WASHINGTON (Dec. 23)
Against the background of recent tensions over alleged Israeli spying activities in the United States, a pro-Arab lobbying group is boosting its long-standing efforts to revive an old espionage case against a senior member of the Department of Defense.
A Justice Department investigation was undertaken in 1978 to explore the possibility of espionage charges against Steven Bryen, then a senior aide to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after former director of the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), Michael Saba, claimed he overheard Bryen offer secret Pentagon documents to an Israeli Embassy official at a Washington hotel.
The investigation was dropped two years later after the Justice Department reported that it had failed to find conclusive evidence of espionage activity.
Maintaining that the case against Bryen, who was subsequently appointed Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Economic Trade and Security Planning in the Reagan Administration, had been closed prematurely and under pressure, the NAAA has been trying to get the case reopened for some time.
AN AUSPICIOUS ATMOSPHERE
But in the auspicious atmosphere created by the recent string of “Israel spy scandals” — including the case of Jonathan Pollard and a current investigation into the possible illegal sale to Israel of military technology for improving cannon barrels — the lobbying group has begun to push its case into the public eye.
An article by David Shipler that appeared on the front-page of yesterday’s New York Times, describing a heightened concern in U.S.agencies over intelligence leaks to Israel, recounted much of the case against Bryen conveyed at an NAAA conference here today.
NAAA RELEASES 180-PAGE REPORT
The NAAA, which lobbies against U.S. economic and military aid to Israel, announced today its release of a 180-page report by a Washington law firm which it said corroborates its claims that the Bryen case was closed prematurely and under pressure and that the Assistant Deputy Secretary should never have been given a top-secret security clearance.
NAAA executive director David Sadd said the report had been forwarded to the “appropriate oversight authorities” in the Justice and Defense Departments and to the House and Senate Judiciary and Armed Services Committees, from whom they requested an investigation into the manner in which the Bryen case was pursued and subsequently closed.
The report includes numerous documents from the Bryen investigation obtained by the NAAA under the Freedom of Information Act. But Sadd accused the Justice Department of obstructing efforts by the law firm to obtain all the documents it has requested under the Act.
The Shipler article quoted John Davitt, who headed the Justice Department’s Internal Security Section at the time of the investigation, as saying he had objected to the appointment of Bryen to an extremely sensitive security post in the Defense Department. Bryen’s responsibilities include the protection of U.S. military technology from foreign powers.
In his interview with Shipler, Davitt said he found it “difficult to understand how anyone reading this (Justice Department) file could conclude well, this matter was investigated and he was given a clean bill of health and all of the allegations were resolved in his favor.”
Davitt said that a suggestion by some of the prosecutors handling the case to have it brought before a grand jury several years ago was rejected by Philip Heymann, who headed the Justice Department’s criminal division.
Pushing his case against Bryen before reporters today, Sadd observed that Bryen had been employed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and that his wife, Shoshana, currently heads the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a pro-Israeli organization.
‘OLD STORY IN A NEW WRAPPER’
Defense Department spokesman Robert Prusha told the JTA today that his department regards the investigation of Bryen as “fully closed,” and the NAAA report as “an old story in a new wrapper.” He maintained that Bryen’s background had been thoroughly reviewed by the Justice Department and that the Assistant Deputy Secretary had been cleared of all the allegations.
Bryen was recently promoted to the post of Under-secretary of Defense for Trade and Security Policy.