Pentagon Finds Religious Bias In Army Probe

A recent Pentagon report exonerated David Tenenbaum, an Army engineer and a practicing Jew who was the subject of an espionage investigation.
A recent Pentagon report exonerated David Tenenbaum, an Army engineer and a practicing Jew who was the subject of an espionage investigation. (Photo: Patricia Beck/Detroit Free Press)

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By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 24, 2008

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- It was almost an ordinary Sabbath at David Tenenbaum's home. He had been to synagogue, and he and his wife, Madeline, had invited friends over for lunch.

Then FBI agents showed up, brandishing a search warrant. They spent hours going through the family's possessions, looking for evidence of spying by Tenenbaum, a mild-mannered, cheerful father and experienced engineer at an Army installation outside Detroit. Some co-workers and superiors had said he had leaked classified information to the Israeli government.

"They took my music books and my daughter's coloring books," said Madeline Tenenbaum, who recalled the fear, anger and worry that the agents might plant evidence in their home.

For weeks after the 1997 raid, FBI agents tailed David Tenenbaum. The Detroit area news media soon learned of the raid and ran articles about the Jewish spying suspect, prompting threatening phone calls.

"It was a witch hunt," said Tenenbaum, 50. "It was a Jew hunt."

This summer, 11 years after the FBI raid, the Pentagon's inspector general exonerated Tenenbaum and endorsed his assertion that the investigation by the leaders of the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) in Warren targeted him because he is a practicing Jew.

The inspector general's report suggested that counterintelligence officers at the facility were influenced by a warning from the Defense Investigative Service (now the Defense Security Service) in 1995 that Israeli intelligence officers were trying to exploit nationalistic feelings in American Jews. The report noted that a polygraph test administered to Tenenbaum may have overstepped allowable questions and approaches, and that a request that he apply to upgrade his security clearance was a ruse to investigate his possible espionage.

"We believe that Mr. Tenenbaum was subjected to unusual and unwelcome scrutiny because of his faith and ethnic background, a practice that would undoubtedly fit a definition of discrimination whether actionable or not," the report concluded.

Officials at TACOM, a research, development and supply post, declined to comment on the report, referring queries to the Army public affairs office. The Army said it will comment within a month. "We will certainly review the issues raised in the DOD inspector general's review for any procedures and policies that may need to be addressed, or other steps that we should take to address the situation," said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman.

The Tenenbaum investigation, which lasted from 1996 to 1998, raises issues beyond allegations of anti-Semitism. At the time of the probe, he was working on a project to provide armored protection to light combat vehicles such as Humvees. The probe disrupted that effort, which could have prevented American casualties from roadside bombs in Iraq, Tenenbaum's lawyers charge.

Tenenbaum still works for TACOM, though he feels the strain of more than a decade of fighting for vindication. He was hired there in 1984, two years after he earned a master's degree in chemical engineering from Wayne State University.

From the moment he began work at the post, he knew he was different from many on the staff. While colleagues went to lunch at McDonald's, he brought in a kosher meal. He wore a yarmulke. He carried a backpack, rather than a briefcase -- not an uncommon practice today but highly unusual in the buttoned-down world of TACOM in the 1980s and 1990s. He left early on Friday for the Sabbath.

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