Bruce Brill - May 1994 - Midstream Magazine
The responsibility for Israel's being caught by surprise in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, its near demise, and the loss of over 3500 dead, has been one of the most tightly guarded secrets for the past 20 years. The answer not only fingers those culpable, but has strong bearing on the [over] nine year old Pollard Affair and -most importantly-- Israel's current security situation.
The time then has come to make the answer public.
I was privy to the sensitive intelligence that gives the answer while I had worked as a Mideast analyst at the US National Security Agency in the early 1970's. The ongoing public debate since the Yom Kippur Surprise has centered around how much Israeli Intelligence and General Staff really knew or didn't know, whether there was a choice to preempt and why the decision was taken to let the Arabs strike the first blow when it finally did become clear they were going to attack.
It is widely held that it was only in the morning of 6 October 1973, Saturday, Yom Kippur, that Israel's General Staff knew for certain of the impending attack. Even at that time, however, the precise hour of the attack was believed to be several hours after it had actually begun. Although General [Arie] Brown claims that the Americans informed the Israelis of suspicious Arab movements indicating warlike intentions ten days before Yom Kippur, it is generally assumed that US Intelligence was caught totally unawares. A widely quoted secret report published in the New York Times of 12 September 1975 stated, "the United States Intelligence community acknowledged that it failed to predict the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and that several intelligence agencies even predicted that there would be no war only hours before the hostilities broke out." General Brown maintains the Israelis had actually convinced the Americans in the interim that Arab movements were not preparations for war!
And so it has always seemed perfectly acceptable that during the lead up to the invasion, US Intelligence was reporting to the Israelis that, according to its best information, there would be no attack in the near future, certainly not on or by Yom Kippur. Moshe Dayan begins his account of the Yom Kippur Surprise in his autobiography abstrusely, "The Egyptian and Syrian attack on Yom Kippur came as a surprise, though it was not unexpected." He continues that contingency plans for an Arab attack were based "on the assumption that there would be advance warning of more than 24 hours." "But," he adds, "both our own Military Intelligence and that of the United States concluded that Syria and Egypt were not about to go to war. They interpreted the heightened military activity on the Egyptian front as 'army maneuvers' and not preparations for an invasion. Nevertheless we were not at ease..."
"During the night of 4 October we received reports which strengthened the probability that Egypt and Syria were about to launch a war," Dayan relates. Yet he adds that at the Cabinet meeting the next day "the American evaluation was that neither Syria nor Egypt intended to launch an attack in the near future."
Dayan writes, "Thus, without our having been either complacent or blind to its possible outbreak, the Yom Kippur War broke over us on the very day we did not expect it to." Dayan concludes that the army command and the government were, "led to the situation whereby too few Israeli forces were in position during the containment or blocking stage, and that the reinforcements which were rushed to the front arrived in small numbers with no time to make preparations for a counterattack." Later, Dayan recaps the "mishap" by quoting copiously from the September 12, 1975 New York Times article.
Golda Meir, too, begins her autobiographical account of the Yom Kippur Surprise, with unclear innuendo:
Even as a personal story, there is still a great deal that cannot be told... [Before the outbreak of the war Mrs. Meir recalls] I was convinced that the army was ready for any contingency --even for full-scale war. Also, my mind was put at rest about the question of a sufficiently early warning. Then, for whatever reason, the tension relaxed."
After receiving the ominous reports from Israel's own intelligence services of the rushed exodus of Soviet advisors' families on Thursday night 4 October, Mrs. Meir was convinced in her own mind that an attack was imminent:
How could it be that I was still so terrified of war breaking out when the present chief of staff, two former chiefs of staff [Dayan and Bar Lev] and the head of intelligence were far from sure that it would? ... Not only that, but foreign [American Intelligence] services with whom we were in constant touch agreed absolutely with the assessment of our experts. So why was I still ill at ease?"
