Since 9/11 Israel and its lobby have been hard at work narrowing U.S. policy
options toward Iran down to military
confrontation. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia
is also in the narrowing business. After initially complying with the Freedom
of Information Act (FOIA) and releasing information about Israel’s extensive
nuclear weapons program in 2015, the court of Judge Tanya S. Chutkan slowly
became yet another federal cog in vast secrecy machine that thwarts release
of information about Israel. That withheld information includes CIA files on
the theft and diversion of US government owned weapons grade uranium into Israel’s
nuclear weapons program. Top-line budget numbers for billions in secret US intelligence
support to Israel. Portions of a 2012 Obama administration gag order outlawing
release of US government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program.
Presidential letters promising Israel that the White House will not uphold the
Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Arms Export Control Act.
Also retained are the identities of officials working at the Office of Terrorism
and Financial Intelligence at the US Department of Treasury.
It didn’t start out this way.
In 2015 Israel and its US lobby were pushing for US attacks on Iran’s nuclear
facilities and against the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) which was aimed at
averting such attacks. US District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan’s order that the Department
of Defense had to release a 1987 study titled “Critical
Technology Assessment in Israel and NATO Nations” about Israel’s extensive
nuclear weapons production facilities, misuse of US civilian nuclear support
supplied under the Atoms for Peace program, and Israel’s secret work on hydrogen
bomb development helped undercut the Israeli war narrative. The report finally
entering the public domain provided long missing context that Israel, not Iran,
is the Middle East’s leading state sponsor of clandestine nuclear weapons development,
proliferation and related foreign espionage.
Nation Magazine featured a story on the stunning release of the report,
while the now defunct neoconservative Weekly
Standard deemed it a “shocking breach” that the Obama administration
had dared to defy Israel and its lobby’s mandate that official US government
information about the Israeli nuclear weapons program may never, ever be released
Later in 2015 Judge Chutkan seemed slightly less eager to allow any court-ordered
release of thousands of files on how Israeli spies – in
collaboration with Pittsburgh area US Zionist organization leaders – conducted
an illegal diversion of US government-owned bomb grade nuclear material from
the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in Apollo, Pennsylvania.
The material wound up in Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons production facility.
Enough pressure was brought to bear that the CIA released classified evidence
about how it
had thwarted two FBI investigations into the caper by failing to share intelligence.
CIA released a small
number of documents from the CIA’s thousands of NUMEC files. Today the
toxic site of the defunct NUMEC smuggling front is undergoing a
$350 million cleanup funded by US taxpayers. Those taxpayers may never learn
the full story of that sloppily run plant that CIA officials dubbed “an
Israeli operation from the beginning.”
20, 2019 Chutkan reversed herself after initially ruling that President
Obama had officially acknowledged that the US
had a secret budget for intelligence support for Israel. Such acknowledgment
should have availed members of the public the right to know precisely how much
more Israel receives in secret taxpayer-funded support, beyond the lion’s share
of the publicly known US foreign assistance budget already going to Israel.
Release of intelligence support to Israel likely would have added billions to
the publicly known $282.4 billion Israel has received in foreign assistance
since 1948. As a clandestine nuclear power, Israel is ineligible for any US
foreign assistance under the Arms Export Control Act, absent waivers and public
congressional notifications which have never taken place. Knowing the amount
of secret intelligence aid would help Americans understand the total amount
unlawfully leaving the US Treasury each year. But after initially “hammering
the CIA on request for Israel records” Chutkan – an Obama appointee – finally
wavered and then backed down on demands for release of the intelligence budget.
30, 2019 the court ruled that the public also may not see the full, uncensored
version of a gag order
masquerading as a classification
forbids all federal employees and contractors from publicly acknowledging what
Americans and the world already know – that Israel has long had a nuclear weapons
program. The only function of this secrecy guideline is providing cover for
the White House and federal agencies skirting the laws specifically banning
US foreign aid to the non-NPT nuclear state. Releasing the full text of the
gag order would also help Americans understand how power really works in Washington.
