WASHINGTON, D.C. — Under fire from the Anti-Defamation League, the Department of Defense has repudiated a memo by its security agency warning government contractors that "strong ethnic ties" to American Jews allow Israel to steal military and industrial secrets "aggressively."
A low-level field official in upstate New York issued a confidential memo to defense contractors in October putting them on alert for Israeli espionage.
"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," the three-page memo states.
After the memo's existence was first reported in the February issue of the Jewish monthly magazine Moment, the Defense Department went public with its disdain for the memo.
"I want to stress that the content of this document does not reflect the official position of the Department of Defense," Assistant Secretary of Defense Emmett Paige Jr. wrote to Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director.
"While we object to the document in general, singling out ethnicity as a matter of counterintelligence vulnerability is particularly repugnant to the department," he wrote.
The department stopped distribution of the memo in December and, as a result of the public outcry, has "canceled" the memo.
In a letter to the department, Foxman had chastised it for singling out Israel and its strong ethnic ties in the United States.
"This is a distressing charge which impugns American Jews and borders on anti-Semitism," Foxman wrote.
"In addition, we are disturbed by the general tenor of the memorandum considering the fact that Israel is America's longtime ally, considering the fact that only five years ago Israel refrained from taking military steps against Iraq despite Scud missile attacks because its U.S. ally asked for restraint."
Foxman called the department's response "the beginning, but not the answer."
"To issue a blip that the memo was canceled doesn't mean anything" unless there is a new memo sent detailing the department's policy, Foxman said.
In addition, Foxman belittled the department's claim that the author of the original memo was a low-level staffer. "That's her job" to write security memos, he said.
In a second letter Foxman sent on Tuesday, the ADL reiterated its request for an internal investigation into the matter.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who is Jewish, added her voice to those calling for an investigation.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense William Perry, Lowey wrote: "I deeply resent the implication that American Jews would commit treason against their nation because of their Jewish heritage."
For their part, the department has "instructed appropriate personnel that similar documents will not be produced in the future," Paige wrote.
The memo labeled Israel a "nontraditional adversary" and warned contractors that "Israelis have a voracious appetite for information on intentions and capabilities relating to proliferation topics, i.e., nuclear, chemical and biological weapons."
The memo cited the case of Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, as a prime example of the danger faced by government contractors.
Pollard, who is Jewish, cited his loyalty to Israel as a reason for his espionage work.
"Pollard conveyed vast quantities of classified information to Israel for ideological reasons and personal financial gain," the memo stated.
Other incidents alleged include a 1986 theft of proprietary information from Chicago-based Recon Optical Inc., for which Israel paid $3 million in damages in 1993, according to the memo.
The memo concluded with an oft-cited charge that Israel gave China U.S. technology for the Communist regime's fighter-plane program. The United States has never proven the charge, which Israel has vehemently denied.
An Israeli official in Washington refused to address the charges in the memo but said the Pentagon response speaks for itself.
While the memo drew swift condemnation, the charge that American Jews have greater loyalty to Israel than the United States is not new.
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.