IDF Reserve General M.K. Rahavam Ze'evi recounts that Israel intelligence had 500 intelligence indicators just prior to the Surprise that an attack was imminent. Yet, there was an element of doubt in Israel's presurprise assessments. The effect of American intelligence reports passed to the Israelis was to strengthen Israeli Intelligence's own doubts. Matti Golan (The Secret Conversations of Henry Kissinger) indicates that the US influence had already precolored Israel's own intelligence evaluations. At the critical cabinet meeting on Friday, 5 October the Israeli chief of intelligence "expressed his view that these were only maneuvers -- and added that American intelligence shared this evaluation."
Contrast these widely accepted accounts with a telephone call I received from my NSA supervisor about 2:45 PM, East Coast Time, Thursday afternoon, 4 October 1973: "Don't even think about going home this weekend, 'cause I'll be calling your young...right back down again. We've got a war for real this time and...[it] hits the fan on Saturday." The Syrians and Egyptians were going to launch a coordinated surprise invasion of Israel on Yom Kippur, 6 October. We knew of the impending coordinated attack, knew it was scheduled for Yom Kippur, and I, personally, knew of it 41 hours in advance. Higher ups knew hours if not days before I did.
Besides my TV interview with host Gabi Gazit of Israel's "Tonight Show" in March 1991, the importance of this disclosure is evidenced by Israel TV news senior correspondent Gil Sadan granting me an interview on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, and by the interview's subsequent suppression by TV news management. The apology given was not that management doubted my testimony, but rather they doubted that of Dayan and Meir!
All Israeli personalities closest to these personalities from whom I tried to obtain confirmation held their cards very close to the vest. Even Yael Dayan shrugged off my inquiry by: "Was I there?" In a registered letter of 23 November 1993 to the security officer of the US National Security Agency, I queried:
In reviewing the circumstances surrounding the surprise of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the most senior Israeli sources (Meir and Dayan) claimed that in the days leading up to the surprise on 6 October United States intelligence services had been informing them the Arabs had no intention to begin war at that time. I don't want to believe this is true, since it suggests US intelligence played a part in duping the Israelis. Can NSA provide some assurance the correct information was passed to the Israelis and, therefore, that Meir and Dayan were lying on this point?
NSA has not provided an answer as of this writing.
If, then the US intelligence community passed the Israelis misinformation and put them off guard, this indicates that the certain knowledge we at NSA had of the impending invasion scheduled for Yom Kippur was falsified somewhere along the line. Regardless of where along the line of intelligence processing the intelligence was manipulated, this was duplicity of the highest order.
It doesn't take great imagination to conclude that somehow the intelligence manipulation took place inside cells within the Agency that are off-limits to Jews, even those possessing the highest clearances, simply because they are Jews. The existence of these cells, even within the Agency, is a tightly guarded secret, known only by cell members and protected by the "Need to Know Principle." Obviously, it was quite by accident that I, a Jew, learned of their existence. (I am not at leisure to disclose my source, an NSA higher-up, since this would compromise his/her career.) In effect, there is no reason not to assume that the likes of the secretive Skull & Bones, a respectable white-shirt- and-tie crowd that sees no evil in working toward Israel's demise, are not untouchably imbedded in the inner workings of the US intelligence community.
The existence of such cells, off limits to a particular minority (or minorities), flies in the face of the US Constitution's Bill of Rights. That such Jew-free cells within the US intelligence community can manipulate intelligence and remain absolutely immune from monitoring, checks or counterbalance, is an outrage against American democratic principles. That they are well-funded by the US taxpayer and have no accountability to the US Congress defies public trust. That their hidden agendas do not reflect US public will violates stated American policy. That the results of their operation have put and continue to put the innocent citizens of a publicly declared friend in jeopardy should be indictable under the Judgments of Nuremberg.
