 9/11-style attacks on theaters that screen the movie.

In the media’s mostly salacious coverage of the Sony computer hacking, the focus has been on everything but the perpetrators. How can Sony have let this happen? How can producers say such nasty things? Somehow the criminal invasion of people’s private lives and the theft and destruction of their property has morphed into a story about Hollywood’s behavior. A foreign government decides to invade America through its computers and damage the lives and livelihood of thousands of workers, and our response is, “Shame on that Amy Pascal.”  Talk about letting the terrorists win.

I don’t say that glibly. Hacking Sony is an attack on America. If North Korea gets away with it — even the damage already done to the company and private individuals, let alone the threat of what could happen next week — then all the systems and companies we rely upon are vulnerable.


Children photographed in an orphanage in North Korea during the 1997 famine. Photo by Justin Kilcullen, former director of Trócaire. www.trocaire.org

I can understand why Americans don’t see the story that way, yet. The media instantly made this about money, celebrity and race. Stories about Angelina Jolie get more clicks than those about North Korean death camps. And, anyway, what can we do about a cruel, distant and nuclear-armed regime?

Here’s what we can do: We can make sure the hacking backfires. We can see the movie, and we can shame North Korea. 

Good, bad, stupid, brilliant — I don’t know, and I don’t care — we need to buy tickets and go see “The Interview.” A huge opening-week box office will send just the right message to any regime that thinks hacking is a way to get what it wants. 

Our media also needs to match every bit of information given us by the hackers with massive amounts of information about North Korea. Their hacking moment must become our teaching moment.

How many Americans are aware of the death camps that the regime operates throughout its country?  An estimated 200,000 North Korean political prisoners are imprisoned in the country’s gulag, a system of slave camps of unspeakable cruelty. The Jewish Journal’s Jan. 24, 2014, cover story on these concentration camps had a simple title, “Holocaust in North Korea,” because that’s exactly what Kim Jong-un is perpetrating. Anyone whose words or behavior veers from the supreme leader’s can be a victim. According to dictatorial fiat, inmates aren’t the only ones to suffer — their children and grandchildren born in the camps remain there for their entire lives — punishments are meted out until the third generation.

Meanwhile, starvation is rampant — both inside and outside the camps. A country that spends enough resources to be able to hack into its enemies’ sophisticated computer systems can’t be bothered to provide its children lunch. 

This is what the press needs to disseminate. There are photos to be displayed, as well as links to satellite images of the actual camps. A massive crime is being perpetrated against the people of North Korea, and the hacking scandal is our moment to make sure the world sees it. 

“Those who control the narrative control the nation,” Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamic extremist, wrote in his 2013 book, “Radical: My Journal Out of Islamist Extremism” (Lyons Press).

“The Interview” so threatens the North Korean regime because it is well aware of the power of a movie to cement its image. Now Kim Jong-un is lashing out at the people brave enough, and free enough, to tell stories the way they want.   Radio pioneer Howard Stern, who knows a thing or two about free speech, said it most clearly on his Sirius show this week: “The attack on Sony is an attack on Amertica.”

The real focus, the relentless focus, has to be on punishing the perpetrators. The hackers have warned that those who go see “The Interview” will suffer a “bitter fate.”  Unfortunately, at least two theatre chains have already buckled under their threats and have decided not to screen the movie.  But wherever it plays at a theatre near me, I'm going.  It's as true with hacking as it is with any other form of terror:   the most bitter fate awaits those who give into it.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Sony pulls release of ‘Interview’ as U.S determines N.Korea behind attack


Sony Pictures on Wednesday pulled the theatrical release of its North Korea comedy “The Interview,” hours before a U.S. government source said investigators determined that North Korea was behind a cyberattack on Sony over the film.

Hackers attacked Sony Corp last month, leaking documents that drew global headlines, and now have forced a change of plans for a Christmas Day movie release for thousands of screens.

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film 'The Interview,' we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” Sony said in a statement.

Critics immediately began to call out Sony for the decision.

“With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar. This is a very very dangerous precedent,” Tweeted former Republican House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich.

The United States may officially announce that the North Korean government was behind the attack in the near future, the U.S. government source said. CNN reported investigators' findings earlier in the afternoon.

The hacker group on Tuesday threatened attacks on movie theaters which showed the film, a comedy about an assassination attempt on North Korea's leader. The threat prompted major theater chains to drop plans for “The Interview” and then for Sony to cancel next week's release altogether.

Several U.S. national security officials told Reuters the government had no credible evidence of a threat to moviegoers.

The studio said it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company.”

Sony said it stood by the film makers of “The Interview,” a comedy about two hapless journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korea' Kim Jong Un, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.

Representatives for Rogen and Franco, who canceled numerous scheduled appearances this week, did not respond to requests for comment.

Hackers who claimed responsibility for seizing control and leaking data from Sony's computers last month, warned people to stay away from cinemas showing the film, and reminded moviegoers of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks on the United States.

Hummus hits the headlines


According to a new report by the food and restaurant consulting firm Baum and Whiteman, hummus – the Middle Eastern spread that is central to both Israeli and Arab cuisine — is now more popular in the United States than salsa. Today, 20 percent of U.S. households have hummus in their refrigerators, compared to 12 percent eight years ago.

But not all the hummus news is good news.

In response to months of protest from the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine organization, Wesleyan University announced last week that Sabra will no longer be its exclusive hummus provider. Sabra is a target of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists because it is co-owned by the Israel-based Strauss Group, which has provided care packages to the Golani Brigade, an infantry unit of the Israel Defense Forces. Several universities had already attempted to boycott the Sabra hummus brand, with Princeton University’s campaign in 2010 making the most headlines.

Sabra isn’t the only hummus brand to court controversy.

This summer, before the debate at Wesleyan was settled and during the height of Operation Protective Edge in July, Tribe hummus, also an Israeli company, launched an advertising campaign in New York whose slogans, such as “You’re either a member or you’re not” and “If you don’t have enough for everyone, that’s just too bad for everyone,” rubbed many BDS activists the wrong way. Many of these advertisements were defaced, and some of them were covered with stickers that said “Apartheid.”

