Israel: Potomac Espionage

By Bird, Kai; Holland, Max | The Nation, June 22, 1985 | Go to article overview

Israel: Potomac Espionage


Bird, Kai, Holland, Max, The Nation


Stephen Bryen is a low-profile but highly influential Defense Department official. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, he and his boss, Assistant Secretary Richard Perle, are perhaps the most effective proponents of neoconservative positions on such matters as arms control, technology transfer and the Middle East. But for the past seven years, Bryen has had the threat of prosecution hanging over him. He is alleged to have leaked government documents to the Israelis, and whenever the issue seems to have gone away, like herpes it breaks out again.

The trouble began in March 1978, when Bryen was working for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a debate on the sale of F-15 fighters to Saudi Arabia was in progress. While breakfasting in Washington's posh Madison Hotel with some top Israeli military officials, he was overheard saying, "I have the Pentagon document on the bases, which you are welcome to see." The eavesdropper was Michael Saba, a businessman and, unluckily for Bryen, former executive director of the National Association of Arab Americans. Recognizing Bryen as a staff member of the Senate Committee, he promptly notified the Justice Department, which called in the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The taint of the investigation forced Bryen to quit his job, and the probe was called off. The case was never presented to a grand jury; apparently the Carter Administration felt the matter was too explosive to air at a time when the President was trying to get Anwar el-Sadat and Menachem Begin to agree at Camp David. Moreover, Senators Clifford Case (Bryen's boss) and Henry Jackson (Richard Perle's) brought strong pressure to bear on the Justice Department to drop the case.

But Saba persisted. The N.A.A.A. filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 1980 for 600 pages of pertinent Justice Department documents. After the government refused to release certain classified materials, the association brought suit in Federal District Court. In a preliminary ruling on February 20 of this year, the court ordered additional documents disclosed, and Bryen's troubles returned. …

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