Other evidence of the US intelligence community's seeking Israel's demise include: 1) valuable US spy satellite information that would have been helpful to Israel was sidetracked in the early 1980's by Casper Weinberger; 2) information in the mid 1980's about the mounting chemical and biological capabilities of certain Arab countries was withheld from Israel in contravention of an explicit 1983 Intelligence Exchange Agreement (forcing Jonathan Pollard to assume the responsibility); 3) US Intelligence has been able to spot every housing start in Judea or Samaria (the West Bank), but in 1991 somehow managed to lose a Scud- laden North Korean vessel bound for Iran on the open seas; 4) real-time information about Scud launchings from Iraq during the Gulf War were not forwarded to Israel, putting Israel's civil defense at a critical disadvantage; 5) recently US intelligence volunteered to supply Palestinians with information about new building starts in Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; 6) inquiries of the National Security Agency in December 1992 suggest that the discriminatory policy of maintaining Jew-free cells is still in force today.
This Jew-free clique suppressed intelligence vital to Israel even after the signing of the 1983 Israel-US Binational Understanding, which expresses both American will and law, requiring the exchange of vital intelligence. Although US intelligence knew beforehand (and the Gulf war proved) that Israel's citizens were the potential targets of a modern-day SCUD-delivered holocaust, these Jew-free cells in the US intelligence community made certain the information was not forwarded.
American public will toward Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is expressed in innumerable ways. During the Gulf War grassroots expressions of American solidarity with Israel and Israelis flowed in torrents from Columbia to Zion. The One personal and heart-rending instance is indicative of this positive attitude. During a 1976 road trip across America, my wife and I had occasion to stop at Fenwick, West Virginia's Chamber of Commerce. A member of the town council, there in open session, gave us some information, and asked us to sign the visitors' book. In the residence column, we recorded, "Jerusalem, Israel." After inspecting the visitors' book, he turned to the others and announced, "Gentlemen of the council, our guests here are from Jerusalem, Israel." Without the slightest hesitation, all of the council members stood up and applauded. This totally unsolicited response expressed a feeling of fellowship toward the Jewish state among Middle Americans that we encountered throughout the US.
Clearly, most Americans have a special place in their hearts for Israel. . At last year's Feast of Tabernacles Celebration in Israel, some 6500 Christian pilgrims, mostly from the US, assembled in Jerusalem to express identity with and love for the Jewish State. The traditional antagonism toward Israel of the US State Department, reflected, as we have seen, in the US intelligence community is strangely un-American.
Another un-American aspect is that this unstated anti-Israel policy within the US intelligence community is one which, beside putting a publicly declared friend in military jeopardy, has imperiled its innocent citizens. The legal responsibility for atrocities perpetrated during World War II on innocent victims was dealt with at the American-initiated Nuremberg Trials. Unique in the history of jurisprudence was the indictment of whole institutions at these trials. Gerald Dickler in Man on Trial states, "In a move as novel as it was significant, a number of key Nazi groups were named as defendants." The judgments handed down found The Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party, the Gestapo, and the SS guilty, thus clearing the way for their members' subsequent prosecution.
With few exceptions, the defendants at Nuremberg hid behind "the Fuehrer principle," insisting they had no personal responsibility for their actions, and were simply abiding by German national policy. Dickler states, "In general, they tried to create the impression that they had been lowly supernumeraries in a war effort run entirely by Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, and Bormann"; adding, "The Fuehrer principle enabled the German people to put their consciences on ice..." In fact, acting under superior orders had historically provided a formidable defense under international law. Understandably this position was one that was sacred in all military organizations.
Dickler goes on to say that the Fuehrer principle was disallowed by the Nuremberg Trial Charter which "recognizes that one who has committed criminal acts may not take refuge in superior orders nor in the doctrine that his crimes were acts of states ... [H]eretofore ... [t]hose in lower ranks were protected against liability by the orders of their superiors. The superiors were protected because their orders were called acts of state." This disallowal of the Fuehrer principle put the German citizen of the Nazi Reich in a fearful position. First he had to have the discernment to see the illicit in a superior's orders. The necessary courage to defy it in a totalitarian state such as Nazi Germany, "swarming with political police devoted to the
extirpation of faintheartedness," was shown by few Germans. By 1942 the "thousand year Reich" showed clear signs of dissolution, and answerability for war crimes could be just around the corner. Yet, it was only a clairvoyant who could have foreseen the Nuremberg Judgments of 1946; the well-worn Fuehrer principle would serve as it always had as legal refuge.