However, the darkest chapter in the history of hummus came on Monday, when the chickpea spread was revealed to be a component of a force-feeding torture regimen used by the CIA during the Bush and Cheney years. The details are too explicit to describe here, but they will definitely take away your appetite.

 

CIA chief admits agency used ‘abhorrent’ methods on detainees


CIA Director John Brennan said on Thursday some agency officers used “abhorrent” methods on detainees captured following the Sept. 11 attacks and said it was “unknowable” whether so-called enhanced interrogation techniques yielded useful intelligence.

With his agency under fire in the aftermath of a U.S. Senate report detailing the CIA's use of torture on detainees after the attacks, Brennan rejected the report's conclusion that the agency had deceived the White House, Congress and the public about its interrogation program.

“Our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives,” Brennan told a news conference at the agency's Virginia headquarters.

“But let me be clear. We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs (enhanced interrogation techniques) within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them,” he said.

“The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable,” he added.

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday published the report of a five-year investigation which found that the CIA misled the White House and the public about its interrogation program and acted more brutally and pervasively than it acknowledged.

“In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all. And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes,” Brennan said.

But the CIA chief said the “overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program at CIA carried out their responsibilities faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided.”

The Senate committee concluded that the agency failed to disrupt a single plot despite torturing al Qaeda and other captives in secret facilities worldwide between 2002 and 2006, when George W. Bush was president.

FINDING BIN LADEN

Brennan said the CIA believes that information gained from detainees subjected to enhanced interrogation helped locate al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in 2011. But he conceded it was unclear whether the intelligence could have been obtained without using such methods.

Some captives were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads, and the report recorded cases of simulated drowning, or “waterboarding,” and sexual abuse, including “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without any documented medical need.

Brennan said that he believes that “effective, non-coercive methods are available to elicit” useful information from detainees – “methods that do not have a counterproductive impact on our national security and on our international standing.” He said he supported President Barack Obama's 2009 decision to bar the use of these enhanced techniques.

Brennan said it was “lamentable” that the Senate committee did not question CIA officers involved with the interrogations program and that the committee failed to reach a bipartisan consensus on the report. Committee Democrats issued the report without the support of the panel's minority Republicans.

Asked whether, as the report asserted, there could have been more than the three detainees the CIA had earlier acknowledged were subjected to waterboarding, Brennan said that based on everything he had seen and read it was only those three.

Asked whether he considered some of the methods used by CIA interrogators to be torture, Brennan said he would leave it to others to place labels on what occurred.

Brennan noted that the CIA was directed by Bush to carry out a program to detain terrorism suspects around the world after the 2001 attacks. “In many respects, the program was uncharted territory for the CIA and we were not prepared,” Brennan said.

Brennan said he tends to believe that the use of “coercive methods has a strong prospect for resulting in false information” because the detainee may say anything simply to get the methods to stop. “And I think this agency has said that individuals who were subjected to those techniques … provided useful information as well as false information,” he added.

Jewish lawmakers decry torture practices, welcome report


Jewish lawmakers and anti-torture umbrella groups with Jewish affiliates expressed dismay at revelations of U.S. torture practices.

“The CIA’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our values and our history,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in floor remarks Tuesday after the release of the report on torture she had authorized.

“Releasing this report is an important step to restore out values and show the world that we are in fact a just and lawful society,” she said.

A number of leading Republicans had opposed the report’s release, saying it could lead to attacks on U.S. interests abroad, but Democrats and a minority of Republicans led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a survivor of torture while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said its release was necessary.

Practices described include waterboarding, subjecting detainees to extreme temperatures and continuous loud noise, forced rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and threats to the families of detainees.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was among an array of Jewish Democrats to release statements Tuesday welcoming the report and expressing dismay at its revelations.

“The exhaustive report from the Senate Intelligence Committee documents that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective and violated international commitments and the core principles of the United States,” Cardin said.

“It also resulted in fabricated information and did not lead to the collection of imminent threat intelligence,” he said. “Years may have passed by since these egregious activities occurred, but the United States must confront the mistakes that were made as we responded to the devastating 9/11 attacks.”

Also welcoming the report’s publications were the Interfaith Action for Human Rights, an alliance of faith leaders whose executive director is Rabbi Charles Feinberg, and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which includes among its affiliates the Reform and Reconstructionist movements along with T’ruah: The Rabbinical Call for Human Rights.

“As a nation, we have much to repent for – and true teshuvah, repentance, requires both acknowledgement and accountability for what we have done,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the T’ruah director, said in a statement. “The report is a step toward acknowledgement. A step toward accountability would be for Congress to act to make clear that the CIA will never be allowed to torture again.”

Haaretz reported that a section of the report describes CIA officials at one point considered citing a 1987 Israeli commission that recommended “moderate physical pressure” in “ticking bomb” scenarios as a means for making the case for torture among lawmakers. The Israeli Supreme Court in a landmark 1999 decision banned many of the 1987 report’s recommendations.

Sony CEO ordered ‘The Interview’ toned down, Rogen objected


Sony Corp. Chief Executive Kazuo Hirai ordered the film “The Interview” to be toned down after Pyongyang denounced it for depicting the assassination of North Korea's leader, according to emails apparently stolen from Sony's Hollywood studio.

The comedy, slated for U.S. release on Dec. 25, is about journalists played by Seth Rogen and James Franco who are hired by the CIA to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

According to emails that span from August through October and were obtained by Reuters, Hirai asked Amy Pascal, co-chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, to change a key shot in the film. It depicts Kim struck by a tank shell, causing his head to explode.

Pascal noted to Hirai that she had encountered resistance from the film's creators, including Rogen, who wrote and co-directed it.

Hirai's interest in the film shows the company's leadership was worried about Pyongyang's objections, even before a devastating cyber attack on Sony's Hollywood studio network last month that crippled most of it for more than a week.

A Sony Corp. official told Reuters that Hirai rarely reviews specific scenes in films.

North Korea complained to the United Nations in July, accusing the United States of sponsoring terrorism and committing an act of war by allowing production of the movie.

In an exchange with Rogen, Pascal said she was in a difficult position because Hirai had asked her to make changes in the film.

