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Friday, August 1, 2008

Group charges religious discrimination case may have cost American lives in Iraq

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army armor protection program that could have saved the lives of thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq was torpedoed when a key engineer was accused of spying for Israel.

The Project On Government Oversight asserted that a seven-year effort by the army and FBI to prosecute an Orthodox Jewish engineer on charges of spying for Israel ruined a vital project to enhance protection of combat vehicles, Middle East Newsline reported. POGO said the project became the leading casualty in the year-long investigation of David Tenenbaum, found by the Defense Department inspector general to have been discriminated against because of his religion.

"Did anti-Semitism in an army engineering office prevent the development of armor that could have protected the U.S. military in the field?" POGO asked.

Tenenbaum, a civilian mechanical engineer with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, designed a program to upgrade the armor on the army's light armor vehicles, including Humvees. A Hebrew speaker, Tenenbaum was assigned to be a liasion with Israel — deemed a leader in armor protection development — to conduct joint research to improve U.S. armored systems.

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In 1992, a colleague complained that Tenenbaum was spending too much time with his Israeli hosts and voiced suspicion that he was a spy. By 1997, Tenenbaum was suspended, his security clearance was revoked, and turned into a subject of FBI investigation.

"If it is true that Mr. Tenenbaum was singled out for special scrutiny and adverse action because of his Orthodox Jewish identity and practice, the message that sends to all Orthodox Jews in this country is nothing short of devastating," Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, said in a June 27 letter to Pentagon Inspector-General Claude Kicklighter. "It tells us that, despite the fact that we may be model citizens in every sense of the term, we are somehow considered second-class Americans, not to be trusted within the Department of Defense."

In July 2008, the Pentagon's inspector general determined that Tenenbaum was discriminated against because of his religion. The report said Tenenbaum's security clearance was revoked and he was placed on administrative leave despite a determination by the FBI that the allegations against him were either false or highly exaggerated.

"It does appear to be clear, however, that had the complainant not been a practitioner of Orthodox Judaism, he would not have been subject to such intense and protracted scrutiny," the report said.

By 2003, Tenenbaum's security clearance was restored. But he was not returned to his previous position of developing enhanced protection for light armored vehicles.

The Pentagon report portrayed Tenenbaum as a leading proponent of employing foreign cooperation to protect U.S. armored vehicles from improvised explosive devices and other threats. He proposed the Light Armor Survivability System project with Germany and Israel to study ways to harden U.S. combat vehicles.

"The complainant proposed the LASS program at TACOM to develop the tools necessary to predict as a means of engineering modeling the Behind Armor Debris which results from the successful deployment of an overmatching threat such as a high velocity, large caliber anti-personnel round, a mine, a rocket-propelled grenade, or an improvised explosive device," said the Pentagon report, dated July 13 and authored by deputy inspector general for intelligence Patricia Brannin. "The complainant was working by the late 1990s on mapping the threat of secondary shrapnel generated by attacks such as those currently facing American and allied forces in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of operations today."

The report said Tenenbaum sought to focus on enhancing the Humvee, the leading combat vehicle in Afghanistan and Iraq. LASS was designed to increase the safety and survivability of the Humvee and other light combat vehicles amid the emerging urban warfare threat against the United States by such Islamic insurgency groups as Al Qaida and Hizbullah.

"This [project] was initiated to prevent development of conditions which would require ad hoc, battlefield solutions requiring a soldier's use of scrap metal, discarded lumber and extra clothing," the report said.

Ms. Brannin said LASS was torpedoed by complaints from at least one co-worker of Tenenbaum's affinity with Israel. Despite protests from his supervisers that the complaints were baseless, Tenenbaum was prevented from traveling to Israel in December 1996.

"I needed the employee to work on the programs," an unidentified superviser said in a memorandum obtained by the inspector general.

The Pentagon report suggested that complaints against Tenenbaum stemmed from resentment by colleagues to his Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. Complaints ranged from Tenenbaum's observance of the Sabbath, which sometimes required him to leave work early on Friday, to the presence of Israeli officers at TACOM.

"We did not find any evidence that Israeli liasion officers were illegally or unlawfully at TACOM," the report said. "The Department of the Army Foreign Disclosure Officer who was responsible for certifying Israeli liasion officers testified that he approved an Israeli liasion officer and an Israeli Ministry of Defense official to come to TACOM."

The report said Tenenbaum was neither informed of his constitutional rights nor that he was suspected of espionage. Instead, he was threatened by a polygraph interrogator, who warned "I've done other Jews before and gotten them to confess, too."

"I believed him [Tenenbaum]," the lead FBI special agent in the investigation was quoted in the report as saying. "But I also believed there was an intelligence operation at work here. And I think he was an unwitting pawn in a far bigger very wide-ranging intelligence scheme."

The report said the investigators were influenced by a disavowed counter-intelligence report that Israel employed Jews to spy on the United States. The counter-intelligence report cited the targets of the Israeli intelligence community as Arab states, information on U.S. policy toward Israel and the American scientific community.

"The strong ethnic ties to Israel present in the United States coupled with aggressive and extremely competent intelligence personnel has resulted in a very productive collection effort," the 1995 counter-intelligence report said.

In the end, LASS, amid the absence of Tenenbaum, was scaled down. Germany was not recruited into the project, and enhanced armor for the Humvee was never developed.

During the U.S. war in Iraq in 2003, the American military awarded contracts for reactive explosive armor to Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Plasan Sasa. About 70 percent of U.S. casualties in Iraq stem from IEDs.

"As executed, the program included only the United States, Israel and a research contractor," the report said. "The deliverable was a computation model capable of receiving and analyzing data from ballistic testing to assess the impact of Behind Armor Debris. The Humvee was chosen as the test subject."

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