Absent greater transparency, Americans should assume the worst
In 1968 Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms wrote urgently to Attorney General Ramsey Clark and President Lyndon B. Johnson that some highly enriched uranium fueling Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor was stolen from America. LBJ reportedly uttered, “Don’t tell anyone else, even [Secretary of State] Dean Rusk and [Defense Secretary] Robert McNamara.”
The FBI immediately launched a deep investigation into the inexplicably heavy losses at the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation NUMEC in Pennsylvania and the highly suspicious activities and Israeli connections of the Americans running it.
The CIA was tasked to find out what was going on in Israel, and compiled thousands of documents about the incident. (PDF) Although CIA officials in a position to know unofficially went on record claiming a diversion had occurred, for decades the CIA has thwarted declassification and release of the LBJ memos.
On October 18, 2013 the only appeals panel with the power to overrule the CIA — the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel ISCAP — sent notification that Americans are not yet ready to know the contents of the memos (ISCAP decision). This denial of public release of decades-old secrets concerning U.S.-Israel relations is far from unique.
Although the Obama administration promised unprecedented transparency, it has emasculated the public’s ability to give informed consent on a wide range of key foreign policy issues. A review of ten particularly toxic U.S. secrets about Israel suggests stakeholders should start assuming the worst but most logical explanation.
In 2006 former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously told reporters at an Iraq war briefing:
“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”
Bush administration secrecy and Rumsfeld’s pithy quotes failed to quell gradual public awareness that the ill-fated invasion was launched on purposely fabricated pretexts. And yet the Iraq debacle could have been avoided if Americans had been better informed over time how government truly functions through greater access to the fourth category left unmentioned by Rumsfeld: “unknown knowns.”
“Unknown knowns” are the paradigm-shifting bits of information known only by a select few in government but kept from their fellow American citizens because they would reveal indefensible, secret policies and institution-level corruption that favor a special interest.
By locking “unknown knowns” under heavy guard in document archives, covering them in secrecy classification stamps and making an example out of whistleblowers who release them without authorization, busy bureaucrats with the highest security clearances maintain a vast and growing trove of “unknown knowns.”
Historians and watchdog organizations are continually thwarted in their mandate to contextualize and educate the public about relevant past events that could deeply inform the governed—and ultimately improve governance. Senator Carl Schurz said, “My country right or wrong, if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right.” “Unknown knowns” obliterate the public’s ability to execute the latter two-thirds of that sage advice.
Even the passage of time does not guarantee “unknown knowns” ever become “known knowns.” Under current government records preservation guidelines — particularly for information that researchers are not actively seeking to declassify — some “unknown knowns” quietly become “unknown unknowns” as they decay, are physically destroyed, erased or “lost.”
Many knowledgeable former officials take their secrets to the grave. As a product of the ill-gotten power and influence of the Israel lobby, the pile of “unknown knowns” about U.S.-Israel policy is particularly large. Curious Americans who rightfully question official narratives about the U.S.-Israel “special relationship” have often requested “unknown knowns” under the Freedom of Information Act.
Former government insiders who know firsthand about explosive secrets often seek their public release to alert others using the Mandatory Declassification Review, even requesting documents by name, subject, location, author and date.
After such “unknown knowns” (like the LBJ memos) are unsuccessfully sought for decades by multiple researchers, well-warranted suspicions arise about the reasons behind the impermeable government wall of refusal. The following ten US-Israel policy “unknown knowns” suggest the Israel lobby’s ongoing corrupt power is the only possible explanation for why they are still secret.
1. Henry Morgenthau Jr’s Israel policy is the stuff of legend in accounts about the birth of Israel.
Some researchers claim that FDR’s former Treasury Secretary was present at the original 1945 meeting of American Zionists with Jewish Agency executive director David Ben-Gurion to set up the massive Haganah smuggling network to steal, illegally buy and smuggle surplus WWII arms from the U.S. to Jewish fighters in Palestine. (report PDF)
This was the first major broadly organized Israel lobby challenge to U.S. sovereignty. It successfully overrode American policy enshrined in neutrality and arms export laws. Others claim Morgenthau was also instrumental in the illicit financing Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in direct opposition to policy set by American presidents.
The FBI’s dusty 10,000 page file on Morgenthau, numbered 105-HQ-188123 (the 105 code signifies “foreign counterintelligence”) including intercepts to Morgenthau from Israel, could finally clear up many of these allegations, especially when compared to current research.