“And this isn't some flunky. It's the chairman of the entire Sony Corporation who I am dealing (with),” she said.

Rogen responded by promising to remove three of four burn marks on Kim's face, and reduce the “flaming hair” by 50 percent. But he said he could not meet all the demands.

“The head explosion can't be more obscured than it is because we honestly feel that if it's any more obscured, you won't be able to tell it's exploding and the joke won't work,” he said.

Representatives for Rogen declined to comment.

Details of the emails were reported late on Tuesday by Bloomberg News.

More than 100 gigabytes of information purportedly stolen from Sony have been released on the Internet, according to cybersecurity experts, who say the documents appear to be authentic.

Rogen initially told Pascal he objected to requests to modify the death scene, which he said would be viewed as censorship and hurt sales.

“This is now a story of Americans changing their movie to make North Koreans happy,” he said in an Aug. 15 email. “That is a very damning story.”

By October, however, he delivered what he hoped was the final version.

“This is it!!! We removed the fire from the hair and the entire secondary wave of head chunks,” he said. “Please tell us this is over now.”

CIA used Israel to justify torture


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

The newly-released report by the US Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s use of torture says that CIA lawyers used Israel as a justification for building a legal case for torture of Al-Qaeda suspects after the 9/11 attacks.

Most of the 6000 page-report remains classified. But according to the 528 pages that were released, in November 2001 CIA officers said they wanted legal justification for the interrogation methods they had begun using. The report cites the “Israeli example” that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.” 

Israeli government spokesmen chose not to comment on the report. But an official at the Public Committee against Torture in Israel explained the “necessity defense” which is used against Palestinian suspects.

In 1987, the Landau Commission recommended that interrogators be allowed to use “moderate physical pressure” in cases where psychological pressure was not effective. That ruling was overturned in 1999 by the Supreme Court.

“The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that torture is unacceptable in Israel and then went on to detail various things that fall under the purview of torture,” Rachel Stroumsa, project manager at the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel told The Media Line. “The ruling left a loophole in what it called the “ticking bomb” situation.”

A “ticking bomb” means that a suspect knows where a bomb has been planted that is set to explode. In those cases, torture can be used to discover the place of the bomb.

“It means that if an interrogator feels compelled to use torture by necessity, he will be covered legally,” Stroumsa said. “You can’t get approval in advance for these cases.”

She said her organization deals with 100 – 150 cases per year, although she believes there are many more instances. Many Palestinians are afraid to come forward, afraid they or their family members will be arrested and tortured again.

Israeli officials say that intelligence interrogators are given clear instructions not to use torture, and that it is only used in extreme cases. However, Palestinian rights groups have claimed that some elements of what they call torture such as sleep deprivation are routinely used. Much of the evidence against a Palestinian prisoner is sealed and not presented in open court for security reasons.

The report also quotes the CIA attorney who referred to the “ticking bomb” scenario and said that “enhanced techniques could not be pre-approved for such situations, but if worst comes to worst, an officer who engaged in such activities could assert a common-law necessity defense if he were every prosecuted.”

Israel is also mentioned in another context. According to the report, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qa’ida official who planned the 9/11 attacks reportedly told his interrogators abut plans to carry out attacks on various targets including “an Israeli embassy in the Middle East.” Israel has peace treaties and embassies with two countries – Egypt and Jordan.

Sexual threats, other CIA methods detailed in new U.S. report


“Enhanced interrogation” techniques used by the CIA on militants detained in secret prisons were ineffective and never produced information which led to the disruption of imminent terrorist plots, a declassified report by the Senate Intelligence Committee found.

The report released on Tuesday said the CIA misled the public and government policymakers about the effectiveness of the program, which ran from 2002 to 2006 and involved questioning al Qaeda and other captives around the world.

The report prepared by the Intelligence Committee after a five-year investigation said the techniques used were “far more brutal” than the CIA told the public or the ever told policymakers or the public.

“This document examines the CIA's secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques – in some cases amounting to torture,” committee chair Dianne Feinstein said.

Specific examples of brutality by CIA interrogators cited in the report include the November 2002 death from hypothermia of a detainee who had been held partially nude and chained to a concrete floor at a secret CIA prison.

Some were deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, at times with their hands shackled above their heads, and “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” without any documented medical need.

The report describes one secret CIA prison, whose location is not identified, as a “dungeon” where detainees were kept in total darkness, constantly shackled in isolated cells, bombarded with loud noise or music, and given only a bucket in which to relieve themselves.

It says that during one of the 83 occasions on which he was subjected to a simulated drowning technique the CIA called “waterboarding,” an al Qaeda detainee known as Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open full mouth,” though he later was revived.

President Barack Obama said the report reinforces his opinion that the interrogation methods did not serve broader counterterrorism efforts and significantly damaged the United States' global standing.

CIA director John Brennan acknowledged that the CIA detention and interrogation program “had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes” but the agency pushed back against the panel's criticism.

The agency insists that information gleaned from detainees held and questioned in the CIA program “advanced the strategic and tactical understanding of the enemy in ways that continue to inform counter-terrorism efforts to this day.”

It was unclear whether the report would lead to further attempts to hold those involved accountable. The legal statute of limitations has passed for many of the actions.

The executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, said in an opinion piece in The New York Times that Obama should issue formal pardons to senior officials and others to make clear that these actions were crimes and help ensure that “the American government never tortures again.”

 

ADDED SECURITY

Preparing for a worldwide outcry from the publication of the graphic details, the White House and U.S. intelligence officials said on Monday they had beefed up security of U.S. facilities worldwide.

The report charts the history of the CIA's “Rendition, Detention and Interrogation” program, which President George W. Bush authorized after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush ended many aspects of the program before leaving office, and Obama swiftly banned “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which critics say are torture, after his 2009 inauguration.

Two Republican lawmakers issued a statement calling the release of the report “reckless and irresponsible.”

“We are concerned that this release could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies,” senators Marco Rubio and Jim Risch said.

Senator Angus King, an independent, told CNN releasing the report was important because it could persuade a future president not to use these techniques.

