This unconfirmed photo of Ezra Cohen-Watnick was posted by Al Monitor reporter Laura Rozen.

Who is Ezra Cohen-Watnick, just booted off the NSC?

The New York Times and other news outlets are reporting that Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 31, the senior director for intelligence on the National Security Council (NSC), has been dismissed from the White House.

Watnick, described as a “Trump loyalist,” was brought onto the NSC by former director Mike Flynn. Flynn was fired by the administration after he admitted to hiding his links to Russian and other foreign governments.

Flynn’s successor, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, has tried to dismiss Cohen-Watnick before. According to the Conservative Review web site, he was overruled by President Donald Trump and his senior advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

In April, a Jewish Journal investigation revealed that Cohen-Watnick’s wife worked on behalf of the Russian government to improve its image in the West.  Eitan Arom reported:

The information comes from an oral history interview of Miller’s mother, Vicki Fraser, by the State Historical Society of Missouri in August 2014 (Fraser was born in St. Louis).

“Her big challenges right now are Ketchum is responsible for providing PR and marketing to try to make Russia look better,” Fraser told the interviewer of her daughter, “which is particularly difficult when they’re invading other countries and when Putin is somewhat out of control.”

The interview was discovered by E. Randol Schoenberg, a Los Angeles-based attorney and genealogy who made a name and fortune by recovering some $300 million worth of paintings pilfered by Nazis in Vienna in a landmark case in 2006.

Even as he reportedly departs, exactly who Cohen-Watnick is remains a Washington, D.C. mystery.  In a lengthy article in the Atlantic, titled, appropriately, “The Mystery of Ezra Cohen-Watnick,” journalist Rosie Gray writes:

Despite his prominent, and apparently quite secure, position in Trump’s NSC, little is known about Cohen-Watnick, who had spent much of his short career as a low-ranking official at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Information about him in publicly available sources is scarce. Few higher-ups from the DIA remember him. Only one picture of him can be found online, a snapshot unearthed by Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen.

Unlike other White House officials who have become public figures in their own right, Cohen-Watnick never speaks for himself publicly, leaving others to fill the void. Yet he hardly comes into sharper focus when you talk to co-workers, friends, and former colleagues. Ask around about Ezra Cohen-Watnick, and people get defensive. Some profess not to know him, or ask why anyone would want to write about him. Others simply refuse to discuss him.

According to multiple reports, Cohen-Watnick was a “hawk” on Iran working to undo the Iran nuclear deal.

He found himself in the headlines last April when he reportedly provided California Congressman Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, with information suggesting President Donald Trump was swept up in surveillance by American intelligence agencies.

The leak led to a stall in the intelligence committee’s investigation of ties between Trump associates and Russia. In response to news of the leak, McMaster reportedly sought Cohen-Watnick’s firing then, but Trump intervened personally to save Cohen-Watnick’s job.

The departure marks the White House’s third high profile firing in recent weeks, following the dismissals of spokesman Sean Spicer and Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci.

As to why the sudden dismissal, CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny tweeted his best guess.

“More McMaster house cleaning at NSC: Ezra Cohen-Watnick-close ally of Bannon and Kushner-is now out as well, WH says tonight,” Zeleny wrote.

‘Zero Days’ director says U.S. government secrecy trend ‘appalling’

The director of a new documentary outlining U.S. plans for an extensive cyber attack on Iran said on Wednesday he was angry and appalled by the rapidly growing trend towards secrecy in the U.S. government. 

Veteran documentary maker Alex Gibney was speaking to reporters in Berlin, where his film “Zero Days” is being shown in competition for the Berlin International Film Festival's top Golden Bear prize. 

The documentary says how the U.S.'s National Security Agency (NSA) developed a cyberwar programme dubbed “Nitro Zeus” that it hoped would bring Iran to its knees in the event of hostilities.

“I am angry about the incredible amount of secrecy in the United States and how it has become a kind of obsession that is damaging our democracy,” Gibney said at a post-screening news conference.

“I think, frankly, that the trend and the momentum towards greater and greater secrecy in the U.S. administration is appalling. 

The documentary focuses on Stuxnet, a computer worm developed by the United States and Israel – but never acknowledged by either government – in order to attack Iran's nuclear programme and sabotage centrifuges that were enriching uranium.

Through accounts of whistleblowers, analysts, journalists and secret service officials, the documentary shows how Stuxnet was the first known attack in which computer malware left the realm of cyberspace and caused physical destruction.