But Chutkan’s court ruled even though other classification guidelines are in
the public domain, the key provisions in the Israel nuclear gag order should
remain secret along with details about how it came into being. Rather than allow
official acknowledgment by other US federal agencies that Israel is a nuclear
weapons state outweigh demands for secrecy, the Chutkan court ruled that the
Department of Energy or US Department of State would have had to issue their
own acknowledgments for WNP-136 to be releasable. The CIA long ago classified
Israel as a nuclear power but this was deemed to be irrelevant by Judge
27, 2019 Chutkan’s court decided that certain secret
presidential letters may never be released to the American public. Four
US presidents under secret pressure by Israel lobbyists and Israeli government
officials early in their presidential administrations each formally pledged
not to uphold provisions in the Arms Export Control Act or NPT over Israel.
Like WNP-136 these secret letters enabled the illegal
transfer of at least $100 billion in publicly known foreign aid for which
Israel was ineligible. Ordering the release of one or more of the letters would
reveal how power really works, and how abidance to laws (again, the Arms Export
Control Act) may be set aside if enough foreign lobbyists are able to
secretly pile on the President at vulnerable moments. Most Americans cannot
preemptively set aside the enforcement of laws through such suspect maneuvers.
They deserve to see how premeditated lawbreaking functions when their tax dollars
and laws passed by their congressional representatives are in play. The Chutkan
court was unwilling to avail the American public of even a single letter.
Instead, it accepted the affidavits of a highly compromised former National
Archives and Records Administration (NARA) government classification bureaucrat
who had moved to the National Security Council. From that perch, he issued denials
as a “neutral” classification authority on letters held in NARA presidential
Americans are also not allowed to know the identities of employees at a relatively
new Department of Treasury unit called the Office of Treasury and Financial
Intelligence (OTFI). The creation of this unit was a success of the lobbying
division (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC) of a designated
Israeli foreign agent ordered
to register as such by the Justice Department in 1962 (the AZC). Few Americans
know AIPAC’s true origin story or about the failure of the Department of Justice
to enforce FARA that allows AIPAC to operate despite continual espionage scandals.
As could be expected, the OTFI’s observable activity is almost entirely the
conduct of economic warfare against Israel’s rivals from within Treasury. While
claiming to work to counter nuclear proliferation, it
carefully avoids sanctioning or even listing known Israeli nuclear smugglers
identified by the FBI and DHS. That includes Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and self-confessed Israeli spy and arms dealer Arnon
Milchan, who owned the front companies used in the infamous “Project
Pinto” nuclear weapons trigger smuggling operation.
The most recent
in an unbroken succession of undeniably severely compromised, unfit, hard-core
Israel partisans who occupied the position as OTFI chief, Sigal Mandelker (the
daughter of Israeli immigrants to Pittsburgh who
allegedly holds Israeli dual citizenship), is finally
departing Treasury for the private sector. Such OTFI political appointees’
main qualifications seem only to be their intense devotion to advancing the
interests of a foreign country from within the federal bureaucracy. The publicity
and reporting surrounding the case and limited public
exposure of OTFI’s curious blind spots perhaps had something to do with
Mandelker’s departure. But how far down does the Israel lobby’s capture of OTFI
through staffing extend? The FOIA lawsuit to find out remains in a curious
state of limbo as Chutkan’s dismissal approaches its one year anniversary.
Many Americans still insist on transparency regarding the pay and position
of all federal government employees. That transparency started long ago when
James Madison listed his salary of $25,000 and position as “president”
in the Official Register. They deserve to be given the names of OTFI employees
in a timely manner. But the Chutkan court appears to be waiting for a legal
designation of OTFI as intelligence or law enforcement officials (which they
are not) or some other forthcoming artifice, even though such delays are not
allowed after issuance of a ruling.
The Chutkan court officially ended the case by finding for the defendants’
motion for summary judgment on March 31, 2019. Chutkan’s
order severely undermined the plaintiff’s right to timely appeal. That is
because no memorandum of points of law substantiating the order was ever issued.
Almost a year later, no explanation is forthcoming even as the OTFI personnel
ratchet up economic warfare against Iran in
the aftermath of the military exchange between Iran and the US the Israel
lobby worked so diligently to enable.
Unfortunately, Judge Chutkan’s courtroom is not an anomaly. Since Freedom
of Information Act lawsuit plaintiffs first began seeking judicial review, thousands
of established precedents have all tended to narrow and make more difficult
the realization of the transparency and accountability FOIA was intended to
create in America.
Grant F. Smith is the author of the new book The
Israel Lobby Enters State Government. He is director of the Institute
for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington, D.C. and was plaintiff
in the above-referenced cases.