Compare this to the situation in the United States intelligence community since the Nuremberg Trials. The Nuremberg Judgments have become part of the American --indeed, the civilized world's-- conscience and consciousness; the Fuehrer principle can no longer find moral quarter. At the same time, by its inherent nature, the US intelligence community is a "totalitarian state" in that it is impervious to the monitoring of the democratic government which it purports to serve. The severe consequences of a security violation and the inevitability of getting caught are hammered home at regular intervals by "Big Brother." And finally, there is no power on earth "just around the corner" that would redeem an American intelligence worker who felt obliged by the Nuremberg Judgments to defy his secrecy oath.
The Nuremberg Judgments represented America's indignation at the crimes of the Holocaust. The judgments are very clear in stating the responsibility of the individual in not participating in acts of inhumanity ... even under orders. Were an individual to actively intervene on behalf of potential victims, his courage would certainly be acclaimed. In fact, one brave US intelligence analyst did just that. By forwarding intelligence, acknowledged as essential to Israel's security, this analyst certainly acted correctly as a good American in light of the Nuremberg Judgments and the 1983 Israel-US Understanding, if not heroically.
Jonathan Pollard wrote, "I'd rather be rotting in prison than sitting shiva for the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who would have died because of my cowardice." Ironically, his being Jewish clouds his heroic act of defying his superiors, who did not pass on vital information to Israel.
Albeit not well known, a case not dissimilar in certain critical aspects to Pollard's is that of one Aaron Pareira, a Jewish soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War. He was an only son whose mother requested him at his dying father's bedside so that he could say first kaddish. His request for furlough denied by his captain, he slipped away to be with his parents. And although he returned to his base after his absence without leave and reported directly to his captain, he was court-martialed for desertion and faced the firing squad. The courts would not grant his appeal; he was perceived by the courts and the public as a deserter. His harsh punishment would serve as an example to discourage the increasing number of Union army desertions. Only his mother's direct petition to Abraham Lincoln himself could save her son's life through a presidential pardon.
The president granted Mrs. Pareira a hearing. Mr. Lincoln thoroughly reviewed the case. His conclusions were penetratingly perceptive and humane. First, it was clear to Lincoln that the "crime" to be with parents in their distressful hours of greatest need was not desertion deserving of the death sentence. Lincoln also discerned the heroic in Aaron Pareira's behavior: he had risked the certainty of severe consequences to do what his conscience dictated was right.
In spite of tremendous public, military, and judicial pressures, Lincoln granted Pareira this exceptional pardon. Abe Lincoln's judgment was not faulty. Pareira served the United States with devotion, advanced to become an officer and was decorated for unusual bravery in action. His name stands in history with the other great Jewish American heroes.
Heros like Asher Levy whose defiance of Peter Stuyvesant's tyranny won religious liberties for Americans of all religious persuasions. David Frank, Gershon Seixas, Haym Salomon risked life, limb and fortune to support the American Revolution. Francis Salvador was known as the Jewish Paul Revere, and Benjamin Nones as the Jewish Lafayette. Judah Touro, and Uriah Levy in the War of 1812, Mordecai Noah in the campaigns against the Barbary Pirates, David de Leon and Judah Benjamin in gray and Abraham Jonas in blue during the Civil War, Adolph Marix in the Spanish American War, all won renown for their distinguished service. Almost ten thousand Jewish American officers served in World War I. Three Jewish soldier received the Congressional Medal of Honor and 150 were given the Distinguished Service Cross, not to mention nearly three thousand who made the ultimate sacrifice. Among the 550,000 Jewish servicemen in World War II, more than 10,000 gave their lives from over 35,000 casualties. Over 61,000 awards were given to Jewish soldiers, sailors and airmen. J Too, the number of Jews in the armed services was in greater proportion than the general population. This is a legacy American Jews can be proud of.
Jonathan Pollard has been perceived by the American public as a traitorous spy. He has aroused uncomfortable whispers of dual-loyalty in the ears of the American Jewish community. Has been seen by the courts as a violator of explicit espionage codes. And has been an unfortunate embarrassment to Israel.
