US citizens who have ties to Israel or an Israeli-American dual citizenship encounter difficulties in obtaining security clearance from the Pentagon and are dealt with in a manner similar to that of Americans who have ties with hostile nations.
A new study published last month examines the decisions concerning clearance requests by Americans with ties to Israel and finds that in many cases the applicants are questioned on the issue of dual loyalty. The government, in at least three cases, cited the Larry Franklin case, in which a Pentagon analyst allegedly gave classified information to two former staffers of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) as a case that supports the claim that individuals with ties to Israel cannot be trusted with security clearance.
The study was first reported in the New York Sun this week.
Sheldon I. Cohen, a Virginia-based lawyer who conducted the study said that he found that ties with Israel are treated more severely then those with other countries which are known to be allies of America.
"My impression," he told The Jerusalem Post, "is that the government views Israel in a tougher way than other non-hostile countries, such as Sweden, Britain or France, and in a way which is similar to that of hostile countries like China."
Attorney David Schoen of Atlanta, who is now representing a Lockheed-Martin employee who lost his clearance due to ties with Israel, said he believes that Americans with Israeli citizenship are singled out by the Pentagon on issues of security clearance.
Schoen's client, a 53-year-old engineer who holds both US and Israeli citizenship and whose mother and sister live in Israel, was informed that his clearance was revoked due to "foreign preferences," since he holds an Israeli passport, and "foreign vulnerability," because he has relatives in Israel. When Schoen asked the government representative to see a list of countries in which having family members would create a "foreign vulnerability," he was told there is no such list.
The judge in the case refused to enter as evidence the Franklin-AIPAC indictment and a decision is expected next month. Meanwhile, the employee was fired by Lockheed-Martin.
According to the study, since 1996, the year in which the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals (DOHA), which adjudicates security clearance issues, began making its decisions public, there were 47 cases involving Israel and 29 of them were denied clearance.
In the cases brought to the appeals board, the government argued that ties of the applicant with Israel, either by dual citizenship, holding an Israeli passport or having close family members in Israel, should serve as a disqualifying factor due to "foreign preference" or "foreign influence."
The government attorneys raised, when the cases came to discussion, several references that would portray Israel as a country trying to obtain American secrets, among them the Jonathan Pollard case, a five-year-old report that puts Israel in a list of countries that conduct industrial espionage in the US and lately also the AIPAC-Franklin case.
The protocols of DOHA reveal that Americans with dual Israeli citizenship are frequently asked questions regarding their loyalties to the US and Israel. "The appeal board used the hypothetical situation of an applicant being asked to disclose classified information, not for the purpose of harming the United States, but to either increase the security of Israel so his family in Israel could live in peace and safety, or to reduce threats to the lives of Israeli military personnel, which might include the applicant's sister and brother," the report reads.
In one case, an applicant who was born in Israel and later became a US citizen was asked hypothetically if he would take up arms against Israel if the US would require him to do so. He said he could not conceive of such a situation and could not see himself taking up arms against Israel. The appeals board denied his request for clearance based on "foreign preference."
Cohen said that from his experience, Israel is the only country that these hypothetical questions are asked about. "It's a dirty question. It's a catch-22 situation - whatever you answer will be the wrong answer," he said.
Pentagon sources who are aware of the issue confirmed that ties with Israel are seen as a problem when requesting security clearance and that even elderly family members living in Israel are seen at times as a reason to revoke or deny clearance.
In a recent community meeting at a Washington synagogue, Baruch Weiss, an attorney representing Keith Weissman, one of the AIPAC defendants, noted that the case is now being used to deny clearances from people who have ties with Israel and said this is one of the aspects of the case that should alarm the Jewish community.