Israel’s oldest university – Technion – is under an intensifying legal spotlight over stunning new allegations of espionage and a transparency-law fight to reveal its clandestine role in nuclear weapons development. According to information made public in a civil harassment suit filed on November 13, 2014 in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles an Israeli scientist transferred information to Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in violation of the Arms Export Control Act from the Jet Propulsion Lab at the University of California Los Angeles.
According to court filings, Dr. Amir Gat – an Israeli national – executed a Technology Control Plan (TCP) under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) registration in order to participate in the U.S. taxpayer-funded JPL “Electrospray” space propulsion project at UCLA. The TCP obligates signers not to disclose ITAR – restricted technical data to foreign persons or countries without prior approval from the US State Department. Failure to comply is supposed to trigger criminal fines and penalties.
Gat allegedly “stored project-related files and technical information on his personal laptop, rather than on his safeguarded office computer, in violation of the TCP and ITAR.” On May 25, 2010, a virus attacked project leader Dr. Sandra Troian’s computer network at Caltech, causing hundreds of project files to be uploaded in rapid succession to an unknown IP address outside of Caltech. Dr. Troian traced the virus that caused the network problems to Dr. Gat’s computer, and notified Caltech officials of this fact. On May 28, 2010, Dr. Gat admitted to Dr. Troian that he had been sharing details of the Electrospray Project with Dr. Daniel Weihs, his Ph.D. advisor at Technion without proper US government approval.
On June 3, 2010, Dr. Troian found Dr. Gat wandering alone, unauthorized, in one of her access-restricted experimental laboratories. Dr. Gat explained that Dr. Weihs had recommended from Technion that he "look around" to see what other aerospace projects were ongoing at Caltech in collaboration with JPL.
So where is the Justice Department? On June 28, 2012 Special Agents Kelly M. Sullivan and David Tsang of the FBI Counterintelligence Division told Dr. Troian there had been “several security breaches at JPL” and that “Dr. Gat was a focus of a larger investigation involving ITA violations and possibly espionage.” Troian provided the FBI with information about Gat’s activities at Caltech. But Gat was never indicted and left the United States to work at Technion. If Troian’s civil complaint ultimately proves Caltech was negligent in its handling of Gat, it will not result in any accountability for the originator of the misbehavior – Technion.
According to researchers, US intelligence officials and congressional sources, Israel has been caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against American targets for decades. Newsweek reported on May 7, 2014 that “American counter-intelligence officials told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees at the end of January  that Israel’s current espionage activities in America are ‘unrivaled and unseemly,’ going far beyond the activities of other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan.”
Israeli espionage – depending on what one includes – costs the US economy billions of dollars annually, not only by undermining US national security as Israel sells or otherwise transfers stolen proprietary US technology to American rivals. It also adds unnecessary burdens to US taxpayers who are funding aid flows that should have been cut off long ago over Israel’s violations of various US laws and IRS regulations. However, due to a stunning lack of bona fide espionage prosecutions, there is a new outbreak of violations across California, including trafficking of American nuclear-weapons related technology. In the 2010 case of Telogy, Textronics oscilloscopes vital for nuclear weapons design were diverted to Israel. More recently California-based Mattson skirted export controls to divert dual-use pressure transducers to Israel.
Leaks from an unclassified 1987 study conducted for the US Department of Defense titled “Current Technology Issues in Israel” indicates that Technion University scientists develop nuclear missile re-entry vehicles and work at the Dimona nuclear weapons production facility, spurring regional nuclear proliferation and undermining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Adding insult to the “failure to prosecute” injury, the Justice Department is also vigorously fighting a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in September in the District of Columbia Federal Court aimed at publicly releasing that “Current Technology Issues in Israel” report on Technion and other Israeli nuclear proliferators. Since 2003, Technion has received tax-exempt funding from US donors averaging $87 million annually, despite the fact that overseas nuclear weapons programs and espionage against US facilities do not fit any IRS definition of a “social welfare” charity. Under the Symington and Glenn Amendments to the US Foreign Aid Act, Israel should have been ineligible to receive any of the $82 billion in US taxpayer-funded foreign aid delivered since 1987 when it was found to be operating a clandestine weapons program outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
On November 19 Justice Department lawyer Laura Jennings revealed defendants will use all available tactics to delay (PDF) and possibly thwart public disclosure including claiming “perpetual non-disclosure agreements” were signed during development of the 1987 report. The legal tactic has been recently employed to prohibit open government law attempts to obtain public release of information about law enforcement agency use of so-called “stingrays” and “dirt boxes” to mass intercept cell phone transmissions.
Recent Justice Department attempts to shield an anti-Iran group that has allegedly improperly used classified information to target legal humanitarian aid relief to Iran raise deep questions about the agency’s conduct. If the US Department of Justice were the functioning government agency it claims to be, Gal would have been arrested and prosecuted in 2012. The Department would devote more resources to Israeli counterespionage and fewer to fighting public release of taxpayer-funded studies that could vastly improve the function of government.
Grant F. Smith is the author of America’s Defense Line: The Justice Department’s Battle to Register the Israel Lobby as Agents of a Foreign Government. He currently serves as director of research at the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington (IRmep), D.C. Read other articles by Grant, or visit Grant’s website.