The film hints, based on accounts of several NSA insiders, that Stuxnet was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I mean you've been focusing on Stuxnet but that was just part of a much larger operation… Nitro Zeus, NZ,” an actress says in the film, speaking for several NSA employees who were interviewed but whose identity was kept secret for source protection.

According to these accounts, the NSA spent “hundreds of millions, maybe billions” on Nitro Zeus to be prepared for the eventuality that Israel decided to attack Iran and the United States would be drawn into the conflict.

Details of the Nitro Zeus program were revealed in the New York Times on Wednesday. 

The composite NSA source says that despite the deal agreed in July with Iran by the United States and its negotiating partners to curtail Iran's nuclear program, the Nitro Zeus capabilities remain “implanted” in Iran's servers and computers.

“We were everywhere inside Iran, still are,” the actress speaking for the NSA sources says.

“I'm not going to tell you the operational capabilities of what we can do moving forward, or where, but the science fiction cyberwar scenario is here, that's Nitro Zeus.”

The film suggests that Israel moved independently from its U.S. partners and changed the code of the initial Stuxnet virus in such a way that it spread all over the world with unforeseeable consequence, including allowing other governments to copy it.

Before its discovery in 2010, Stuxnet took advantage of previously unknown security holes in software from Microsoft Corp and Siemens AG to penetrate Iran's facilities without triggering security programs.

Gibney contends that Stuxnet opened forever the Pandora's Box of digital warfare, and that it had been used as an instrument of warfare against a country with which the United States was not at war.

He also says the United States could well be more vulnerable than other countries, taking into account that its economy and companies are the most Internet-connected in the world.

“And as we can see from this film and this subject, it's preventing a very important discussion about offensive cyber weapons which I think threaten us in a profound and existential way.” 

The film derives its title from the term used for previously unknown flaws in computer software that hackers and spy agencies can exploit to attack networks in order to damage infrastructure such as hospitals, transportation systems or power plants.

The U.S. distribution rights for “Zero Days” are owned by Magnolia Pictures which is planning to release it in the United States in late summer.

Rubio slams Obama’s spying of Israel in new TV ad

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Tuesday slammed the Obama administration for the NSA’s spying of Israel in a new TV commercial released on Tuesday. 

“Barack Obama released terrorists from Guantanamo, and now they are plotting to attack us. Instead of fighting to fund our troops .. he spies on Israel, and cut a deal with Iran,” Rubio says in the direct-to-camera spot.

In an Op-Ed for the National Journal on Tuesday, Rubio suggested that not only has the nuclear deal with Iran failed to stop their pursuit for a nuclear wepaon in the future, but they have already stretched the terms of Obama’s deal. “Iran is now trying to claim that a U.S. law aimed at protecting Americans from terrorists trying to come to the United States is an American violation of the agreement. This is a blatant attempt to pressure the Obama administration not to seek or enforce any new sanctions whatsoever, even those targeting human-rights abuses and support for terrorism, which are allowed under the deal,” RUbio wrote. 

The Republican presidential hopeful promised, “I will pressure Iran on all fronts across the Middle East. I will increase support to our allies in the region that are on the frontline of Iran’s nefarious activities. The mullahs will no longer have an American president to push around.”

Carson: Hillary Knew of the U.S. Spying on Israel

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson on Wednesday blasted the Obama administration for spying on Israel and its allies in Congress.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration ordered the NSA to spy on Israel’s government and collect their communications with members of Congress since 2012.

“It is truly disgraceful that the Obama administration has spied on Prime Minister Netanyahu, his colleagues and pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress,” Carson said in a statement.

The GOP presidential hopeful accused the administration of treating Israel like an enemy. “Instead of focusing on deterring the Iran nuclear threat and fighting against the mullahs who chant, ‘death to America,’ President Obama has treated Israel, our staunch, democratic ally in the Middle East, as his real enemy,” Carson said. “Not only did he not curtail surveillance of our close friend, he has once again proven himself to be a president that our enemies need not fear and our friends cannot trust.”

Carson also took a step further and accused Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton of turning a blind eye on the NSA’s surveillance of Israel, suggesting she knew about it after quitting her job at the State Department.

“No doubt President Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew of the administration’s spying efforts on Israel,” he said. “It is shameful that she participated in undermining the U.S.-Israel relationship. Once again, she has shown that her experience in government is merely an indication that she is unfit to lead.”

“When I am president, I will stand firmly with Israel, and one of my first acts in office will be to revoke Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran,” Carson pledged.

