Sex, Lies, and Terrorism

by , August 17, 2004

The self-“outing” of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey and his involvement with Golan Cipel, described as a 30-something Israeli “poet,” soon degenerated into one of those the-personal-is-the-political soap operas Americans seem to revel in. After hearing McGreevey’s now famous “I am a gay American” speech, some gushed that this put him right up there with rising Democratic star Obama Barack. Gay rights groups were quick to hail McGreevey for spilling his guts to the nation. No sooner had the Gay Guv finished filling us in on the details of his trauma-laden childhood and the burden of a life lived in the “closet,” when every cable news station booker was dialing Arianna Huffington‘s number. Her image flooded the airwaves, and, as she intoned knowledgeably and interminably about the travails of a wife who has been left for a man, it seemed somehow appropriate that Arianna is one of those women who might be plausibly mistaken for a drag queen. The amalgamation of “news” into entertainment never seemed more vivid. But as I half-listened to the former Gingrich groupie-turned-limousine-lefty bibble on in heavily-accented psycho-babble, she suddenly blurted out the truth:

“As the day progressed, it became clear that this was a story unfolding on so many levels only a Shakespearean drama or a Verdi opera could do justice to it. There was the personal, the political, possibly the legal, and who knows what else to be revealed by the time we get to Act Five.”

Act Two unfolded soon thereafter. Cipel denied being gay, and denied having consensual sex with McGreevey: he issued a brief statement through his lawyers that used the word “victim” at least three times. The McGreevey camp struck back, claiming that Cipel had demanded $50 million as the price of his silence, later lowering the price to $5 million, and then a mere $2 mil, with the negotiations continuing right up until minutes before McGreevey went before the cameras.

Amid the voyeurism and vulgarity of this media circus, and hints of more revelations to come, I had to laugh out loud at Arianna’s remark that the hiring of Cipel “only makes sense as a taxpayer-funded cry for help.”

McGreevey hiring his boytoy as the state’s anti-terrorist chieftain less than a year after 9/11 no doubt makes sense to Arianna, and to the millions of romantic fiction fans for whom nothing is impossible when it comes to love. But for the rest of us, the question is obvious: if McGreevey had to give his boytoy a job, why appoint him to the crucially important post of anti-terror czar? Why not give him a cushy office job in some obscure state agency? Certainly that would have been less obvious, and, as it was, McGreevey did his best to render the appointment invisible. As the New York Times reports:

“On Jan. 24, 2002, with great fanfare, Mr. McGreevey announced the creation of an office of counterterrorism and appointed Kathryn Flicker, a respected assistant attorney general, to the post.

“But in late February, reporters discovered that there were two Homeland Security officials. Mr. Cipel, who listed Mr. McGreevey’s largest contributor, the developer Charles Kushner, as the sponsor on his visa application, and was paid $30,000 a year for a public relations job with Mr. Kushner’s company in 2000, had actually been hired, with no fanfare, on Jan. 15, a full week before Ms. Flicker.”

To characterize McGreevey’s actions as “a taxpayer-funded cry for help” is one way of looking at it, but a simpler explanation is that he made the appointment because Cipel requested it. But why would the 35-year-old Israeli citizen, whom McGreevey had met on a trip to Israel in 2000, want it in the first place?

Certainly Cipel made an effort to block anybody else from getting the job, as the local New Jersey media reported:

“Sources close to the task force said Cipel also played a key role in persuading McGreevey not to tap former FBI chief Louis J. Freeh to head the state’s Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force, which was created in October. Officials who served in the administration of former acting Gov. Donald T. DiFrancesco said Freeh had agreed to take the unpaid post if McGreevey approved. McGreevey declined to comment on Freeh. Several Democrats said Cipel had argued strongly against the choice, pointing out that the former FBI director would be a part-time volunteer when the governor wanted a full-time terror czar.”

Whether Cipel asked for the job, or not, McGreevey very much wanted him to have it, as Sandy McClure of the Gannett news agency first reported in December of 2002:

Using the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11 to justify the hiring, the governor’s chief lawyer wrote a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on McGreevey’s inauguration day, telling the federal agency that New Jersey wanted Cipel to coordinate increased security with all branches of government and that Cipel had the necessary ‘substantial experience’ in public security.”