Although the FBI — after a process that began in 2010 — in September 2013 claims it has fully declassified the Morgenthau file, censors have blanked out nearly every page with a paint-roller of black ink (sample PDF). How do high officials with strong ties to Israel and its lobby who are politically appointed to the U.S. Treasury Department flout U.S. laws with their own foreign-coordinated foreign policy movements? The FBI and Justice Department do not believe Americans are quite yet ready to know.
2. Eisenhower and the Lavon Affair.
In 1954, the Israeli government launched its “Operation Susannah” false flag terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Egypt. Israel’s operatives were quickly arrested when bombs exploded prematurely. The operation’s utter failure resulted in a political crisis known as the Lavon Affair.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, periodically swarmed by American Zionist Council lobbyists urging him to send money and arms to Israel, must have learned some very hard lessons about U.S.-Israel relations from the incident. Yet the Eisenhower presidential archive — which is not subject to FOIA — has never released anything revelatory about the administration’s reaction to the attempted false flag attack. A narrow request for such files yielded only a single non-specific declassified opinion that the commander-in-chief believed the Israelis were “fanatics.” (National Security Council PDF)
Yet the false flag operation’s objective, attacking to keep U.S. troops stationed in the Suez Canal Zone to respond to “Egyptian militants,” seemed entirely rational to Israel, and possibly to some of its U.S. supporters who struggled for years afterwards to minimize the importance of the affair. Today Eisenhower library archivists claim that huge quantities of Eisenhower’s papers are still “unprocessed,” but may hold some private reflections or lessons learned.
3. Israeli theft of nuclear material from NUMEC.
In 2013, the CIA continues to resist release of thousands of files about the NUMEC diversion by referring to CIA Deputy Director for Operations John H. Stein’s secret decision in 1979 (2013 FOIA denial PDF).
Stein claimed that release of even a few of CIA’s closely-held files — especially if they were compared with Science Advisor of the Interior Commission Henry Meyer’s blunt allegations (PDF) to Congressman Morris Udall in 1979 that NUMEC was an Israeli smuggling front — was impossible “because of the need to have a coordinated Executive Branch position and our desire to protect a sensitive and valuable liaison equity.”
In plain English, that appears to mean Americans still cannot have official CIA confirmation of the uranium theft because the U.S. president would have to drop the ongoing nonsense of “strategic ambiguity” and forego intelligence Israel is funneling to America.
4. FBI files of Israeli (but not Russian) spies Russia’s dashing red-headed spy, Anna Chapman, was arrested in 2010 and sent packing back Russia.
Any interested American can now watch Chapman’s moves in surveillance videos and read the FBI counterintelligence files.
Not so with most of Israel’s top spies who targeted American economic, nuclear and national defense infrastructure.
America is still crawling with Israeli spies (our “constant companion” according to intelligence expert Jeff Stein).
The 2010 revelations of nuclear equipment smuggling from Telogy (prohibited export smuggling PDF) in California and Stewart Nozette‘s 1998-2008 Israel Aerospace Industries-funded penetrations of classified U.S. information storehouses around Washington reveal that while Israeli spying has never stopped, secret prosecution strategies now emphasize quietly rolling up Israeli operations via industry regulators, fines and penalties or isolating and entrapping American spies on lesser charges but steering around their Israeli handlers.
Unlike its treatment of information requests about Russian spies, the FBI and Justice Department have denied every individual FOIA request for the files of major Israeli spies. Access to Rafael Eitan’s many harmful exploits against U.S. targets are banned from release unless Eitan personally waives his privacy rights (FOIA denial). The FBI claimed it can no longer find files about deceased nuclear espionage mastermind Avraham Hermoni, even though his name appears across many previously released NUMEC files (FOIA denial PDF).
Flooding from Hurricane Sandy is the excuse the FBI gives for not being able to find files on spy-for-Israel Ben Ami-Kadish (Flood FOIA denial PDF). One might argue it is merely a series of unfortunate events that keeps Israeli spy files out of public hands, except that the Justice Department has now issued a blanket ban on declassifying any files about the FBI’s decades-long counterintelligence tango with Israel’s Mossad. (Justice Department blanket denial PDF).
The results of the Justice Department’s kid-glove approach to Israel propagates into mandatory counterintelligence reports to Congress. Although Israel unambiguously ranked as a top economic and national defense intelligence threat in past assessments of agencies like the Office of National Counterintelligence Executive, because criminal prosecution strategies toward Israel (through not Iran, Russia or China) have been undermined from within, Israel has disappeared from the most current reports.
