Behind the Headlines the Case of Joseph Churba
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Behind the Headlines the Case of Joseph Churba

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The chief civilian intelligence specialist on Middle East affairs for the U.S. Air Force who “as a matter of conscience” had publicly criticized Gen. George S. Brown’s views on Israel is out of a job and Brown is not about to help him get it back.

Joseph Churba, a former university professor who has been with the Air Force for more than eight years, resigned Nov. 11, the day after Maj. Gen. George Keegan, Air Force intelligence chief to whom he was a special assistant, stripped him of access to intelligence information following his criticism of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It seems a double-standard applies to my case,” Churba told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “General Brown was forgiven three times for outrageous comments (about Israel and American Jews) but he himself does not exhibit the reciprocal generosity when a lower officer such as myself reacts as a matter of conscience. It seems the authority on banking and newspapers insists on his pound of flesh and now he has it.”


The JTA asked Brown’s media assistant, Navy Capt. Sid Wright, whether Brown had been involved in any way in the Churba case and whether he would forgive Churba for his criticism. Wright later said he “posed the questions” to Brown and had two remarks: Brown had “no involvement whatsoever” and he had “no other comments on any aspect” of the case.

Earlier, Maj. Mike Burch of the Pentagon’s public affairs office told the JTA that “no one asked for his resignation” and that a paper Churba had written last summer that saw U.S. elements tilting towards the Arabs against Israel could be released by Churba provided it disclaimed connection with official policy.

Burch read a Pentagon statement that said when Churba accepted the job on Keegan’s staff about four years ago he was advised that the intelligence information to which he would have access would “require some limitations on his prior freedom to write and speak publicly” and that “his demonstrated unwillingness to accept those limitations would preclude his continued access to sensitive information.”


Churba said his article was unclassified, that is, free of official secrecy, and carried the disclaimer. Brown was not mentioned in it, he said. According to Churba, his paper argued that there is a strategic rationale for close ties between Israel and the United States. It is not necessarily a question of the U.S. choosing between Israel and the Arabs but that the U.S. could have a relationship on its own terms with both Israel and the Arab states, he noted. Another point, Churba said, was that “from the viewpoint of strategic interests, Israel is an asset and not a liability as is commonly argued by Arab-oriented circles in the U.S., including the government.”

Brown was disclosed last month as having declared in an interview that Israel is a military burden to the U.S. Later, however, under pressure from President Ford, he told a news conference that his comments did not indicate disagreement with U.S. policy of aiding Israel. Churba later told the New York Times–on Oct. 19–that Brown’s view about Israel was “dangerously irresponsible” and that it encouraged the Arabs and Russians to believe U.S. backing for Israel had diminished.

That published comment apparently started Pentagon action to strip him of his special clearance. Churba indicated to the JTA that the deprivation was the means to end his usefulness to the Air Force.


“My reaction (about Brown) came after his statement on Israel being a strategic liability,” Churba told the JTA. “I saw General Brown’s statement in the context of a Pentagon tilt against Israel. I characterized General Brown’s statement as being dangerously irresponsible and an indicator of the growing tilt towards the Arabs.” Churba did not blame Keegan. He called him a “courageous man,” with whom he had fought “many battles together.” Churba said “Keegan was under pressure from Brown and his other superiors. I understand his dilemma in choosing between his superiors and me.”

In a speech last night in New York before the Religious Zionists of America, Churba reiterated a warning that current Pentagon thinking was a threat to both America’s national security and Israel’s existence. “My concern is to tell people that there are growing views expressed within the Defense Department which show a shift of sympathy away from Israel,” he stated.

Born in New York City, Churba, who is Jewish, majored in Middle Eastern studies at Brooklyn College and Columbia University. He later taught at Adelphi University, the University of Winnipeg and the Air University which is the Air Force’s senior education establishment at Montgomery, Alabama, where he spent more than four years before going to the Pentagon.

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