Lawsuit by Young Jewish Attorney Charges Anti-Semitism at CIA-Source Says "They're Out of Control;" ADL Offers Sensitivity-Training

Susan L. Rosenbluth, Editor - The Jewish Voice and Opinion - June 1999 Edition

National Public Radio put it like this: At a time when the nation is focused on national security, a scandal is brewing among intelligence agents involving charges of anti-Semitism at the highest levels.

Adam Ciralsky, a 28-year-old attorney, has filed a lawsuit in US federal court charging the CIA with anti-Semitism. According to the suit, Mr. Ciralsky was placed on leave from the agency after he failed to tell a polygraph examiner that he and his family had visited Israel and that they supported Jewish charities such as the UJA.

According to reports, Mr. Ciralsky was hired by the CIA in 1996. In 1997, he was scheduled to rotate to the National Security Council, but was placed on leave due to what his attorney, Neal Sher, the one-time head of the Justice Department's Nazi-hunting section and AIPAC, called "counter-intelligence concerns."


Mr. Sher said that what he has learned about the CIA's disparate treatment of religious Jews and security clearances has "stood my hair on end."

According to Mr. Sher, the polygraph exam administered to Mr. Ciralsky was intentionally "hostile" even though his client did nothing wrong. The lawsuit also charges that the government agency subjected Mr. Ciralsky to illegal electronic surveillance and falsified his polygraph exam in order to claim that he was not entitled to the security classification necessary to transfer to the National Security Council.

Mr. Ciralsky's case is based on a CIA document which speaks of "rich Jewish persons and friends from college." Supporting Likud?

The document says Mr. Ciralsky has ties to and supports the Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and adds "He may not be telling more because it makes him and his family appear as fanatic supporters of the hard-line Likud party-and he does not want to be portrayed as such."

According to Mr. Sher, the document calls for inducing Mr. Ciralsky to "admit" to his strong ties to Israel, adding that the ties of Jews to their homeland is understandable.

Mr. Sher has asked US Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the case.

Ruined Dreams

According to Mr. Ciralsky's mother, Nancy, her son's dream of serving his country have been ruined.

Among the charges in the CIA document which the agency insinuates might be grounds for suspicion of dual loyalty is the fact that the family is distantly related to Israeli President Ezer Weizmann.

According to Mrs. Ciralsky, until last month, her son did not even know about the distant family ties. Further, she said, the family has no ties to the Likud party.

Mr. Sher maintained that the families affiliations are irrelevant to Mr. Ciralsky's loyalty to the US and the CIA. According to Mr. Sher, the Ciralsky family has felt "real fear" since Adam Ciralsky decided to sue the agency. The family said they found it "unbelievable" that the CIA could harbor anti-Semites who would believe that if a Jew supports Israel, it renders him disloyal to the US.


Mr. Ciralsky's story first came to light from a report on National Public Radio. According to Nina Totenberg, when Mr. Ciralsky first came to the national security establishment as a 24-year-old "wunderkind," his bosses at the Pentagon promoted him to a coveted position in the CIA honors program. Just out of law school, he went to work in the general counsel's office, where he was singled out with a cash award for doing a good job.

But within months, he found himself accused of a dual loyalty to the state of Israel and a lack of candor in disclosing his contacts with foreign nationals. Although Mr. Ciralsky is still technically employed by the CIA-which is why he cannot discuss his case-he is on leave without pay and has not been permitted to set food in the agency for 18 months.

According to Ms. Totenberg, the lawsuit charges the CIA with a pattern of rank anti-Semitism against its Jewish employees and Jewish employees in other agencies screened by the CIA for security clearance.

"We have come across a much more pervasive and pernicious pattern of conduct that could only be described as blatant anti-Semitism, and now it's been documented," Mr. Sher told Ms. Totenberg.

Jewish Background

According to CIA internal documents obtained by NPR, the agency had been suspicious of Mr. Ciralsky from the time of his arrival at the CIA. That the suspicions centered around his Jewish background are illustrated in a memorandum written to the chief of the Middle East counter-intelligence group from her boss:

"I'd like to know if he admits his family had actual contacts with right-wing politicians like Prime Minister Netanyahu. If not contacts, then maybe his family has donated money to Israeli government causes. From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect Adam's wealthy daddy to support Israeli political or social causes in some form or other, perhaps through the United Jewish Appeal."

Mr. Sher pointed out that if contributing to the UJA makes someone suspicious "then the vast majority of the Jewish community in the US would be under suspicion."