If McGreevey was trying to hide his sexual identity, this was clearly not the way to do it. The appointment led to an outcry among Republican legislators, and a series of revelations, including this excerpt from a letter to the INS from the governor’s chief counsel, Paul Levinsohn, describing the nature of Cipel’s work on behalf of the Israeli government:

“In particular, his experience as chief information officer, consulate general of Israel, involved responsibility for developing and maintaining the country’s terrorism portfolio, keeping government authorities abreast of terrorist activities and threats, maintaining a database of such activities and coordinating that information with data obtained from other agencies.”

This doesn’t sound like an “information officer” to me: it’s a job description more suited to an intelligence officer.

With all the emphasis on the Gay Governor as a personality, and the sex angle, Cipel has remained a bit of a mystery. Before he resigned under the glare of public scrutiny, in 2002 – while still retaining his 6-figure salary – McGreevey and his cohorts defended the appointment as entirely appropriate. Confronted with questions about why Cipel was named to the crucial post of homeland security czar for the state of New Jersey without undergoing a routine background check, McGreevey replied:

“I didn’t feel that kind of check was necessary. I know Golan and have worked with him closely. He’s a super-bright and super-competent individual who brings a great wealth of knowledge on security.'”

Alright, then, let’s do our own background check on Mr. Cipel, made possible by the creators of Google.com. Who the heck is Golan Cipel, anyway?

Most news reports refer to him as “a former sailor and a poet,” buttressing the boy-toy-with-expensive-tastes character who plays such a key supporting role in the story of the governor’s Coming Out party. Oh, those sailors! But the truth is more prosaic, and more political. Cipel, far from being a boytoy, is a rather plain young man who looks more like an insurance salesman than a gigolo – and sounds more like a propagandist for Ariel Sharon than one of the boys on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. While the record of his public utterances is slim, Cipel’s remarks to a Jewish congregation in New Jersey were reported, under somewhat trying circumstances, by the New Jersey Jewish News:

“Making a rare public appearance before a Jewish audience since leaving public life amid questions over the propriety of his hiring by New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, former state homeland security adviser Golan Cipel spoke about Israel’s security situation March 21 at Congregation Anshe Chesed in Linden.

“However, there was some confusion about how public his appearance was to be. Although the synagogue had announced Cipel’s speech with a press release and invited NJ Jewish News, Cipel interrupted his lecture to ask a reporter from the paper to leave.

“Until that point, Cipel had been describing the plight of Israelis living under terror and the world’s biased response to Israel.”

Cipel went on to complain that the world

“’Treats us with a double standard.’ He compared the way world governments and the press reacted to the recent terrorist attack in Spain to reactions to attacks in Israel. ‘There was no question [in Spain] it was a terrorist attack. When it comes to Israel, there’s always a question,’ according to the media. Cipel launched into discussions of the Israeli security fence and terrorism after casual references to his recent and controversial public career. He referred to inaccuracies in the press and articles he had read about himself that weren’t true before asking NJJN to stop reporting on the speech and declaring that his comments were not ‘on the record.'”

In his capacity as an “information officer” at the Israeli consulate, from at least February 1996 until April of ’99, Cipel made appearances at the events of such groups as American Veterans of Israel’s 1948 war, and also churned out an enormous volume of propaganda. He thereupon returned to Israel, where he served as a parliamentary aide to a Labor member of the Knesset, and was a public relations officer for the city of Rishon Letzion, where he met McGreevey at a reception.

Cipel was brought to the U.S. under the auspices of Charles Kushner, McGreevey’s chief fundraiser, whose gigantic real estate holdings made him the rising star among Democratic party moneybags. Cipel’s job for the state Democratic party, doing Jewish outreach for the McGreevey campaign, pulled in a paltry amount of money, but Cipel’s salary was generously supplemented by work for Kushner as a “consultant.”

Kushner is quite a character. Under investigation for tax evasion and election code violations, he recently made headlines when he sent his sister a tape of her husband having sex with a prostitute. The sister had been cooperating with prosecutors looking into the real estate mogul, and Kushner, a noted philanthropist, exacted retribution. Rumor has it that Kushner sought a pardon, apparently unsuccessfully, from the governor he thought he owned. When the pardon wasn’t forthcoming, the threat of a suit by Cipel and his lawyers began to loom large: there has been speculation in the media that Kushner may be behind the governor’s recent troubles, and this is fueled by the question of who’s paying the apparently penniless Cipel’s lawyers, as well as the latest reporting:

“Yesterday a McGreevey administration source said Cipel also had sought the governor’s influence in getting a New Jersey license for a New York-based Jewish college.