US spied on Netanyahu during talks on Iran deal

The United States monitored phone conversations between top Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers as well as U.S. Jewish groups in the U.S., current and former U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

The National Security Agency’s foreign eavesdropping included conversations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his aides, and private conversations held between Israeli officials and U.S. lawmakers, according to the report published late Tuesday afternoon, citing  more than two dozen unnamed U.S. officials.

The White House planned to use the intercepted information to counter Netanyahu’s campaign against the Iran nuclear deal on Capitol Hill, according to the Journal. A senior White House official told the Journal that the NSA decided what to share with the White House, and that while the Obama administration did not specifically order the eavesdropping, it did not order it halted.

Responding to the article, Israel’s intelligence and transportation minister, Yisrael Katz of Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said Wednesday that Israel does not spy on the United States and expects the same from Washington intelligence agencies. He called the United States “our great friend.”

If the Wall Street Journal reports turn out to be true, Katz told the Hebrew-language Ynet news website, “Israel will file a formal protest with the American government and demand it stop all such activities.”

The intercepted conversations showed the White House how Netanyahu and his advisers had leaked details of the U.S.-Iran negotiation reportedly learned through Israeli spying operations to undermine the talks; coordinated talking points with Jewish-American groups against the deal, and asked undecided lawmakers what it would take to win their votes, the officials told the Journal.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden exposed the NSA’s spying operations on friendly countries in 2013, an action that had been a closely held secret. Obama promised the following year to curb the eavesdropping.

The monitoring of Netanyahu continued, however, since it served “a compelling national security purpose,” the Journal reported, citing U.S. officials.

Israeli and U.S.  intelligence units have been spying on each other since Obama took office, often using shared intelligence tools. The United States ramped up the spying in 2011 and 2012 while the U.S. held secret talks with Iran, due to concerns that Netanyahu would order an Israeli attack on Iran without U.S. knowledge, and later due to concerns that Israel would find out about the secret talks and leak them.

The eavesdropping later was used to get inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the Iran nuclear deal. The NSA removed the names of lawmakers from intelligence reports and removed personal information that could identify the lawmakers, the officials told the Journal.

Cruz: Obama treating Israel, Americans as enemies with NSA surveillance program

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz on Tuesday accused the Obama administration of treating Americans and Israel as enemies after a report revealed that the NSA intercepted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conversations with members of U.S. Congress the past two years.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a campaign event in Cisco, Texas Tuesday evening, Cruz referred to a report by the Wall Street Journal that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) was ordered to continue the surveillance of Netanyahu and his staff, as well as monitor their conversations with members of Congress during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal.

“It is not surprising that the focus of the Obama administration would be on trying to intercept the communications of our very close friend and ally, Prime Minister Netanyahu or indeed, as the article suggested, that they may well have been sweeping in conversations between members of Congress because this administration views Congress, Republicans and sometimes even Democratic members of Congress as their enemy,” said Cruz. “And indeed at times, it seems like they view the American people as their enemy.”

According to the WSJ, the administration, pursuing a nuclear agreement with Iran at the time, captured communications between Netanyahu and his aides and swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups. Viewing it in the context of a “compelling national security purpose,” the Obama administration ordered the NSA to ramped up their surveillance of Israel as it suspected Netanyahu is readying to carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. By 2013, the administration became concerned that Israel would sabotage the secret nuclear talks with Iran, the report said.

One tool was a cyber implant in Israeli networks that gave the NSA access to communications within the Israeli prime minister’s office, according to the report.

Cruz said the revelations were indicative of Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy “and their inability to distinguish friends from enemies.” Adding that the Obama administration has been “the most hostile and antagonistic to the nation of Israel in our country’s history.”

National Security Council Spokesman Ned Price pushed back on the report, stating that the U.S. does not “conduct any foreign intelligence surveillance activities unless there is a specific and validated national security purpose. This applies to ordinary citizens and world leaders alike.” Price added that the U.S. “commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct and backed by concrete actions that demonstrate the depth of U.S. support for Israel.”

Snowden draws big crowd with Twitter debut

Edward Snowden has come in from the cold – on Twitter.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked details about the U.S. government's massive surveillance programs, started a Twitter account on Tuesday from exile in Russia with a simple handle – @snowden.

He pulled in more than 171,000 followers in about an hour but was following only one other Twitter account: his former employer, the NSA.