5. Jonathan J. Pollard’s most heinous crime.
Israel’s only American spy ever to do serious time in jail — despite the best efforts of his many American and Israeli supporters to spring him — once confidently claimed before he was convicted that “… it was the established policy of the Department of Justice not to prosecute U.S. citizens for espionage activities on behalf of Israel.” Many believe it was only Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger’s classified briefing to sentencing Judge Aubry Robinson that made Pollard the near sole exception to that curious rule.
Some Pentagon insiders and national security reporters believe Pollard’s sentence was so harsh because Israel used stolen U.S. intelligence as “trade goods” with the Soviet Union to increase Russian émigrés to Israel. As Pollard’s sentence draws to a close, few know exactly what Weinberger told Robinson that caused him to deliver a life sentence. The recent partial releases of a CIA damage assessment and a DIA video about Pollard shed little light.
In 2010, the Department of Defense disclaimed all ownership of the still-classified “Weinberger declaration” passing the FOIA ball to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division (FOIA transfer PDF).
In a novel approach, the Executive Office of US Attorneys now claims that it cannot find its own copy but that FOIA does not require EOUSA FOIA officers to travel two blocks to the DC District Court to retrieve a sealed copy of the memorandum for review (FOIA denial PDF) or even ask DOD for a copy.
The National Archives and Records Administration Office of Government Information Services OGIS agrees that there is no “duty for agencies to retrieve records that are not physically present in their own files.”
Although the 2008 case of Ben-Ami Kadish proves the Pollard espionage ring was much larger than was publicly disclosed in the late 1980s, the FBI has also not allowed release of its Jonathan Pollard investigation files (FOIA denial PDF) for overdue public review of how the investigation might have — like many others — been short-circuited by the Department of Justice because it involved Israel.
6. Wiretap of AIPAC pushing for a US war on Iran.
When AIPAC executives Keith Weissman and Steven J. Rosen dialed up Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler in 2004, they were determined to leverage purloined classified U.S. national defense information into a story that Iran was engaged in “total war” against the US in Iraq. FBI special agents played audio intercepts of their pitch to AIPAC’s legal counsel and AIPAC promptly fired the pair to distance itself from activities it had long supported.
Rosen and Weisman were later indicted under the Espionage Act, although the case was later quashed under an intense Israel lobby pressure campaign shortly after President Obama entered office.
What exactly did AIPAC’s two officials tell the Washington Post in its unrelenting drive to gin up a U.S. war with Iran? A decade later, the U.S. Department of Justice doesn’t believe the American public is entitled to hear a tape long ago played to AIPAC’s lawyer Nathan Lewin, even as AIPAC continues to agitate for more wars. (MDR denial PDF)
7. Niger uranium forgery underwriters.
Although Ike may or may not have worried much about the implications of Operation Susannah, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee certainly did.
A secret memo touched off years of Senate and Justice Department investigations into Israel lobbying over fears that American operatives might engage in other overseas clandestine provocations aimed at duping the U.S. into ill-advised conflicts that would benefit Israel (the short memo references the Lavon affair twice). The Iraq war proves those fears were well-founded.
Many have long suspected that the Niger uranium forgeries, fake documents the Bush administration trumpeted to falsely accuse Iraq of buying uranium from Africa for nuclear weapons, were chartered by American neoconservatives in order to provide a pretext they desperately needed for war. Perhaps the FBI’s investigation into the matter definitively proves it.
However, despite years of requests for the 1,000 pages of that investigation, the FBI after initially duly proceeding with a FOIA, has now suddenly clammed up. (Niger uranium denial PDF)
8. Israel lobbyists embedded in the Treasury and Justice Departments.
Israel lobbying organizations have been very effective at embedding their operatives in key positions across the Federal government, such as Stuart Levey in the Treasury Department’s economic warfare unit, or former AIPAC director Tom Dine as a contractor at the floundering US government-funded Arabic-language broadcaster Alhurra.
It used to be possible to get a phone directory or conduct a comprehensive audit of which key political appointees (and the people they brought in) were running critical divisions of federal agencies by obtaining detailed Office of Personnel Management and other public records. Not anymore. (FOIA response PDF)
Leveraging heightened post-911 sensitivities, the US Treasury Department now claims the same protections against disclosure formerly enjoyed only by intelligence agency employees.
Since the 1940s, the U.S. Department of Justice has earned a reputation as a place where Israel lobby criminal investigations go to die. Justice is also where an AIPAC official like Neil Sher can while away a few years on pet projects at taxpayer expense before moving on to more lucrative outside work.
DOJ also routinely denies files about its past official decisions not to pursue criminal cases on the basis that doing so could jeopardize privacy, ongoing investigations, or factors underlying its coveted “prosecutorial discretion” (e.g. charging the disenfranchised but not powerful insiders for wrongdoing).
