Israel First: More on Dr. Lani Kass

My recent account of the career of Dr. Lani Kass was based on what has appeared about her in the public record and media, including her own comments regarding national defense and security policy.  To recapitulate, Kass was born, raised, and educated in Israel.  She has a PhD in Russian studies and is fluent in Russian and Hebrew in addition to English.  Kass reportedly reached the rank of major in the Israeli air force before moving to the United States and working her way up through the US defense establishment.  She is currently the most senior civilian adviser to Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz and is believed to have access to most American defense secrets.  Kass is best known to the public for her role in promoting Air Force cyberwarfare, but she also appears to have been a major player in counter-terrorism policy and in war preparations directed against Iran even though she has no actual substantive background in those areas.  She believes that the US is engaged in a long war against Islamo-radicalism and that "winning" against Iran is necessary but the American people must be willing to pay the price to succeed.

My concern regarding Dr. Kass is based on the potential conflict of interest and divided loyalty that is normal in anyone who is born in one country and moves to another.  She comes from a country that has a history of large scale and highly aggressive espionage directed against the United States and she appears to continue to have close ties to her birthplace.  Dr. Kass has become a naturalized American while apparently retaining her Israeli citizenship and her three children were reportedly born in Israel, not the United States.  The information she has access to would be extremely valuable to Israel and potentially damaging to US interests, particularly as she likely knows what the US Air Force response to a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran would be.

The issue of Israel aside, one might reasonably argue in any event that a senior officer in any foreign country’s military establishment should be considered an undesirable candidate for a top post in the Pentagon on security grounds.  If Dr. Kass were a dentist it would make absolutely no difference where she came from and what her political views might be, but a person’s ultimate loyalty is not just an abstraction for someone who has relatively free access to the Defense Department’s most highly classified information and is probably also able to influence policy.

I continue to question to what extent Kass has been properly security vetted for her position, to include rigorous inquiry into whether or not she still has ties to the Israeli government. I also can only speculate at the type of advice that Kass is providing to her Pentagon associates as she appears to embrace particularly hard line views about Muslims and about the desirability of going to war with Iran, positions that are rather similar to those promoted by the Israeli government.

Additional information has come to light on Kass that heightens my concern about her high position in the United States government’s defense and security establishment.  Her first job in Washington was with the Advanced International Studies Institute (AISI), a Washington DC area based think tank.  After being recommended by someone at the Pentagon, she was hired for her Russian language skills in an unclassified program funded by the Department of Defense called Soviet Watch.  Her fellow employees understood that she was a former major in Israeli intelligence.  A few months later she moved on to beltway bandit Booz Allen Hamilton.  Some months after she departed AISI, one of her colleagues received a call from a personnel manager at the Industrial War College asking to confirm Kass’s employment with AISI.  The Industrial War College was, as the name implies, an institute set up to coordinate industrial production with Defense Department needs.  Some of its work was classified.  Kass’s colleague told the caller that Kass was an intelligence officer who thought of herself as an Israeli and added that putting her in any position of influence would be a bad idea.

From there and then to here and now has taken more than twenty years, proceeding through a number of Defense Department positions with ever-increasing responsibility and access.  It would not be out of place to observe that if the report that Kass was truly an intelligence officer for the Israeli Defense Forces is correct the Department of Defense security screeners should have erred on the side of caution based on the supposition that she was still in touch with her former employers. She should never have been given a security clearance and provided access to United States classified information in the first place, which again raises the issue of just if and how thoroughly her background was actually investigated. 

More information has also been developed regarding Kass’s current role.  According to a highly reliable source, Dr. Lani Kass is now the principal adviser to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen regarding the Middle East. She recently was involved in a very important meeting, one that concerned Israel.

The meeting took place because of concerns that the United States has been losing the "war of ideas" in the Muslim world.  At the end of last year, General David Petraeus sent a special emissary out on a fact finding mission to meet with the heads of state and top military officers in all of the Muslim countries considered to be friends or allies of the US for a frank exchange of views.  The emissary, an Arabic speaker, learned that no country any longer trusts the United States because it is widely believed that all American policies in the Near East region are subject to veto by Israel.  It was also commonly observed that Washington is complicit in the genocide against the Palestinians because of its failure to do anything to restrain Israel, making it extremely difficult to rally popular support in any Muslim country for US policies. 

Petraeus was surprised by the unanimity and emotion of the views that were confidentially expressed and thought the issue to be important enough to move it up the chain of command.  In February, he met with Admiral Mullen and briefed him on his findings.  Mullen was accompanied only by Dr. Lani Kass, who was described to Petraeus as his special assistant for the Middle East.  Mullen expressed some dismay at the implications of the findings while Kass disputed Petraeus’ conclusions and said that the concerns being expressed were greatly exaggerated.  Petraeus nevertheless presented his report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 17th together with his judgment that the failure to address the Palestinian issue was putting US soldiers in danger because it was inflaming anti-American sentiment and giving groups like al-Qaeda an unnecessary propaganda victory.

One might argue that Dr. Lani Kass is just another Israel firster who has risen to high office in the US government, not really unlike Dennis Ross, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, and Douglas Feith.  And that might well be true.  But at the same time one must challenge the judgment of those who enabled her rise to a position of great responsibility and power and there should be serious questions about whether her bellicose and racially tinged viewpoint comes from objective and honest analysis of the genuine challenges confronting the United States or from her loyalty to her country of birth.

Author: Philip Giraldi

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest.