Wednesday, March 7, 2012

164 Israeli backdoor Technology penetrates U.S. Government's Telecom system

(1) Israeli backdoor Technology penetrates U.S. Government's Telecom system
(2) Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran: Helena Cobban on Tom Dine

(1) Israeli backdoor Technology penetrates U.S. Government's Telecom system

From: Dr. Gunther Kümel <> Date: 15.11.2009 06:04 AM

Christopher Ketcham: An Israeli Trojan Horse

How Israeli Backdoor Technology Penetrated the U.S. Government's Telecom System and Compromised National Security

An Israeli Trojan Horse


Since the late 1990s, federal agents have reported systemic communications security breaches at the Department of Justice, FBI, DEA, the State Department, and the White House. Several of the alleged breaches, these agents say, can be traced to two hi-tech communications companies, Verint Inc. (formerly Comverse Infosys), and Amdocs Ltd., that respectively provide major wiretap and phone billing/record-keeping software contracts for the U.S. government. Together, Verint and Amdocs form part of the backbone of the government’s domestic intelligence surveillance technology. Both companies are based in Israel – having arisen to prominence from that country’s cornering of the information technology market – and are heavily funded by the Israeli government, with connections to the Israeli military and Israeli intelligence (both companies have a long history of board memberships dominated by current and former Israeli military and intelligence officers). Verint is considered the world leader in “electronic interception” and hence an ideal private sector candidate for wiretap outsourcing. Amdocs is the world’s largest billing service for telecommunications, with some $2.8 billion in revenues in 2007, offices worldwide, and clients that include the top 25 phone companies in the United States that together handle 90 percent of all call traffic among U.S. residents. The companies’ operations, sources suggest, have been infiltrated by freelance spies exploiting encrypted trapdoors in Verint/Amdocs technology and gathering data on Americans for transfer to Israeli intelligence and other willing customers (particularly organized crime). “The fact of the vulnerability of our telecom backbone is indisputable,” says a high level U.S. intelligence officer who has monitored the fears among federal agents. “How it came to pass, why nothing has been done, who has done what – these are the incendiary questions.” If the allegations are true, the electronic communications gathered up by the NSA and other U.S. intelligence agencies might be falling into the hands of a foreign government. Reviewing the available evidence, Robert David Steele, a former CIA case officer and today one of the foremost international proponents for “public intelligence in the public interest,” tells me that “Israeli penetration of the entire US telecommunications system means that NSA's warrantless wiretapping actually means Israeli warrantless wiretapping.”

As early as 1999, the National Security Agency issued a warning that records of U.S. government telephone calls were ending up in foreign hands – Israel’s, in particular. In 2002, assistant U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Diegelman issued an eyes only memo on the matter to the chief information technology (IT) officers at the Department of Justice. IT officers oversee everything from the kind of cell phones agents carry to the wiretap equipment they use in the field; their defining purpose is secure communications. Diegelman’s memo was a reiteration, with overtones of reprimand, of a new IT policy instituted a year earlier, in July 2001, in an internal Justice order titled “2640.2D Information Technology Security.” Order 2640.2D stated that “Foreign Nationals shall not be authorized to access or assist in the development, operation, management or maintenance of Department IT systems.” This might not seem much to blink at in the post-9/11 intel and security overhaul. Yet 2640.2D was issued a full two months before the Sept. 11 attacks. What group or groups of foreign nationals had close access to IT systems at the Department of Justice? Israelis, according to officials in law enforcement. One former Justice Department computer crimes prosecutor tells me, speaking on background, “I’ve heard that the Israelis can listen in to our calls.”

Retired CIA counterterrorism and counterintelligence officer Philip Giraldi says this is par for the course in the history of Israeli penetrations in the U.S. He notes that Israel always features prominently in the annual FBI report called “Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage” – Israel is second only to China in stealing U.S. business secrets. The 2005 FBI report states, for example, “Israel has an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States. These collection activities are primarily directed at obtaining information on military systems and advanced computing applications that can be used in Israel’s sizable armaments industry.” A key Israeli method, warns the FBI report, is computer intrusion.