Like Treasury, it is now almost impossible to survey and produce an organization chart of the Israel lobby’s political appointees embedded at high and mid-level Justice Department posts or the biographies of the staff and contractors they bring in with them.
9. Unclassified IDA report about US charities funding the Israeli nuclear weapons program.
Sensitive reports need not be classified for the government to hang on to them indefinitely. In 1987 the Institute for Defense Analyses delivered an unclassified report to the Department of Defense titled “Critical Technology Issues in Israel.”
The study implicates the Israeli Weizmann Institute for Science and Technology in nuclear weapons research, raising deep questions about the group’s U.S. tax-exempt charitable fundraising and U.S. commitment to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Department of Defense withheld the IDA report from release on the basis of FOIA exemptions covering trade secrets and “intra-agency communications protected by the deliberative process privilege,” among others. (FOIA denial PDF)
10. Justification for NSA funneling raw intelligence on Americans to Israel.
If former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has taught Americans anything, it is that “unknown knowns” are usually even worse than many might have first imagined. Some careful observers knew about massive NSA surveillance, while others alerted the public about the danger of “backdoor” U.S. intelligence flows to Israel. But who ever suspected the NSA was shipping wholesale raw intercepts gathered on Americans to Israel under a secret deal struck in 2009?
No government that wholly denies such relevant information can claim legitimacy via consent of the governed. There can be little doubt why these ten files are kept closed: it serves the Israel lobby. The means by which this closure is sustained is also no secret. The millions of dollars that line politician’s pockets, promote media pundits and quietly spirit political appointees into key gatekeeper positions maintain closed files and prevent informed public debate.
Because of this, Americans should proceed assuming the worst conceivable, most logical explanation for any given U.S.-Israel “unknown known” is correct—until proven otherwise. Under this guideline, it is prudent to believe that LBJ—properly warned by his intelligence services and advisors that Israel was stealing the most precious military material on earth from America—was simply too marinated in Israel lobby campaign cash to faithfully uphold his oath of office.
It is similarly reasonable to believe the Justice Department and FBI won’t release Israeli spy files because Americans would finally understand that, despite massive ongoing harm to America, political appointees in the Justice Department thwart warranted prosecutions.
DOJ finds it much easier to stay “on message” through a long line of lobby-approved but mostly bogus “Islamic terrorism cases” (many made via sketchy undercover informants goading members of targeted minority communities into “terror” plots).
According to its own records, every time it tried to uphold the law in the 1940s the DOJ suddenly found itself internally and externally swarmed by Israel lobbyists with inexhaustible financial war chests and legal experts working to quash warranted prosecutions in secret coordination with Israel. The DOJ now likely believes it can never win against Israel lobby generated media and political agitation when it moves to prosecute, and has now simply given up.
It is logical to assume that Israel was found selling out America to the Soviets in Pollard’s case, since little else explains the unusually harsh impact of Weinberger’s secret memo. It is similarly likely that the FBI’s AIPAC wiretaps would, if released today, accurately reveal Rosen and Weissman to be what they actually were — unregistered foreign agents operating on behalf of and in ongoing contact with the Israeli government rather than legitimate domestic lobbyists.
It is similarly more productive to assume that at least one neoconservative operative with strong ties to the involved entities in Italy — such as Michael Ledeen — served as barker to the Italian sideshow that disseminated forged documents.
According to documents released by Edward Snowden, the transfer of raw NSA intercepts on American citizens to Israel was authorized under a secret doctrine that “the survival of the state of Israel is a paramount goal of US Middle East policy.”
This “prime directive” was probably a secret because it is a blank check obligating American blood and treasure to a cause American citizens never approved via advise and consent. But why did the Obama administration — even as it dismissed espionage charges against AIPAC staff in 2009 — so deeply betray American privacy?
Under “unknown known” doctrine, most would assume that like LBJ before him, Obama sold out America because his Israel lobby handlers secretly demanded and paid for it on behalf of a foreign country. What other goodies Obama doled out to Israel in exchange for help gaining the highest office remain to emerge.
The official process for obtaining official public disclosure of “uknown knowns” — the Freedom of Information Act — does not function when the stakes in disclosure are high and Israeli interests are involved.
Agencies (and ISCAP) correctly perceive government credibility is at stake when there is real openness, and that bona fide transparency would positively impact how government behaves. Visibly corrupt federal government officials and institutions are counting on continued secrecy to accumulate illegitimate power by undermining public accountability.
By Grant F. Smith, Information Clearing House;