“We did things that we tried Japanese soldiers for war crimes for after World War Two. This is not America. This is not who we are. What was done has diminished our stature and inflamed terrorists around the world.”

“Did we torture people? Yes. Did it work. No,” King said.

The 500-plus page report that the Intelligence Committee has prepared for release, a summary of a much more detailed, 6,000-page narrative which will remain secret, includes a 200-page narrative of the interrogation program's history and 20 case studies of the interrogations of specific detainees.

North Korea slams U.S. movie on leader assassination plot; Un calls it ‘act of war’


North Korea on Wednesday denounced a forthcoming American comedy film featuring a plot to assassinate its leader Kim Jong Un as an act of terrorism and threatened to unleash a “merciless counter-measure” if Washington failed to ban the movie.

The movie “The Interview”, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, is scheduled for release in October this fall.

“Making and releasing a movie on a plot to hurt our top-level leadership is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated,” the North's official KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.

The Hollywood movie recounts the story of a talk show host and his producer who land a rare sit-down interview with Kim, the third leader of his family dynasty to rule North Korea.

The Central Intelligence Agency then recruits the pair to assassinate him.

Kim, in his early 30s, has shown no sign of easing the iron grip imposed by his grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011. Nor has there been any letup in the personality cult surrounding his leadership.

He has maintained tight control of virtually all aspects of life after ordering the execution of his powerful uncle to crush what was termed an attempt to overthrow the authorities. More than 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps, but Pyongyang rejects as “fabrications” details of mass brutality set out in a U.N.-sponsored report citing escapees and exiles.

The foreign ministry spokesman said North Koreans regarded the life of their leader as “more precious” than their own.

“If the U.S. administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken,” the unnamed spokesman was quoted as saying.

The North currently holds three U.S. nationals, accusing them of various crimes, and remains technically at war with Washington's key Asian ally, South Korea.

North Korea routinely refers to Americans as “imperialist warmongers”, berates American leaders through its media and once called U.S. President Barack Obama a “wicked black monkey”.

But Kim is also believed to be a fan of American culture and oversaw the staging of a show featuring popular U.S. folklore.

He was seen giving a thumbs-up to dancing Disney characters and a performance set to the theme song from the film “Rocky”.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, the most high-profile American to meet Kim, sang “Happy Birthday” to the North Korean leader during his latest visit in January to stage a basketball game.

Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Ron Popeski

Sen. Feinstein says CIA spied on Senate panel, possibly broke law


A dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and a U.S. Senate committee that oversees it burst into the open on Tuesday when a top senator accused the agency of spying on Congress and possibly breaking the law.

Senator Dianne Feinstein delivered a scathing critique of the CIA's handling of her panel's investigation into a Bush-era interrogation and detention program that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but was only made public in 2006.

“I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the Constitution,” Feinstein said in a highly critical speech on the Senate floor by a traditionally strong ally of U.S. intelligence agencies.

She said the CIA searched committee computers to find out how staff obtained an internal agency review that was more critical of the interrogation program than the official CIA report.

“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA's search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” Feinstein said.

CIA head John Brennan denied the allegations.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

Feinstein's comments were the latest salvo in a long-running and bitter dispute between the intelligence committee and CIA over the agency's detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, a program that was phased out when inmates were transferred to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

The Senate Intelligence Committee's own 6,300-page report criticized some of the harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA, and Feinstein has been pushing to make its findings public.

Feinstein said the internal CIA review mirrored some of the same concerns outlined in her staff's report, unlike the official CIA assessment of the program.

However, as the panel moved close to declassifying some of the information – a move she said was backed by the White House – the CIA acting general counsel went to the Justice Department to complain about committee staff.

“I view the acting general counsel's referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff – and I am not taking it lightly,” she said.

The California Democrat bristled at suggestions her staff had obtained information improperly, and said the CIA itself provided her committee with more than 6.2 million documents.

“The committee clearly did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents, as has been suggested in the press,” Feinstein said.

After the speech, Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior member of the Senate, said he had never heard a more important speech in the chamber.

Editing by Bernadette Baum

Tony Mendez, the real-life ‘Argo’


Tony Mendez is no longer a spy for the CIA, but the qualities that helped make him one of the best — his wit and unassuming personality — were on full display Oct. 8 at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, at an event hosted by 30 Years After, a local Iranian-American Jewish group.

Mendez’s heroic rescue of six Americans hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence in Iran during the 1979 revolution there made him famous via the Ben Affleck film “Argo,” which won three Academy Awards at the Oscars this year. 

At the theater, Mendez and his wife, Jonna Goeser, who was also a CIA agent, took the stage to discuss his career. Before the event, Mendez, 72, and Goeser sat down with the Journal to discuss the art of spy craft, their work with the CIA and how they met on assignment in Thailand.

“When you go into enemy territory, you have to have already reckoned with the idea that you are not going to come back,” Mendez said. “Nobody’s going to come looking for you. Part of the game is to not get caught.”

During the interview, the organizers, prepping for the presentation, projected a scene from “Argo,” of enraged Iranian protesters about to storm the embassy gates, into the near-empty theater, interrupting Mendez. 

“[It] still puts me on edge,” he said of the movie.

He said the film was accurate in its portrayal of Tehran at the time he was there as an American spy, and he admitted he still has dreams about the mission “and other operations like it.” Mendez retired from the CIA 23 years ago, in 1990.

Goeser admitted that after she and Mendez saw “Argo” for the first time, at a private screening in Washington, D.C., they both cried.

During the interview, Goeser pointed out that one aspect of the mission the film did not explore was that a file on Mendez himself was in the American embassy when the Iranians stormed it. Six months earlier, shortly after the revolution, Mendez had entered Tehran, scooped up an American who was stranded there, and made it through the Mehrabad International Airport (where Revolutionary Guards were looking for Americans) to safety outside the country.

Still on file at the CIA station inside the embassy was a full guide on how to get past Iranian airport security, complete with a picture of Mendez — perfect information for Iranian counter-intelligence. 

“When they [the Iranians] went in and took over the embassy, it was not clear, of course, whether that file had been burned or shredded or was intact,” Goeser said.