Snowden's initial tweet was “Can you hear me now?” The message, a take-off on a cellphone provider television commercial, was retweeted 25,000 times in an hour. In his Twitter profile, Snowden described himself by saying, “I used to work for the government. Now I work for the public.”

He had a brief exchange of tweets with prominent astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson about the discovery of water on Mars and joked that his work for the Freedom of the Press Foundation keeps him busy, “but I still find time for cat pictures.”

Supporters see Snowden as a whistleblower who boldly exposed government excess but the U.S. government wants to try him for leaking intelligence information. Snowden left the United States in May 2013 and has been living in Russia since June of that year.

Snowden denies he got help from Russia in leaking U.S. secrets

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden said he acted alone in leaking U.S. government secrets and that suggestions by some U.S. lawmakers he might have had help from Russia were “absurd,” the New Yorker magazine reported on Tuesday.

In an interview the magazine said was conducted by encrypted means from Moscow, Snowden was quoted as saying, “This 'Russian spy' push is absurd.”

Snowden said he “clearly and unambiguously acted alone, with no help from anyone, much less a government,” the New Yorker said.

“It won't stick. … Because it's clearly false, and the American people are smarter than politicians think they are,” the publication quoted Snowden as saying.

The head of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said on Sunday he was investigating whether Snowden had help from Russia in stealing and revealing U.S. government secrets.

“I believe there's a reason he ended up in the hands – the loving arms – of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don't think that's a coincidence,” Representative Mike Rogers told NBC's “Meet the Press,” referring to the Russian intelligence agency that is a successor of the Soviet-era KGB.

Rogers did not provide specific evidence to back his suggestions of Russian involvement in Snowden's activities, but said, “Some of the things we're finding we would call clues that certainly would indicate to me that he had some help.”

Snowden fled the United States last year to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he was granted at least a year of asylum. U.S. officials want him returned to the United States for prosecution. His disclosures of large numbers of stolen U.S. secret documents sparked a debate around the world about the reach of U.S. electronic surveillance.

Other U.S. security officials told Reuters as recently as last week that the United States had no evidence that Snowden had any confederates who assisted him or guided him about what National Security Agency materials to hack or how to do so.

Snowden told the New York Times in October he did not take any secret NSA documents with him to Russia when he fled there in June 2013. “There's a zero percent chance the Russians or Chinese have received any documents,” Snowden told the Times.

Snowden said in the New Yorker interview that if he were a Russian spy, “Why Hong Kong?” and why was he stuck for a lengthy period in Moscow's airport before being allowed to stay in the country.

“Spies get treated better than that,” he said.

Reporting by Peter Cooney; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

Document: NSA gave Israel data with unfiltered U.S. personal info

The National Security Agency provides raw data to Israeli intelligence services, according to a secret document leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

A memorandum of understanding between the NSA and the Israeli Signals Intelligence Unit (ISNU), leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, states that the NSA will provide data to the ISNU without first reviewing the documents to remove sensitive information.

The process of removing U.S. residents’ personal information is called “minimization.” According to the Guardian’s Wednesday report, the information provided to Israeli intelligence could include phone and email records of U.S. citizens.

The leaked document states that the information “includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence (DNI) metadata and content.”

The document also states that Israel should handle the data in a manner “consistent with the requirements placed upon NSA by U.S. law.” According to the Guardian, though, there are no clauses in the document enforcing that requirement, beyond an annual NSA review of a sample of data to ensure that U.S. citizens’ identities are missing.

Ron Galperin backs Big Data to improve City Hall

Controller Ron Galperin is City Hall’s new numbers guy, hoping to bring the era of Big Data to the creaking bureaucracy. His plan is to use computers to analyze huge amounts of information as is now done by police departments, baseball teams, other businesses and, infamously, the National Security Agency.

“We are the keeper of vast amounts of data about the services, about everything having to do with salaries, financial details of the departments,” Galperin told me in his office on the third floor of City Hall East as he settled into his elected job as the city’s fiscal watchdog. “There are many ways to manipulate that data to provide us with a wealth of knowledge to make the city much more efficient.”

Success now goes to those who have the intellectual capacity and computer resources needed to sort and analyze vast amounts of information, now known as Big Data.

For example, in the old days, most political reporters making predictions on races operated on gut instinct and “institutional memory.” That changed when baseball statistics expert Nate Silver correctly predicted both the 2008 and 2012 presidential election results by compiling the many state polls from around the country, along with historical data, demographic information and other facts, and then subjecting this material to a kind of rigorous analysis possible only through sophisticated use of technology. 