In the big picture of U.S. government spying on Americans, the story ties into 1994 legislation called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, or CALEA, which effected a sea-change in methods of electronic surveillance. Gone are the days when wiretaps were conducted through on-site tinkering with copper switches. CALEA mandated sweeping new powers of surveillance for the digital age, by linking remote computers into the routers and hubs of telecom firms – a spyware apparatus linked in real-time, all the time, to American telephones and modems. CALEA made spy equipment an inextricable ligature in our telephonic life. Top officials at the FBI pushed for the legislation, claiming it would improve security, but many field agents have spoken up to complain that CALEA has done exactly the opposite. The data-mining techniques employed by NSA in its wiretapping exploits could not have succeeded without the technology mandated by CALEA. It could be argued that CALEA is the hidden heart of the NSA wiretap scandal.


According to former CIA officer Giraldi and other US intelligence sources, software manufactured and maintained by Verint, Inc. handles most of American law enforcement’s wiretaps. Says Giraldi: “Phone calls are intercepted, recorded, and transmitted to U.S. investigators by Verint, which claims that it has to be ‘hands on’ with its equipment to maintain the system.” Giraldi also notes Verint is reimbursed for up to 50 percent of its R&D costs by the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade. According to Giraldi, the extent of the use of Verint technology “is considered classified,” but sources have spoken out and told Giraldi they are worried about the security of Verint wiretap systems. The key concern, says Giraldi, is the issue of a “trojan” embedded in the software.

A trojan in information security hardware/software is a backdoor that can be accessed remotely by parties who normally would not have access to the secure system. Allegations of massive trojan spying have rocked the Israeli business community in recent years. An AP article in 2005 noted, “Top Israeli blue chip companies…are suspected of using illicit surveillance software to steal information from their rivals and enemies.” Over 40 companies have come under scrutiny. “It is the largest cybercrime case in Israeli history,” Boaz Guttmann, a veteran cybercrimes investigator with the Israeli national police, tells me. “Trojan horse espionage is part of the way of life of companies in Israel. It’s a culture of spying.”

This is of course the culture on which the U.S. depends for much of its secure software for data encryption and telephonic security. “There’s been a lot discussion of how much we should trust security products by Israeli telecom firms,” says Philip Zimmerman, one of the legendary pioneers of encryption technology (Zimmerman invented the cryptographic and privacy authentication system known as Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, now one of the basic modern standards for communications encryption). “Generally speaking, I wouldn’t trust stuff made overseas for data security,” says Zimmerman. “A guy at NSA InfoSec” – the information security division of the National Security Agency – “once told me, ‘Foreign-made crypto is our nightmare.’ But to be fair, as our domestic electronics industry becomes weaker and weaker, foreign-made becomes inevitable.” Look at where the expertise is, Zimmerman adds: Among the ranks of the International Association for Cryptological Research, which meets annually, there is a higher percentage of Israelis than any other nationality. The Israeli-run Verint is today the provider of telecom interception systems deployed in over 50 countries.

Carl Cameron, chief politics correspondent at Fox News Channel, is one of the few reporters to look into federal agents’ deepening distress over possible trojans embedded in Verint technology. In a wide-ranging four-part investigation into Israeli-linked espionage that aired in December 2001, Cameron made a number of startling discoveries regarding Verint, then known as Comverse Infosys. Sources told Cameron that “while various FBI inquiries into Comverse have been conducted over the years,” the inquiries had “been halted before the actual equipment has ever been thoroughly tested for leaks.” Cameron also noted a 1999 internal FCC document indicating that “several government agencies expressed deep concerns that too many unauthorized non-law enforcement personnel can access the wiretap system.” Much of this access was facilitated through “remote maintenance.”

Immediately following the Cameron report, Comverse Infosys changed its name to Verint, saying the company was “maturing.” (The company issued no response to Cameron’s allegations, nor did it threaten a lawsuit.) Meanwhile, security officers at DEA, an adjunct of the Justice Department, began examining the agency’s own relationship with Comverse/Verint. In 1997, DEA transformed its wiretap infrastructure with the $25 million procurement from Comverse/Verint of a technology called “T2S2” – “translation and transcription support services” – with Comverse/Verint contracted to provide the hardware and software, plus “support services, training, upgrades, enhancements and options throughout the life of the contract,” according to the “contracts and acquisitions” notice posted on the DEA’s website. This was unprecedented. Prior to 1997, DEA staff used equipment that was developed and maintained in-house.

But now Cameron’s report raised some ugly questions of vulnerability in T2S2.