Before the event, Mendez and Goeser signed books (Mendez recently co-authored a book, “Argo,” with Matt Baglio) and took pictures with guests at a VIP reception; then all of the 400 attendees filed into the theater.

Tabby Davoodi, 30 Years After’s executive director, thanked Mendez, noting this would be his first-ever speech to an Iranian-American group.

“Tony, you were there on the ground in January 1980, when a lot of the people in this room were in Iran,” Davoodi said. “A lot of the folks here were either escaping the country or trying to put their lives back together.”

Goeser guided the conversation, frequently pausing midsentence to allow the very witty Mendez to speak, often with dry (and dark) humor.

“There are rumors that the Iranians are going to make their own movie,” Goeser said, setting up Mendez for one of his several one-liners. “They are going to make a movie, and they are going to tell in their movie ‘the truth.’ ”

Mendez responded, without cracking a smile, “I can’t wait to see who plays me.” The audience burst into laughter.

His quiet, reserved nature and quick mind, which served him well on the streets of Tehran, kept the audience hooked to his every word.

Mendez described how he became a master of disguise with the CIA. As a young artist in Denver, he answered a job posting in the Denver Post saying the Navy was looking for artists.

“I sent in my letter and my samples, and before you know it, I was being interviewed by somebody who was clearly not in the U.S. Navy,” said Mendez. “[The CIA was] hiring artists to do false identities.”

Amid occasional breaks to screen scenes from “Argo,” Mendez  went on to describe how he convinced the CIA and White House to set up a fake film studio in Los Angeles that would produce a fake science-fiction thriller named “Argo” to provide his cover story when he went to Iran pretending to be a Canadian filmmaker.

When Mendez came to Los Angeles to set up Studio Six Productions, he worked closely with his friend and makeup artist John Chambers to make their studio and their “film” look entirely legitimate.

They rented office space in what is now the Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood. In fact, they moved in just as Michael Douglas left following completion of “The China Syndrome.”

Why, Mendez asked rhetorically, did he want to call the fake movie “Argo”? 

“Because that was a punch line in a knock-knock joke that we used to tell when times were getting a little tight,” Mendez said, prepping the audience for the movie’s most memorable line.

“Knock, knock. 

“Who’s there?”

 “Argo.” 

“Argo who? 

“Argo ef yourself, Khomeini,” he concluded, keeping it rated PG.

Goeser added that, at the CIA, when people wanted to express a certain emotion, they just said, “Argo.” 

“Everybody knew what you meant,” she said, smiling.

During audience questions, many people asked for the couple’s opinions on today’s tensions surrounding the Iranian regime’s hostile relationship with the West.

Mendez offered few thoughts, and Goeser said her advice to the American government is to “be very, very careful” when dealing with the Iranian government.

One of the final questioners asked Mendez if he had an alcoholic beverage when the plane on which he and the six Americans were on left Iranian airspace.

“Jonna and I never do wheels-up without a Bloody Mary,” he replied. 

And that’s what he and the ex-hostages ordered on the Swissair flight as it left Iranian airspace.

Report: CIA kept file on Noam Chomsky


After years of denial, the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged that it kept a file on Noam Chomsky, though the file appears to have been destroyed.

Chomsky, 84, an American academic who works as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was an anti-war activist in the 1970s. He is a vociferous critic of Israel.

Freedom of Information Act requests to the CIA over the years had not turned up Chomsky’s file, but a request to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Chomsky biographer Frederic Maxwell turned up a memo between the CIA and the FBI confirming the existence of a CIA file on Chomsky, according to The Cable blog in Foreign Policy.

The June 8, 1970 CIA memo outlines Chomsky’s anti-war activities and asks the FBI for more information about a trip to North Vietnam by anti-war activists. The trip, according to the memo, has the “endorsement of Noam Chomsky” and requests more information on Chomsky and the others associated with the trip.

An expert contacted by the blog said the FBI memo confirms that a Chomsky file once existed, though it was likely destroyed.

Jewish Agency asks Obama to grant clemency to Pollard


The Jewish Agency in a resolution called on President Obama to grant clemency to spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard.

The agency's Board of Governors passed the resolution unanimously on Tuesday during its annual meeting in Jerusalem calling for Pollard's release on humanitarian grounds.

It notes that Pollard is completing his 28th year of a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison and claims the sentence is “overly harsh.” The resolution also refers to Pollard's “various illnesses and deteriorating health.”

The resolution was passed one month before Obama is scheduled to make his first visit to Israel as president.

“Twenty eight years is more than enough,” said Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency. “Today, when there is a growing consensus in favor of Pollard’s release amongst former Pentagon and CIA officials, American figures, legal authorities, the Israeli government, and American Jewish leaders, the time has come to vigorously and loudly demand his freedom. ”

On Monday afternoon, Yair Lapid, the head of the Yesh Atid party, spoke to Pollard during a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem with Pollard's wife, Esther.

Esther Pollard went to the Knesset to meet Lapid and ask him to speak with Obama about clemency. Jonathan Pollard called his wife in the middle of the meeting and she gave the phone to Lapid, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The timing of the call was coincidental, Esther Pollard said, since her husband is restricted on his telephone usage.

“I was in tears,” Lapid told reporters after the meeting. “He is in poor shape. He is desperate and broken. We will do everything we can to help him.”

Obama nominates Hagel as Defense Secretary, Brennan for CIA


President Barack Obama on Monday nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as his next defense secretary and counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA, potentially setting up a Senate confirmation battle on two fronts and establishing a tough tone to start his second term.

Mindful of the concerns about both Hagel and Brennan on Capitol Hill, Obama spoke at length about each in a White House ceremony, then turned over the microphone to outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and acting CIA Director Mike Morell to provide testimonials about their chosen replacements.

Obama urged the Senate to move quickly in confirming Hagel, a military veteran who served in Vietnam, and Brennan, who spent 25 years at the CIA.

“I hope that the Senate will act on these confirmations promptly. When it comes to national security, we don't like to leave a lot of gaps between the time that one set of leaders transitions out and another transitions in. So we need to get moving quickly on this,” Obama said.

If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate, Hagel and Brennan would fill out a national security team that Obama is building for his second term in office. He has already nominated Democratic Senator John Kerry as his secretary of state to replace the well-regarded Hillary Clinton.