President Barack Obama’s political team also collected voting records, analyzed consumer buying patterns, polling results, personal interviews and information from scores of sources, fed them into the latest computers and successfully targeted likely voters. The Los Angeles Police Department’s CompStat system blends cops’ daily incident reports with crime statistics, demographic information, neighborhood chatter, probation officer and emergency ward data, and much more. Computers analyze all of this, and area commanders are accountable for the results in weekly meetings. Potential danger areas are pinpointed.

Yet, such analysis is foreign to many parts of City Hall, where, as just one example, reservations for the parking garage are still done through telephone calls and faxes. Galperin, at 50 and with a varied career and experience on city advisory fiscal commissions, is eagerly accepting the challenge of updating the systems.

His father, born in Romania, was a cantor and rabbi descended from a long line of rabbis. His mother was born in Israel, and his father immigrated there. Both were veterans of the 1948 War of Independence, and both were opera singers. They immigrated to the United States, and Galperin was raised in St. Louis, where he graduated from yeshiva and Washington University. Moving to Los Angeles, he was a journalist, including writing freelance articles for the Los Angeles Times. He also graduated from Loyola Law School. As an attorney, he specialized in business and real estate law.

In college, he was a part-time cantor, a Hebrew school teacher, a bar and bat mitzvah coach, and taught in Sunday religious school. In Los Angeles, he has served as part-time cantor of Temple B’nai Emet of Montebello for 20 years. He is also married to a rabbi, Zachary Shapiro, who leads Temple Akiba of Culver City. Galperin is fluent in Hebrew and Yiddish, the language he used to converse with his grandparents.

Galperin says this varied background will help him as controller. “Judaism teaches us to ask questions and to study and enjoy and learn from other people,” he said. Also, the concept of tikkun olam, he said, has led him to think about “how do we make it a better world, to leave this place better than we found it.”

In journalism, “I learned to turn out a lot of copy,” he said. “That was the way to make a living.” Journalism also gave him the chance “to meet anyone you want to meet and ask them a lot of questions.”

And that’s similar to what he’ll have to do to make sense of the presently unconnected masses of data that flow into City Hall, in order to use it to recommend policy changes to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the L.A. City Council.

To illustrate what he is talking about, Galperin gave me a 17-page listing of special funds — outside the regular treasury or general fund — from which public dollars flow in and out. Special taxes, federal and state grants, fees and other revenue sources feed these funds. The money is used for neighborhood improvement, congestion reduction, parks and many other purposes. 

“Accounting for these special funds has to improve, “ Galperin said. “We [need to] have a clear sense of the money in and money out in every one of these funds.” He recalled how the city Department of Transportation lost track of $42.6 million in special funds that should have been transferred to the city treasury — one of the causes of the city’s fiscal crisis earlier this year.

In a modern Big Data system, every dollar in such funds would be tracked on a daily basis, along with every other city expenditure. They would be organized in a computer system, along with daily spending and income, fluctuations in pension costs and tax receipts, as well as, perhaps, even possible changes in the weather and daily traffic patterns, all done in real time. With this, the mayor and the City Council could measure the performance of department heads and their subordinates and anticipate how resources should be allocated.

Officials will likely resist it, as did some of the cops when confronted with CompStat.

But as Galperin told me, Big Data has arrived “and there is an incredible opportunity … we are seeing this in other local governments as well as in the private sector. How do you take that data and learn from it?”

This isn’t headline-making stuff. But it’s important and a good reason to keep your eye on the former journalist and cantor now occupying the controller’s office.

Bill Boyarsky is a columnist for the Jewish Journal, Truthdig and L.A. Observed, and the author of “Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times” (Angel City Press).

Michael Oren synthesized training as historian, role as diplomat

Michael Oren was deep inside the State Department, relaxed and taking on all comers: He had the facts on his side.

It was 2004 and the department was reviewing newly declassified National Security Agency evidence reinforcing Israel’s longstanding claim that its 1967 air attack on the USS Liberty spy ship was a mistake. The attack killed 34 American personnel.

Oren, a preeminent historian of the Six-Day War, was not suffering gladly those at the State Department conference who continued to insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Israel intended to murder the Americans. Both sides, Oren said, were guilty of negligence.

Israel’s accusers sputtered and then erupted into shouts. Oren sat back in his chair, surveyed the room and smiled.

It may have been the last time Oren was completely at ease in the halls of the State Department.