"Strong Ethnic Ties"

According to Ms. Totenberg, Mr. Ciralsky's troubles at the CIA began the week he arrived, although he did not know it at the time. He had passed an entry polygraph exam, but, as he later learned, his name had been flagged for "strong ethnic ties" and his file sent to the counter-espionage section.

The internal CIA summary on Mr. Ciralsky lists his proficiency in Hebrew, but does not mention that he is also proficient in Spanish. It mentions his trips to Israel, but leaves out his visits to China. It lists the fact that he minored in Judaic studies in college, but says nothing about the fact that he majored in international affairs.

Mr. Ciralsky first learned about the CIA's suspicions on August 19, 1997, when he took the polygraph exam that he believed would clear him for work at the National Security Council.

According to Ms. Totenberg, during the seven-and-a-half-hour interrogation, Mr. Ciralsky was accused of deception, of being a spy, a dupe, and a terrorist.

Chaperones and Great-Grandfathers

One month later, he was interrogated by the chief of the Middle East section, who had received the "wealthy Jewish daddy" memo. Mr. Ciralsky was asked why he had failed to report that when he had gone on a high school trip to Israel at the age of 15, the trip's chaperone was Israeli, and why he had failed to disclose that his college Hebrew teacher was Israeli.

Mr. Ciralsky answered that he had not seen either of these individuals for years and that, under CIA regulations, he was to report only close or continuing contact.

More questions followed. He was asked about his connections to his great-grandfather's first cousin, Chaim Weizmann, who was the first president of Israel. Both the great-grandfather and the first president were long dead before Mr. Ciralsky was born. Mr. Ciralsky's family has resided in the US since the 1860's.

"But now Adam Ciralsky, son of a Milwaukee surgeon, was under suspicion at the CIA," said Ms. Totenberg.

Tenet Involved

As the investigation progressed, agency documents show that CIA director George Tenet, who last November at the Wye Peace Conference threatened to resign from his post if Jonathan Pollard were granted Presidential clemency, was kept informed by special memos.

Finally, Mr. Ciralsky was ordered to take another polygraph exam. Once again, he was told he had failed, but Mr. Sher believes internal CIA memos show the test was rigged. According to one memo, an unidentified official wrote: "Tenet," meaning the CIA director, "says this guy is out of here. Subject is scheduled for a poly. Once that's over, it looks like we'll be waving good-bye to our friend."

According to Mr. Sher, shortly after the CIA polygraph, Mr. Ciralsky's lawyers arranged for him to take a polygraph administered by the former chief of the FBI polygraph lab, a man who had trained CIA polygraphers for years.

"And it came out clean as could be. He passed it perfectly. There were no problems whatsoever," Mr. Sher told Ms. Totenberg.

Using his contacts, Mr. Sher has written to Vice President Al Gore and to the president's national security advisor, Sandy Berger. He has received no answers.

Out of Control

Ms. Totenberg's White House sources told her they had been informed by the CIA that suspicion had been raised about Mr. Ciralsky's contacts by another agency, but a senior intelligence source not in the CIA told Ms. Totenberg that the information about Mr. Ciralsky is considered "not credible, not even by the FBI."

According to Ms. Totenberg, that source told her: "The security folks are out of control, and the higher-ups are unwilling to take them on."

Ms. Totenberg then reported that senior officials at the CIA proposed settling the Ciralsky case for a substantial sum if, among other things, Mr. Ciralsky agreed to take a polygraph administered by an independent tester who would not be briefed in advance by either side. Mr. Sher told Ms. Totenberg that the CIA "actually reneged on a written deal."

Done No Wrong

While CIA spokesman Bill Harlow would not comment on the case, he said the agency had done nothing wrong. "We find anti-Semitism repugnant and reprehensible, and the circumstances that Mr. Ciralsky finds himself in today have nothing to do with anti-Semitism," he said.

But Michael Sirfrino, a former top intelligence officer who now serves as general counsel for the Ballistic Missile Defense Program at the Pentagon, disagrees. Mr. Ciralsky worked for Mr. Sirfrino at the Pentagon, and it was Mr. Sirfrino who recommended him to the CIA.

Mr. Sirfrino told Ms. Totenberg that Mr. Ciralsky's problem is that the young man "cannot prove a negative."

"He can't prove he's hasn't done anything wrong. I think Adam has probably been misled, at best, and there could even have been worse that was undertaken," said Mr. Sirfrino.

Asked by Ms. Totenberg if he would recommend anybody to go to the CIA now, Mr. Sirfrino said, "Absolutely not. I think they have an internal problem. I think it's a cultural problem. And I think they need to fix it."