“Adding another twist to the case, administration sources said that in recent days, Lowy had asked for more than money to forgo a lawsuit. Cipel’s lawyer also asked for help in winning a license for Touro College to build the first private medical school in New Jersey, said a top-ranking administration source who spoke on condition of anonymity. Among the board members of Touro College, a Jewish institution based in New York, is Charles Kushner …”

While the Democrats were quick to return Kushner’s recent contributions, the multi-billion dollar real estate empire he presides over is bound to survive his legal problems – as will his political influence in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey. The only question now is whether he has video of Cipel being “sexually harassed” by McGreevey.

New Jersey state officials, Democrats as well as Republicans, had long been mystified by the apparent hold Cipel had over Governor McGreevey, and early news accounts are filled with hints of a “special” relationship: heck, the guys over at Free Republic outed McGreevey two years ago. But the homosexual angle is hardly the whole story. The national security aspect of this episode ought to frighten the heck out of anyone who believes that government efforts to fight terrorism on the home front are in any way reassuring. How na├»ve can you get?

But it also ought to raise a few questions beyond when is the Gay Governor is going to start dating again.

New Jersey is key terrain in the real war on terrorism: Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco was commandeered by the terrorists on 9/11 and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers rushed the hijackers. The anthrax letters were mailed from New Jersey. Newark has recently been put on orange alert as the U.S. braces for a pre-election terrorist strike.

So let’s forget the gory details of McGreevey’s sex life, and focus on the question of why did Cipel lobby so hard to get the job of New Jersey’s shadow terrorism czar, nixing Louis Freeh and hiding behind Kathryn Flicker’s skirts? It seems like only yesterday that McGreevey was still defending Cipel, and New Jersey media reported:

“When the FBI issued a terrorist alert last week, it was apparently Cipel who first contacted McGreevey, not New Jersey’s newly appointed terror czar, Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Flicker. Even before McGreevey’s election in November, administration sources said, Cipel toured the state – visiting refineries, nuclear plants, bridges, and seaports – to make an inventory of security needs. McGreevey said Cipel has already offered ‘invaluable insights’ into a variety of security matters, both large and small. ‘He’s someone who thinks with a different set of eyes, and that is very hard to find,’ McGreevey said.”

So this guy was out there “inspecting” nuclear plants – if that doesn’t set off alarm bells, then we might as well pack it in, because we’re all doomed.

As an Israeli citizen, Cipel couldn’t have access to classified materials – except through the “back door,” so to speak, via McGreevey. Did McGreevey balk at the arrangement, and transfer Cipel to another job? That, at any rate, is when their “relationship,” whatever it was, apparently began to go sour.

If Cipel maintains that he consistently refused McGreevey’s advances, then how can he explain the series of jobs the governor found for him after he left public service? If the sexual relationship was nonexistent, then what power did Cipel have over the governor? In any case, he exercised that power in order to penetrate the U.S. counter-terrorism apparatus – on whose behalf is not altogether clear, but Israeli organized crime and the Mossad are among the prime suspects. After all, it would hardly be the first time the latter used sex as a lure: isn’t that how they got Mordechai Vanunu?

IN MEMORIAM

I note, with sadness, the death of longtime libertarian activist Mike Mayakis, in San Francisco: he had been ill with leukemia for some time.

Mike was an activist in the San Francisco Libertarian Party (SFLP) during the late 1970s through the 80s, and served three-times as County Chair. He also worked with Students for a Libertarian Society (SLS) as an organizer. Radical in spirit, but very common-sense oriented, Mike was a doer and a thinker, very good with people and at home in the world of ideas – a rarity in libertarian circles.

Mike wrote a piece for Antiwar.com on politics in comic books, giving us not only a glimpse into the subversive mind of Superman, but also tracing anti-authoritarian strains in The Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and – of course – Captain America, in that unforgettable story from the 1970s where he’s Richard Nixon’s nemesis.

Mike was a principled opponent of an imperialist foreign policy, and a Rothbardian to his bones, who remained faithful to the founding principles of the old Radical Caucus, of which he was one of the first supporters. He was of that generation of libertarian activists whose radicalism and dedication were never in question, and who did not sit on the sidelines. Mike’s passing fills me with nostalgia for a time when hope was still young, and so were we. He will be missed by many.

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