Oren became Israel’s ambassador to Washington in 2009 and has since been in the hot seat at the State Department multiple times, summoned to provide “clarifications” following some controversial Israeli action. It’s a function he has been called upon regularly to perform during his tenure, which he announced last week would wrap up by the fall.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to represent the State of Israel and its government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the United States, President Barack Obama, the Congress, and the American people,” Oren said in a July 5 statement. “Israel and the United States have always enjoyed a special relationship and, throughout these years of challenge, I was privileged to take part in forging even firmer bonds.”

His successor will be Ron Dermer, a top aide to Netanyahu who like Oren is U.S.-born.

Oren’s Washington stint has come during a period fraught with tension between two men he says he admires — Obama and Netanyahu — as well as between the Israeli government and the American Jewish community.

The envoy was at the forefront of efforts to push back against rumors — some of them reportedly planted by Netanyahu’s Jerusalem office — that Obama had snubbed Netanyahu on a number of occasions.

Notably in March 2010, rumors swirled that Obama had snubbed Netanyahu during a visit to the White House. That was just weeks after a near-disastrous trip to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden, on the eve of which Israel infuriated the administration by announcing new building in eastern Jerusalem.

In refuting the snubbing charge, Oren got into the gritty detail of whether Netanyahu had entered through the front or the back (it was the front) and whether Obama’s wife and daughters had snubbed Netanyahu during dinner (they were in New York at a show.)

The rockiest point may have come last year during a presidential campaign in which Netanyahu was widely seen as backing Obama’s opponent, Mitt Romney. Top Democrats were furious with Netanyahu for criticizing Obama’s Iran policy in September, just two months before the election.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, cited Oren in hitting back at Republicans for making Israel a partisan issue.

“I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel,” Schulz said at her party’s convention in Charlotte, N.C., in September.

Oren quickly released a statement clarifying that he had never singled out any party as guilty of making Israel a partisan issue.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” Oren said.

When Oren was able to control the agenda, he had three preferred topics: the proto-Zionism that threaded throughout American history, manifest in the writings and sayings of figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson; the deep intensification of security cooperation between Israel and the United States during the Obama-Netanyahu era, a fact often lost in the verbal volleying on the peace process and Iran; and the touting of Israel’s cultural and scientific achievements.

“For a foreign ambassador, to be able to lecture Americans about Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman was incredibly unique and instructive in helping to represent the position of the State of Israel,” said William Daroff, the Washington director of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Oren, working behind the scenes, also was able to advance one of his own top priorities: addressing the alienation with some Israeli practices among Jewish Americans. He was a leading voice in making clear to Israeli government leaders that the perception of an erosion of women’s rights in Israel was infuriating the Jewish leadership in the United States. This year he helped broker a tentative deal that would expand access for women at the Western Wall.

He also advocated for ties with J Street, the liberal group pushing for more robust American involvement in advancing the peace process. The ties are limited, but nonetheless notable, considering the fierce resistance to any engagement with the group in Netanyahu’s camp.

Oren gamely took the case for liberal Israel into whatever precinct would have him. He delivered a speech a year ago in Philadelphia’s Equality Forum, noting advances in gay rights in Israel in recent decades.

Oren’s office declined an interview, saying he preferred to review his career here closer to his departure date, which has yet to be specified. But the New Jersey-born Oren, 58, in a 2009 interview at the outset of his ambassadorship, told JTA that transitioning from the truth telling of scholarship to the spin of diplomacy was like going from “free verse to writing rhymed haiku.”

In March, however, Oren was able to synthesize the two when he joined his U.S. counterpart in Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro, in designing Obama’s first visit to Israel as president.

The standard stops — Yad Vashem, the Prime Minister’s Office — would not suffice, Oren and Shapiro decided. This is where Oren the historian fused with Oren the diplomat. The Israeli ambassador proposed a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls that would emphasize what many had felt was lacking from Obama’s 2009 speech to the Arab world: recognition of Israel’s ancient ties to the land.

The trip was a success. Obama’s culminating address to a Jerusalem hall packed with university students, laced with references to the land’s Jewish heritage as well as appeals for a more accelerated peace process, earned long and thunderous applause.

Off in a corner, Oren and Shapiro fell into a long hug.

Snowden says U.S., Israel created Stuxnet virus

Whistleblower Edward Snowden told a German magazine that Israel and the United States created the Stuxnet computer virus that destroyed nuclear centrifuges in Iran. 

