Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

News Analysis: Detroit-area Espionage Case Revives Jewish Sensitivities


The investigation of a Detroit-area Jewish man admitting to sharing classified documents with Israel has once again piqued Jewish sensitivities about accusations of dual loyalty.

The U.S. Army last week placed David Tenenbaum, 39, on paid leave after he told investigators that he had “inadvertently” shared classified documents for the last 10 years with Israeli military officials.

FBI agents carted off cases of what may be evidence from his home, including two computers.

While no charges have been filed, the investigation, coming a decade after Jonathan Pollard was sentenced to life in prison for spying for Israel, has hit a raw nerve among Israeli and Jewish officials.

The investigation also falls on the one-year anniversary of the repeal of a Defense Department security agency memo warning government contractors that “strong ethnic ties” to American Jews allow Israel to steal military and industrial secrets “aggressively.”

Israeli officials here were quick to say that this case is different from that of Pollard, the former Navy analyst whose case rocked U.S.-Israeli relations and whose life sentence became a cause celebre in the American Jewish community.

At the same time, the revelations prompted concern and considerable angst among American Jews who work closely with the Pentagon.

“Whether or not this guy did it or did not do it will not matter,” said Shoshana Bryen, director of special projects at the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs.

“The anti-Semites will say he did, and Jews will worry about their reputations.”

Consultants who work with the Defense Department as well as active personnel undergo periodic reviews for their security clearance. Jews are found at all levels of the defense establishment, though no one knows exactly how many.

Fearful that this case, like Pollard’s, would place them under increased scrutiny, many Jewish officials of the defense establishment refused to be interviewed for this article.

“There’s nothing to be gained by speaking on this issue,” said one official who prepared a statement to read, but asked not to be identified. “They shouldn’t look at us closer because of Tenenbaum, Pollard or anyone else, but they will.”

Others, however, say there will be little impact.

“The memory of Pollard still lingers, but the fact is, with the exception of some claims made by individuals, there was no real retribution at the time,” said Dov Zakheim, former deputy undersecretary of defense.

“I suspect it will be the same now,” he said. “The track record is there’s far less of a reaction than people anticipate.”

Charges of spying for Israel and holding dual loyalty to Israel have not prevented Jews from moving to the “very senior” government positions, Zakheim said, citing former CIA Director John Deutch.

According to an affidavit filed Feb. 14 by the FBI at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, “Tenenbaum admitted to divulging non- releasable classified information to every Israeli Liaison Officer (ILO) assigned to TACOM over the last 10 years.”

Tenenbaum worked as an operations research analyst on computer studies of armor designs, at TACOM, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, located north of Detroit. It designs and maintains the fleet of vehicles for the U.S. Army.

After a routine polygraph test he took last week as part of a security- clearance upgrade, Tenenbaum told investigators that he gave classified information on Patriot missiles countermeasures, Bradley tanks and various U.S. Army vehicles to Israelis assigned to work with the U.S. Army.

Specifically, Tenenbaum told investigators, he gave classified information to Dr. Reuven Granot, scientific deputy director of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, according to the affidavit, which the FBI filed to obtain a search warrant of Tenenbaum’s home.

When asked how one inadvertently passes information, Tenenbaum’s attorney, Martin Crandell, said he believes that the polygraph examiner was the one to pose the question in those words. He would not elaborate further.

As for the information Tenenbaum is believed to have access to, JINSA’s Bryen said Israel actually developed much of the technology.

Israeli scientists invented “reactive armor,” now used in U.S. military vehicles, she said. In addition, Israelis wrote the software upgrades for the Patriot missiles used in the Gulf War.

Tenenbaum, a religious Jew fluent in Hebrew who lives in the Detroit suburbs with his wife and two young children, believes that anti-Semitism may cloud the investigation, according to his attorney.

“I’m getting a sense that there may be some anti-Semitic views of David, but I can’t pinpoint it to any individual now,” Crandell said in a telephone interview.

When asked to elaborate, Crandell cited the outcry over last year’s Defense Department memo about Jewish loyalties.

Top brass at the Pentagon, including then-Secretary of Defense William Perry, repudiated the memo, which was written and circulated by a low-level field official in upstate New York.

But Crandell said the memo was never replaced. Telling investigators to ignore its contents “is like telling a jury to ignore evidence once you present it to them.”

The three-page memo warns, in part: “The strong ethnic ties to Israel present in the U.S., coupled with aggressive and extremely competent intelligence personnel, has resulted in a very productive collection effort.”

As a result of this memo, Crandell said, “this investigation is potentially tainted with discrimination.”

Polls consistently show over the past 30 years that about one-third of all Americans believe that American Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States.

Another 20 percent of Americans routinely answer that they do not know where Jews’ loyalties lie, according to “Anti-Semitism in Contemporary America,” a study published by the American Jewish Committee.

But many Jewish officials are not ready to jump to any conclusions.

“We need to see more information,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “If Jews are asked because they are Jewish about their relations to Israel, then it is a serious concern. We will ask the questions now.”

For its part, Israel has pledged “full cooperation on the matter” if the United States seeks assistance, said Gadi Baltiansky, press spokesman at the Israeli Embassy here.

“Israeli defense personnel serving in the United States are given the most clear and categorical instructions forbidding them from receiving classified information except through the official channels established between the two countries,” Baltiansky said.

If charged and convicted, Tenenbaum would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

Recommended from JTA