According to a report by Seth Gitell in the Forward, the Ciralsky case has now deteriorated to a semantic brawl between Mr. Sher and Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. According to the Forward, after 14 years of refusing to help Jonathan Pollard because he did not believe anti-Semitism played a role in his case, Mr. Foxman has recognized that the CIA is chock-full of "discrimination, prejudice, and anti-Semitism."

But, Mr. Sher said, Mr. Foxman has recognized these failings in the agency only because the CIA is now willing to pay the ADL for the organization's "sensitivity training."

According to Mr. Sher, the people at the CIA who "ruined the career in government of a promising attorney" don't need sensitivity training. "They need to learn to follow the law," said Mr. Sher. "Until Tenet resolves the Ciralsky case, everything else is window dressing." Change the Environment

While Mr. Foxman acknowledged that the ADL will receive funds from the CIA for the training program, he said the agency's participation in the program would help change the environment that permitted anti-Semitism to fester.

"If one is truly concerned about discrimination and prejudice and anti-Semitism, one should be concerned that it be repaired," said Mr. Foxman. "One way to change it is not [only] to settle one lawyer's case."

Mr. Foxman went on to tell the Forward that he had offered to help settle Mr. Ciralsky's case. "If [Mr. Sher] is so concerned about his client, I have offered my services in helping to settle the case. The CIA was willing to work with me. One of the things that was necessary was that the attorney release me from the privacy act restrictions," he said.

Mr. Sher acknowledged to the Forward that he did not provide Mr. Foxman with a privacy waiver. "I don't need anybody to negotiate for my client," said Mr. Sher. "Mr. Foxman cannot settle the case for Mr. Ciralsky. If Mr. Tenet wants to settle, he can deal directly with me."

"Other Interests"

Mr. Sher told Mr. Gitell that the details of the sensitivity-training session confirmed for him the wisdom of his decision not to allow Mr. Foxman to become involved with Mr. Ciralsky's case.

"It's clear he had other interests," said Mr. Sher. "The concern is not to get invitations to the White House. Good friends have got to go to their friends in power and make sure they do the right thing."

Mr. Foxman said he would stand on his record as a Jewish leader "as to where and when I've gone to the White House and whether or not that has compromised by ability or my record of standing up on Jewish issues."

Asked by Mr. Gitell to referee, Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, said, "I think it's more than the CIA that needs sensitivity training."

A Jewish Problem

For supporters of Jonathan Pollard, the fact that Mr. Foxman has admitted there is a problem with the CIA's attitude toward Jews and Israel, is something of a victory.

"Even now that they admit there is a 'Jewish problem' in the agency, rather than confront the problem head-on and address the role this problem has played in denying justice to Jonathan Pollard and others over the years, the most the ADL is willing to do is sell their hechshur to the CIA by providing 'sensitivity-training' to the agency-for a price," said Mr. Pollard's defense group, Justice for Jonathan Pollard, in a prepared statement.

"The ADL's closely allying itself with the CIA and attempting to extend its mantle of credibility to a government agency with a long history of discrimination towards its Jewish members and Israel-six additional cases are pending against the CIA-calls into question the fitness of the ADL as a Jewish defense agency," said the statement.

The Monitors

Several observers have pointed out that the Ciralsky case could have significant implications for Israel and the Oslo process. At the Wye Israeli-Palestinian conference, the CIA was appointed to monitor both sides' level of compliance with the agreement. If the level of anti-Semitism is as prevalent as recent cases suggest, there would be a real question as to how fairly the CIA could carry out its task.

It is an open secret that some of Mr. Pollard's worst detractors are Jews who serve in the intelligence agencies. According to MetroWest Jewish News editor David Twersky, Ms. Totenberg quotes an intelligence source who told her: "You have no idea what it was like in the wake of the Jonathan Pollard spy case. Every Jew was looked at with suspicion, and still is."

Mr. Twersky wondered if it was only in the wake, or also in the prelude to the Pollard case. "Which came first, Pollard's spying, or the CIA's obsession with Jewish ties to Israel?" he wrote.

Mr. Pollard has reported that, following his arrest, he was shown a list of American Jews and was asked to identify those who had helped him spy for Israel.

"The flurry of reports about Chinese Americans spying for China has not produced a similar mind-set with regard to that ethnic group. Instead, according to the Washington Post, the agency is committed to further recruitment among Chinese Americans," said Mr. Twersky. "American Jewish support for Israel cannot provide a pretext for a witch hunt."