Snowden made the statement as part of an interview with the German news magazine Der Spiegel in which he answered encrypted questions sent by security software developer Jacob Appelbaum and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras. Excerpts of the interview were published Monday on the Spiegel website.

Snowden was asked if the U.S. National Security Agency partners “with other nations, like Israel?” He responded that the NSA has a “massive body” responsible for such partnerships called the Foreign Affairs Directorate.

He also was asked,  “Did the NSA help to create Stuxnet?” Snowden responded, “NSA and Israel co-wrote it.”

Stuxnet in 2010 wrought havoc on equipment at Iran’s Natanz nuclear plant and complicated the manufacture of highly enriched uranium, which the West suspects is intended for making atomic weapons. The virus temporarily disabled 1,000 centrifuges being used by the Iranians to enrich uranium.

Snowden, a former technical contractor for the NSA and employee of the CIA, last month revealed the existence of mass surveillance programs by the United States and Britain against their own citizens and citizens of other countries.

He said Germany and most other Western nations are “in bed together” with the NSA.

Snowden said a private citizen would be targeted by the NSA based on Facebook or webmail content.

“The only one I personally know of that might get you hit untargeted are jihadi forums,” he said.

Snowden is a fugitive of the United States who is believed to be in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Three Latin American countries — Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia — have offered him asylum, NBC reported.

Letters to the Editor: NSA, Western Wall, Millepied and super grads

If You Have Nothing to Hide …

Whilst [Marty Kaplan] may be right vis a vis freedom versus security, my main concern is who is minding the minders; absolute power corrupts absolutely (“Dear NSA [NSFW],” June 14). The president may have lofty ideals and good intentions, he is a good man (although I would never vote for him), however the minions surrounding him are unelected and unaccountable.

We are living in very dangerous times and actions have to be commensurate with circumstances. We here in Israel have some of our freedoms severely restricted. You are subjected to searches by security every time you enter a store, your ID number is in common use. I am a law-abiding citizen and have nothing to hide. Given the alternative, I would rather this level of scrutiny than have a leg blown off. 

Brian Freed, Netanya, Israel via

Particularly good piece. (She said as she logged in via Facebook.)

Karen Joseph Gilman via

Issues at the Western Wall

The issues raised by Women of the Wall are complex (“Respect, Inclusion and Tolerance at the Wall,” June 14): 

1. Should the rules of Orthodox Judaism be the default position in managing the wall? 

2. To what extent should Jews in the Diaspora dictate to Israeli Jews what rules of the wall should be?

3. Religious observance in Israel has been controlled by the Orthodox since the inception of the modern State of Israel, as determined by its founders. Why should that change? 

4. Is this really a fight about what religious practices should be allowed at the wall or actually a fight that the non-Orthodox have little power in Israel? 

5. Why should Israel care what Jews in the Diaspora think if these Jews are not willing to make aliyah and live with the danger of living in Israel? 

There are so many fragile toes to be stepped on. There are so many issues not addressed but danced around. There are real existential issues facing Israel. Is this one of them?

Ilbert Phillips via

Respect Millepied, Portman as Individuals

“Before anybody ever heard of Natalie Portman …”? This is the kind of catty comment that pervades the arts and, in particular, the dance community (“Can Dance Maverick Millepied Make It Up to L.A.?” June 14). Natalie Portman has been acting since she was 12 years old; plenty of people certainly heard about her long before Millepied began getting high-profile commissions. That’s not to say his success is attributed to her, but let’s be fair to them both.

Jessica Dunn via

The Value of Chabad

I was a client at Chabad on Robertson (“Welcome to Rehab City,” June 14). Those were the best years of my life. I later became a staff member at the center, and I have 16-plus years clean. I have watched many young men change before my eyes. I believe Chabad is the best.

John A. Ostlund via

Support for Nazarian Center Benefits Everyone

I’ve attended several Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies events — films, lectures and their fabulous annual One Day University, where alumni like myself and other “civilians” get to experience talks by the center’s fabulous and inspired array of scholars (“Woman of the Pomegranate,” June 14). It’s not just the student body that gains from the presence of this department as it’s really open to all. 

Yes, if we could have Dr. Sharon Nazarian’s elegance, it would be enough. If we could have her thoughtful intelligence, it would be enough. If we could speak as warmly and eloquently as she, and if we could all be in the position to do for Israel’s profile what she is engendering, that would be enough. 