Hagel clearly faces the toughest fight.

While senators are normally inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to someone from their ranks, this was not the case with Hagel, a maverick former senator from Nebraska.

As Hagel's name was floated for the post in recent weeks, many Republicans and some Democrats reacted with alarm, expressing deep concerns about past statements the moderate Republican has made. He has offered controversial views on key U.S. ally Israel, once complaining about the power of “the Jewish lobby” in Washington and urging direct talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

Past remarks seen as disparaging to gays have drawn the ire of gay rights groups. A group called the Log Cabin Republicans published a full-page ad in The Washington Post that attacked “Chuck Hagel's record on gay rights.”

Obama could also face opposition from human rights groups over his choice of Brennan, a CIA veteran who withdrew from consideration for the spy agency's top job in 2008 after questions were raised about his views on “enhanced interrogation techniques” – which are widely considered to be torture – that were used on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration.

Brennan would succeed retired General David Petraeus, who resigned in November after he was brought down by a sex scandal that involved an extramarital affair with his biographer.

President Obama to nominate John Kerry for secretary of state


President Obama is set to nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state.

A White House official said Obama would make the announcement Friday afternoon.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee and would likely be handily approved by that body.

Kerry's nomination comes after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pulled herself out of contention after she came under Republican attack for her role in peddling a misleading version of what caused a fatal Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry has a strong pro-Israel voting record, but has rarely initiated the pro-Israel legislation, letters and non-binding resolutions favored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

[Related: John Kerry's statement of his record on Israel]

He also has been outspoken at times in criticizing Israeli policy, particularly during Israel's blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip.

Some conservatives are wary of his emphasis on outreach to rogue states; until Syria collapsed into a bloody uprising against the repressive Assad regime, he favored a degree of engagement with that country.

Media reports said that Obama would not for now announce defense secretary and CIA chief picks.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, is ill and has said she would like to leave the job as soon as possible.

Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, also wants to leave although he has not shown the same urgency as Clinton.

One of Obama's picks to replace Panetta, Chuck Hagel, is under fire by some pro-Israel groups for past remarks critical of the pro-Israel lobby and because he has favored a degree of engagement with Iran and terrorist groups.

The CIA top spot has been open since David Petraeus resigned in a sex scandal earlier this year.

Wolpe on Brandon’s Holocaust analogy: ‘It is stupidity on stilts’


Scroll to bottom for video

Every now and then we forbid certain things to certain select individuals: Boxers may not use their fists in casual fights; CIA agents may not write freely of their personal experiences. I think it is time for a new restriction: any mention of Hitler, the Holocaust or gas chambers should be legally forbidden to manifest idiots.

Exhibit A: The Rev. Brad Brandon with Minnesota for Marriage analogizing critics of gay marriage to those silenced by Hitler. This is not stupidity. It is stupidity on stilts.

It is long past time that we stopped belittling the memory of millions who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis by pressing them into service for every political analogy. We hear this ignorant comparison deployed with reference to abortion, gay marriage, offensive art, budget cuts, with virtually any public issue where the speaker feels that his rhetorical jets need rocket fuel.

Stop it. Just stop. Survivors deserve better than to hear their unspeakable suffering turned into a talking point. And the dead, the millions slaughtered on the altar of hatred and savagery, should not have their memory besmirched by the moronic compulsion to invoke the holocaust at every presumed offense.

The attempted destruction of an entire people should be spoken in hushed tones, with the reverence due the victims and the shocked horror at the evil of the perpetrators. Anything else tells us nothing about the issue and everything about the speaker. I read that Pastor Brandon apologized. That is a good start. The next step, to be wished for and emulated, is to just keep quiet.

This piece is first appeared on WashingtonPost.com.


Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, David Wolpe is the author of seven books including “Making Loss Matter: Creating Meaning in Difficult Times” and his latest, “Why Faith Matters.” Follow him on Facebook.

Ex-CIA head Woolsey calls for Pollard clemency


Being an American Jew has kept Jonathan Pollard in prison for longer than other spies for friendly countries, former CIA head R. James Woolsey wrote in a letter to the editor to The Wall Street Journal.

Woolsey, who recommended against clemency for Pollard while director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Clinton, said in the letter that he now supports a release of the convicted spy for Israel, citing the passage of time.

“When I recommended against clemency, Pollard had been in prison less than a decade,” Woolsey wrote. “Today he has been incarcerated for over a quarter of a century under his life sentence.”

He pointed out that of the more than 50 recently convicted Soviet and Chinese spies only two, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, received life sentences and two-thirds were sentenced to less time than Pollard has served so far.

Pollard, a civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst who spied for Israel, was sentenced to life under a plea bargain in 1987.

“There is absolutely no reason for Pollard to be imprisoned for as long as Ames and Hanssen, and substantially longer than spies from other friendly, allied, and neutral countries. For those hung up for some reason on the fact that he’s an American Jew, pretend he’s a Greek- or Korean- or Filipino-American and free him,” Woolsey’s letter concluded.

The calls to release Pollard, who is said to be in ill health, have intensified in recent months, with pleas from lawmakers and former top officials of both political parties.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, in Washington last month to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, asked President Obama in a private meeting before the ceremony to consider granting clemency to Pollard.

CIA director: U.S. was concerned Pakistan may ‘alert targets’ before bin Laden operation


U.S. officials were concerned that Pakistan could jeopardize the Osama bin Laden operation and “might alert the targets,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile Pakistan’s president denied on Tuesday that his government may have sheltered a bin Laden but admitted that his security forces were left out of a U.S. operation to kill the al Qaida chief.

The revelation that bin Laden had holed up in a luxury compound in the military garrison town of Abbottabad, possibly for five to six years, prompted many U.S. lawmakers to demand a review of the billions of dollars in aid Washington gives to nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

CIA paper cites Jewish acts of terrorism


A recent CIA paper cited Jewish acts of terrorism in the West Bank in its analysis of whether the United States is an exporter of terrorism.

The papers were released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks Wednesday. They were classified under the relatively low-grade “secret.”