Pollard, caught passing classified documents to the Israelis in 1985 in his capacity as an intelligence analyst for the US Naval Department, was sentenced to life imprisonment with recommendation against early release. His appeals through the judicial system have all met with failure. His only hope for freedom today is a presidential pardon. The dissimilarities between the Pollard and Pareira cases in fact make the case even stronger for including Pollard's name with other Jewish American heroes: in Pareira's time the very existence of the Union was in jeopardy; today the US is the unquestioned economic and military power in the world. Disloyalty to his country was the contortion of Aaron Pareira's commendable loyalty to his parents; Pollard's was to his people. Pareira disobeyed specific orders; Pollard abided by the compelling letter and the-even-more-compelling spirit of two US pronouncements: The 1983 Israel-US Intelligence Exchange Understanding and the Judgments of Nuremberg.
[Over] eight long years of public perception notwithstanding, if the crime of Jonathan Pollard is treason, it is not to America, but to un-American treachery. An indictment not of Pollard, but his supervisors is in order. Likewise, in the spirit of Nuremberg, an indictment of the US National Security Agency and other US intelligence agencies is in order for allowing Jew-free cells operating toward Israel's demise in contradistinction to stated American public will and policy.
"Mad-dog Israelis," is how Israelis were often referred to by "Hebees" (analysts working the Israel problem) at the National Security Agency in the early 1970's. It developed in part from the Israeli attack during the Six Day War in 1967 on the US spy ship "Liberty," in which some analysts were wounded or had friends who were killed or injured. By 1973 many of these same analysts had attained supervisory positions at the Agency.
Among the Arabic linguists there was anti-Israel prejudice brought along from the 47 intensive weeks of Arabic language training at the Defense Language Institute (DLI). All instructors at DLI were native speakers and much time was allotted to culture of the target nation. With six hours daily of in-class study, this naturally allowed the instructors ample opportunity to inundate the student with their perspectives on history, religion and politics.
One example, though exceptional in its poignancy, was just one of a continuous stream of Israel- and Jew-bashing declamations. During one session, we had translated an article from Egypt's semiofficial daily, Al-Ahram, describing the Passover blood libel and the "nature" of the Jewish enemy. Our instructor's reaction was most telling ... as was some of the students'. The teacher volunteered, presumably for our cultural enrichment, to describe the methods Jews used in his native Iraq to obtain Gentile blood. The sincerity, authority, and detail with which the instructor told of the Jews' blood passion had actually convinced some of my classmates that there had to be something to it. For, certainly, "where there's smoke, there's fire."
This intensive antisemitic indoctrination is the kind of baggage many Arabic language graduates of DLI come on board with at the Agency. Thus, fed with the traditional anti-Israel bias of the US State Department that filters into the intelligence community, it is no wonder that the antagonism toward Israelis, and by extension toward Jews in general, simply found fertile ground in which to flourish. CBS' Daniel Schorr (Clearing the Air, 1977) states that by 1976 this anti-Israel bias was institutionalized in the American intelligence community.
Soon many of the veteran anti-Israel Mideast US intelligence supervisors will be retiring from the Agency. Today there is a White House that can reestablish the rapprochement between Israel and the US that was lost during the Bush/Baker administration. Clearly, the long called-for democratization in the Arab world is long in coming. Israel, a proven stable democracy based on a long tradition of human rights, should be admitted into the community of trusted codemocracies which pool intelligence as a matter of course (e.g. The US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia). As the time was ripe in the wake of the attack on the spy ship Liberty for planting the seeds of hatred by the Israel demise seekers, now the time can be ripe for an about-face that is more reflective of American public will.
At the same time the culpable departments of the US intelligence community should be made legally answerable for their misdeeds of discrimination against American Jews and working toward Israel's demise. Clearly this should be prerequisite to Israel making any territorial (read: "security") concessions to traditional enemies in exchange for US assurances. Likewise, a thorough review of the Pollard Affair is overdue, as is his recognition as an American hero.
The writer is a former Mideast analyst for the US National Security Agency.
Return to other articles by Bruce Brill