That said, the center still relies on outside support so they can continue doing this good work. So take some classes, join them and support them here (

Jane Sobo via

Kudos to New Graduates

Mazel Tov to all of the high school seniors featured in the Jewish Journal’s cover article “Super Grads” (June 7). It is impressive to read that a majority of the teens listed volunteer with children who have special needs. Our organization has benefited from the kindness of seniors Joelle Milman and Gabe Freeman in addition to the 1,000 Jewish teens who have volunteered with our special kids over the past 10 years. The L.A. Jewish community is producing talented and compassionate young adults who will make incredible leaders of tomorrow — something we can all be proud of. 

Gail Rollman, Development Director, Friendship Circle of Los Angeles


If you ever needed a sign that Jews feel fully integrated and accepted by society, consider this: Not one major Jewish group made a peep over the revelations of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance.

We, who throughout the modern era have been followed, spied on, singled out, labeled, rounded up, tortured and killed at the hands of the state, are officially just fine with our government tracking our every word.

It’s one thing for non-Jews to say, by way of accepting the NSA actions, “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” We Jews remember, say, 1932 to 1945. Deserving has nothing to do with it.

Yet even those Jews who wield power through politics or the media Mavenocracy have sided not with the outraged civil libertarians who have called on the NSA to stop mass-harvesting the phone and Internet records of every American citizen. 

“Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened,” Tom Friedman wrote in his June 11 New York Times column. “But I worry even more about another 9/11.”

The Times’ David Brooks called Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton contract employee who leaked the fact of NSA tracking, a “traitor.” Richard Cohen of The Washington Post said he’s not worried because, as he put it, “Safeguards were built in.”

Even Jeffrey Goldberg, a columnist as clearly, comfortably Jewish as Dan Savage is out, counseled mere restrained concern.

“It isn’t incompatible to argue for a culture of rigorous civil liberties and acknowledge simultaneously that terrorism poses actual and unique challenges,” Goldberg wrote in his June 12 Bloomberg View post.

It is perhaps no surprise that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has accused Snowden of treason. But consider Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who liberal Dems once hailed as Ralph Nader with a laugh track. He dismissed the revelations as unsurprising. In other words, as his “Saturday Night Live” Stuart Smalley character once said, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”

The anti-Snowdenites don’t necessarily reflect the sentiment of all the Jews-on-the-street. Many people I’ve spoken with consider Snowden a hero, and they wonder how we, as Jews, can be OK with a government that can track our movements, phone calls and keystrokes, then swoop in and grab us whenever some bureaucrat decides we’re a threat.

It has happened, you’ll recall.

“Liberal Jews are completely hypocritical on this,” a friend of mine mused. “They’re not saying anything because Obama’s in charge. But what if it were Bush, or the Koch brothers?”

So why is it that we Jews, who have a healthy, history-certified paranoia and an abiding concern for the civil liberties of all, have not been marching on Washington over this latest news?

Here’s why: Much of this NSA tracking began under George W. Bush, as Feinstein pointed out. Most of us were OK with it then. The issue, then as now, is what safeguards are in place. Or, as the now well-used phrase has it: Who’s watching the watchers? It is up to us citizens to make sure those legal controls are in place, and that the bureaucracy, always addicted to overreach, is transparent and accountable.

That’s crucial, because the fact is, the technology of surveillance is only going to get cheaper and more widespread. My come-to-Moses moment on this happened three years ago, when I entered my home address on Google Maps. In a split second I had a nice view of my backyard. A four-letter word leapt from my mouth and I realized: Game Over. How much longer before technology allows a satellite to stream that image live 24/7 — or see inside my home? 

For me, it’s not too burdensome to act as if my every e-mail, text and phone conversation could be heard and assessed by an all-seeing judge — I am the son of a Jewish mother, after all. And that’s the trade-off I’m prepared to make. Give me the benefits of a digital life and I’ll live with some of the costs.

Those benefits, by the way, include the ability to monitor and watch the government as well — it cuts both ways. We need to develop and fund more groups like — as well as support great digital journalism — to open government up like never before.

Finally, yes, we Jews also have to admit we’re not reflexively opposed to the NSA tracking, because most of the people they’re tracking are on a jihad specifically against us. The ideologies of hatred have gone from print to pixel. It’s the ideology, not the technology, we have to hold in check. On the Internet, you can find pages for “Burn a Jew Day” and “Kill a Jew Day,” which, by the way, is July 9. When it’s your kids, your community center, your shul at risk, you tend to give the good guys a longer leash.

Just make sure they stay good.

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

The death of your privacy