The documents analyze U.S.-backed Jewish, Muslim and Irish terrorist attacks. They conclude that international perceptions that the United States is an exporter of terrorism may lead to foreign countries’ non-cooperation in anti-terrorism operations and less willingness to share relevant intelligence. Those perceptions could even lead to the arrest of CIA or other American agents overseas, according to the documents.

The analysis cites the example of Jewish-American doctor Baruch Goldstein, among others, as an example that the U.S. exports terrorism. Goldstein emigrated from New York to the West Bank in 1994 and joined the extremist group Kach. In 1994, he killed 29 Palestinians praying at a mosque in Hebron.

The paper was released in February by the CIA’s Red Cell, a think tank set up by former CIA director George Tenet to analyze intelligence issues. Last month WikiLeaks published 76,000 classified U.S. military records and reports about the war in Afghanistan.

What’s Behind the Jane Harman Allegations?


“This conversation doesn’t exist,” U.S. Rep. Jane Harman allegedly told the person on the other end of the line. Now she wants everyone to know exactly what, if anything, was said.

The Venice-based Jewish Democrat, in the fight for her political life after allegations surfaced this week that in 2005 she agreed to intervene on behalf of two former AIPAC staffers charged with relaying classified leaks, called a chorus of bluffs on Tuesday when she sent a letter to the U.S. attorney general asking for the release of any tapes of classified conversations.

“I used the word ‘outrage’ twice in my letter, which I wrote this morning standing in my kitchen drinking cappuccino,” she said in a phone interview. “Three anonymous sources, former national security officials, are selectively leaking portions of an alleged intercept about which I knew nothing.”

The allegations are not new — allegations that Harman agreed to help out the AIPAC officials in mid-to-late 2005 first surfaced just prior to the 2006 midterm elections, reportedly leaked by Republicans on the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, where Harman served as the ranking Democrat.

Which leaves the question, why now?

Congressional Quarterly, which first broke the story this week, reports profound anger in the intelligence community at Harman for getting away with what they believe to be a major crime: conspiring to wield her influence in exchange for preserving political power.

Others have noted as possible factors the deep-seated antagonism between Harman and Republicans on the intelligence committee and between Harman and Porter Goss, the former CIA director who ordered the investigation opened against her.

And then there is the imminence of the trial of the two former AIPAC staffers, due to start on June 2, and substantial weaknesses in a case in which the intelligence community is heavily invested.

Although the story is well known, several new wrinkles have emerged. Harman says she was aware of the allegations against her, but never realized she had been recorded.

The CQ story quotes national security officials as saying that Harman’s statements — one in particular at the end of the conversation, when she allegedly said, “This conversation doesn’t exist” before hanging up — were enough to establish a criminal case.

According to the security sources cited by CQ and The New York Times, the case against Harman hinged on an alleged quid pro quo: She would intervene on behalf of Steve Rosen, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former foreign policy chief, and Keith Weissman, its former Iran analyst; in exchange, Haim Saban, the Israeli American kids entertainment magnate and a major contributor to AIPAC and to the Democratic Party, would support her bid to become Intelligence Committee chair.

Saban reportedly, in a conversation with U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the House minority leader, threatened to pull funding for Democrats unless Harman got the top job on the committee. It’s a report not inconsistent with his subsequent behavior; a year ago, he was one of 20 backers of Hillary Rodham Clinton to make a similar veiled threat to Pelosi: Endorse Obama during the primaries, and prepare to lose our backing for your congressional races.

Another new allegation is that Alberto Gonzales, then the attorney general, shut down the case as soon as it was open, believing that Harman would be useful in keeping The New York Times from revealing the Bush administration’s expansion of its eavesdropping powers to American shores. Records show that Harman indeed backed such suppression subsequent to the recorded conversation — but that she had done so long before federal authorities opened a case against her.

Harman’s letter Tuesday asked Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, to release the tapes to undercut the theory of a quid pro quo.

“This abuse of power is outrageous, and I call on your Department to release all transcripts and other investigative material involving me in an unredacted form,” she said. “It is my intention to make this material available to the public.”

Harman said she could not recall what she would have considered a routine conversation from four years ago.

“Let’s just wait rather than speculate what I might have read and said, and we can parse it together,” she said.

She said she never made representations on behalf of Rosen and Weissman and suggested that whatever conversation occurred was a routine one, especially considering her acknowledged closeness to AIPAC.

“I’m proud of my friendships with members of AIPAC; I have conversations with them,” she said.

Referring to her alleged instruction that the conversation did not exist, she said: “Let’s see if I said that, let’s see the context in which I said it, what I might have been discussing with people I knew well, with an advocacy group or constituency group — we still don’t know who was at the other end.”

Harman had learned in 2005 that Pelosi, then the minority leader, planned to remove Harman from the committee; Harman enjoyed the work and wanted to stay on in her role as senior Democrat. It was a fight that would intensify in 2006, as it became clear that Democrats would retake the House and Harman had a shot at the chair.

The original leak about the alleged conversation came in October 2006, just after Harman had released a report accusing the committee’s Republican staffers of looking the other way while Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.), who had just been convicted in a bribery scandal, funneled tens of millions in contracts through the committee to his co-conspirators.

The Republicans were about to lose leadership of the House, which they had controlled for 12 years, and the election was already nasty; the stage was set for a leak that would harm Harman and — perhaps not coincidentally — warm the cockles of Goss, who had hired many of the committee’s GOP staffers implicated in Harman’s report and who was close to another figure convicted in the scandal — Kyle “Dusty” Foggo, his No. 3 at the CIA.

Finally, there is the issue of the timing: Rosen and Weissman are on track for trial on June 2, a date their lawyers say seems “real” after close to a dozen delays. Their case is strong: In recent months The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld tough constitutional restrictions on the government imposed by T.S. Ellis III, the trial judge; and Ellis overruled a prosecution effort to ban the testimony of Bill Leonard, who ran classification procedures for the Bush administration from 2002-2007 and who says the government’s case is an overreach. Reintroducing Harman into the mix may help shape opinions in the potential jury pool in northern Virginia, a region known for its preponderance of security hawks. Additionally, targeting a prominent Democrat sends a subtle message to an Obama administration that is considering prosecutions against intelligence officials for Bush-era alleged crimes, including torture and domestic spying.

