Defense Department file photo

Pentagon IG Counsel Accused of Anti-Semitism

Whistleblowers help revive decades-old case of Jewish Army official.

The decades-old case of a Jewish Army engineer on a weapons program who was accused of spying has been revived by his legal counsel seeking redress from the Defense Department inspector general’s office amid allegations of anti-Semitism.

Attorneys for David Tenenbaum, a civilian who works on the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, Mich., on Wednesday wrote to acting Defense IG Glenn Fine seeking to “right wrongs” caused by “prejudice” against him because of his Jewish identity, Government Executive has confirmed.

The accusations center on current Defense IG General Counsel Henry Shelley, who worked on Tenenbaum’s discrimination case eight years ago.

Tenenbaum—who became a cause celebre in the whistleblower advocacy community—was working on the Army’s Light Armor Survivability Systems program designed to protect Humvees from improvised explosive devices. In the late 1990s, the Army accused him of spying for Israel and subjected him to a polygraph test. He lost his security clearance for reasons later found related to his religion practices and travels to Israel. He sued unsuccessfully citing discrimination and harassment of his family. Though his clearance was restored, his case was taken up by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

In 2008, the Pentagon IG’s office found that religious prejudice was a factor in the accusations that he was a spy.

But according to Tenenbaum’s lawyers and veterans of the Defense IG’s office, the watchdog’s handling of his case was colored by anti-Semitic attitudes attributed in part to Shelley, and after eight years, “corrective actions” are still needed. The attorneys, citing new information, told Fine they believe “your office has and continues to engage in discriminatory behavior in regard to religion and ethnicity with the intent to deprive Dr. Tenenbaum of his rights and ability to be made whole.”

Asked for a comment about General Counsel Shelley, a DoD IG spokeswoman told Government Executive the office “does not confirm or deny the existence of, nor comment upon, investigations or investigative issues.”

Documentation on the alleged anti-Semitism, according to Tenenbaum’s attorneys at Morganroth & Morganroth PLLC in Birmingham, Mich., has emerged from a complicated series of events. The attorneys portrayed a previous inspector general -- Joseph Schmitz, who served as Defense IG from 2002-2005 and is now advising the Donald Trump presidential campaign -- as a Holocaust denier. Schmitz is quoted as wanting to rid the IG’s office of Jews. (In an interview with McClatchy newspapers published Thursday, Schmitz firmly denied being anti-Semitic.)

Current general counsel Shelley was then the deputy general counsel in charge of the Tenenbaum case and is quoted by the attorneys as referring to Tenenbaum’s supporters on Capitol Hill as “the Jews.”

Shelley is also one target of a Justice Department inspector general probe based on complaints by former assistant Defense inspector general John Crane—who handled the Tenenbaum case from the inside. Additionally, Shelley is also cited for anti-gay attitudes in a case before the Merit Systems Protection Board brought by another Defense IG alumnus, Dan Meyer, who now runs the whistleblowing and source protection program at the Intelligence Community’s Office of Inspector General.

Crane, who has his own case before the Office of Special Counsel seeking to get his old job back, clashed with Shelley more than a decade ago over alleged destruction of documents relating to the eventual prosecution of then-National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake for NSA programs with a reporter.

Crane recalled an anonymous whistleblower contacting the Senate Armed Services Committee with an allegation of prejudice in the Defense IG’s office. “I remember the allegation not as surprising, but as a confirmation of an atmosphere of anti-Semitism that was openly displayed by Mr. Henry Shelley,” Crane said in an affidavit obtained by Government Executive.

In an email to Tenenbaum, Crane wrote that “Mr. Shelley repeatedly raised the Jewish backgrounds of [Senate Armed Services minority counsel Peter Levine] and Chairman Levin as the only reason why they supported your case. Mr. Shelley repeatedly used the term ‘Jewish conspiracy’ and ‘the Jews’ when referring to the congressional support you received. Mr. Shelley was particularly adamant about a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ when outside civil advocacy groups wrote letters to General [Claude] Kicklighter on your behalf.”

After Kicklighter left office, Crane continued, Shelley, who had become acting general counsel, “immediately tried to have Gordon Heddell, the new inspector general, overturn the findings that were in your favor. Shelley ….advocated that there should be no remedy in your case, and that the inspector general should not query the Army in regard their response to the DoD IG findings. Mr. Heddell did not overturn the finding determined by General Kicklighter.”

Current attorneys for Tenenbaum wrote that Shelley was successful in preventing the Defense IG from making Tenenbaum whole, despite its findings in Tenenbaum's favor. “We want to ensure that any violations of statute, DoD directive, and DoD instruction are immediately remedied,” they said in their Wednesday letter to the acting IG. “We write you now to request an opportunity to meet directly to provide the information that we received and to address our demand for a remedy.”