Jeff Stein, who wrote the CQ story, denies that his sources entertained such considerations.

“The fact is, there is no ‘timing’ to any ‘leak,’” he said in an online chat. “No sources ‘came forward,’ so to speak. I learned about this quite a while ago and was just recently able to turn my full attention to it. Total coincidence.”

Harman says she’s “moved on” and is content with her spot on the Homeland Security Committee, chairing its intelligence subcommittee.

She equivocated about whether she would make her scheduled appearance at the AIPAC policy conference next month. “I’m scheduled to go, my schedule changes from time to time, I haven’t changed any of my plans,” she said.

Justice Arthur Goldberg, baseball’s Joe Berg spied for U.S. during WWII


WASHINGTON (JTA)—Several prominent Jews spied for the United States during World War II, newly released documents show.

Former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, philanthropist and businessman Laurence Tisch and baseball player Moe Berg were among the 35,000 men and women whose files from their service in the World War II-era Office of Strategic Services were released Thursday by the National Archives.

The files cover 35,000 Americans, both civilian and military, who worked in some capacity for the intelligence agency , the precursor to the CIA.

Goldberg’s file notes that as both a civilian and a member of the army, he supervised a section in the Secret Intelligence Branch of OSS to maintain contact with labor groups and organizations regarded as potential resistance elements in enemy-occupied and enemy countries. He organized anti-Nazi European transportation workers into an extensive intelligence network.

Steve Tilley, director of the textual archives services division of the National Archives, said Jewish Americans of that era might have been particularly attractive as recruits to the agency because of their education and their European background, particularly their knowledge of languagues.

TV chef Julia Child and Middle East negotiator Ralph Bunche were among the other names in the records.

Books: Former CIA analyst details failures in agency actions


“Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA” by Melvin A. Goodman (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008).

In the fall of 1973, Melvin Goodman and some other analysts at the CIA noticed something strange: Intercepted secret communications indicated that the Soviets were removing families and other nonessential personnel from Egypt and Syria.

This kind of evacuation, Goodman said, “is a classic indicator of war.”

Goodman and other analysts in the Soviet department brought this up to their supervisors at the CIA, but no one followed up. Goodman — a CIA analyst from 1966 to 1991 — said that it was a classic intelligence failure, letting assumptions, rather than facts, drive conclusions, since the intelligence clearly showed something was afoot.

What followed was the Yom Kippur War. Goodman said both U.S. and Israeli leaders “assumed that Egypt and Syria wouldn’t attack a stronger power, couldn’t work together, couldn’t unite…. Sometimes the facts are there, but the assumptions are so strong, so viscerally adhered to, that you can’t change anyone’s opinion.”

A different type of failure also rankles Goodman in his new book, “Failure of Intelligence, The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”

This other type occurs, Goodman writes, when the CIA loses sight of its proper function: to gather and analyze intelligence, then provide information and analysis to those in power. During the run-up to the Iraq War, Goodman writes, the CIA acted instead as “the handmaiden to power,” telling the Bush administration what it knew they wanted to hear.

“The CIA is not intended to be the personal weapon for the political use of the White House,” Goodman writes. “The CIA director has no business taking part in a White House effort to make the public case for war.”

Since leaving the CIA in 1991, Goodman — who’s Jewish — has worked for the Department of Defense and Department of State, been a fellow at think tanks and taught at universities. In an interview, he discussed his book and his experiences as a foreign policy analyst for more than 40 years.

Goodman said that every time he gives a lecture, especially in front of Jewish audiences, he’s asked about Jonathan Pollard.

“It always comes up,” Goodman said, “and I make people very nervous when I tell them that Pollard is where he belongs because he was stealing documents wholesale…. He was not only giving away intelligence, he was giving away sources and methods for money to Israel. I don’t think that … Zionism had anything to do with what Pollard did. He was buying necklaces and bracelets for his wife.”

In the wake of the Pollard case, was there a backlash against Jews working at the CIA?

“No, never,” Goodman said. “In fact, I never saw anything like that in my career…. I don’t think the Pollard affair created a problem for the Jews working at the CIA; I doubt if it meant anything to recruitment.”

Asked about the large number of Jewish neocons pushing for policies that may have prompted the war in Iraq and the unrest in the Middle East, Goodman said, “It’s had a personal effect on me. It’s something that comes up whenever I speak, because there are a significant number of people in this country who believe that we went to war for Israel. That we went to war to protect Israeli national security, which I don’t agree with at all.”

“But the fact that you can’t run from is that when you look at the list of the leading neoconservatives, there’s a huge number of Jews,” he said. “I know some of them, and I’ve debated David Wormser and know where he’s coming from. You really feel that [they think] they’re advancing Israeli security by using military power in the Middle East.”

“I think that what Bush has done is to weaken Israeli national security,” Goodman said. “The introduction of that kind of force in the Middle East has made it harder to get Iran back into the community of nations; it’s made [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad a very popular figure in Iran. There had been great opposition building against him, but U.S. actions have extended his tenure as leader in Iran.”

“It’s weakened Iraq, because it’s permitted terrorist organizations to operate,” he continued. “Before, Iraq never had any ties to Al Qaeda, and this self-fulfilling prophecy that Iraq is the center of the war on terror, it never was until Bush deployed force there.”

Goodman believes the Bush administration’s attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East have been disastrous. That policy, Goodman said, has “undermined countries like Jordan, where we need a stable monarchy. I think that the emphasis on democracy is totally misplaced. To the extent that places in the Middle East become democratic, they become anti-American, almost by definition.

“Democracy won’t lead to stability,” he said. “What the U.S. should be concerned about is the stability of these places and predictability of the actions of these places. And we had that to some extent, but once you use military force, you have to start over again, and Israel makes its own unwise decisions about the use of force. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then all your problems become nails.

“It’s ironic to me,” Goodman continued, “that if you look at two of the most powerful nations on earth — Israel in a regional context, the United States in an international context — it’s all about power…. [But] all of their military power and all their arsenal have not given them peace of mind.”

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