The director of security programs at DEA, Heidi Raffanello, was rattled enough to issue an internal communiqué on the matter, dated Dec. 18, 2001, four days after the final installment in the Cameron series. Referencing the Fox News report, she worried that “Comverse remote maintenance” was “not addressed in the C&A [contracts and acquisitions] process.” She also cited the concerns in Justice Department order 2640.2D, and noted that the “Administrator” – meaning then DEA head Asa Hutchinson – had been briefed. Then there was this stunner: “It remains unclear if Comverse personnel are security cleared, and if so, who are they and what type of clearances are on record….Bottom line we should have caught it.” On its face, the Raffanello memo is a frightening glimpse into a bureaucracy caught with its pants down.

American law enforcement was not alone in suspecting T2S2 equipment purchased from Comverse/Verint. In November 2002, sources in the Dutch counterintelligence community began airing what they claimed was “strong evidence that the Israeli secret service has uncontrolled access to confidential tapping data collected by the Dutch police and intelligence services,” according to the Dutch broadcast radio station Evangelische Omroep (EO). In January 2003, the respected Dutch technology and computing magazine, c’t, ran a follow-up to the EO scoop, headlined “Dutch Tapping Room not Kosher.” The article began: “All tapping equipment of the Dutch intelligence services and half the tapping equipment of the national police force…is insecure and is leaking information to Israel.” The writer, Paul Wouters, goes on to discuss the T2S2 tap-ware “delivered to the government in the last few years by the Israeli company Verint,” and quoted several cryptography experts on the viability of remote monitoring of encrypted “blackbox” data. Wouters writes of this “blackbox cryptography”:

…a very important part of strong cryptography is a good random source. Without a proper random generator, or worse, with an intentionally crippled random generator, the resulting ciphertext becomes trivial to break. If there is one single unknown chip involved with the random generation, such as a hardware accelerator chip, all bets are off….If you can trust the hardware and you have access to the source code, then it should theoretically be possible to verify the system. This, however, can just not be done without the source code.

Yet, as Wouters was careful to add, “when the equipment was bought from the Israelis, it was agreed that no one except [Verint] personnel was authorized to touch the systems....Source code would never be available to anyone.”

Cryptography pioneer Philip Zimmerman warns that “you should never trust crypto if the source code isn’t published. Open source code means two things: if there are deliberate backdoors in the crypto, peer review will reveal those backdoors. If there are inadvertent bugs in the crypto, they too will be discovered. Whether the weaknesses are by accident or design, they will be found. If the weakness is by design, they will not want to publish the source code. Some of the best products we know have been subject to open source review: Linux; Apache. The most respected crypto products have been tested through open source. The little padlock in the corner when you visit a browser? You’re going through a protocol called Secure Socket Layer. Open source tested and an Internet standard. FireFox, the popular and highly secure browser, is all open source.”


None of U.S. law enforcement’s problems with Amdocs and Verint could have come to pass without the changes mandated by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which, as noted, sought to lock spyware into telecom networks. CALEA, to cite the literature, requires that terrestrial carriers, cellular phone services and other telecom entities enable the government to intercept “all wire and oral communications carried by the carrier concurrently with their transmission.” T2S2 technology fit the bill perfectly: Tied into the network, T2S2 bifurcates the line without interrupting the data-stream (a T2S2 bifurcation is considered virtually undetectable). One half of the bifurcated line is recorded and stored in a remote tapping room; the other half continues on its way from your mouth or keyboard to your friend’s. (What is “T2S2”? To simplify: The S2 computer collects and encrypts the data; the T2 receives and decrypts.)

CALEA was touted as a law enforcement triumph, the work of decades of lobbying by FBI. Director Louis Freeh went so far as to call it the bureau’s “highest legislative priority.” Indeed, CALEA was the widest expansion of the government’s electronic surveillance powers since the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which mandated carefully limited conditions for wiretaps. Now the government could use coercive powers in ordering telecom providers to “devise solutions” to law enforcement’s “emerging technology-generated problems” (imposing a $10,000 per day penalty on non-compliant carriers). The government’s hand would be permanently inserted into the design of the nation's telecom infrastructure. Law professor Lillian BeVier, of the University of Virginia, writes extensively of the problems inherent to CALEA. “The rosy scenario imagined by the drafters cannot survive a moment's reflection,” BeVier observes. “While it is conventionally portrayed as ‘but the latest chapter in the thirty year history of the federal wiretap laws,’ CALEA is not simply the next installment of a technologically impelled statutory evolution. Instead, in terms of the nature and magnitude of the interests it purports to ‘compromise’ and the industry it seeks to regulate, in terms of the extent to which it purports to coerce private sector solutions to public sector problems, and in terms of the foothold it gives government to control the design of telecommunications networks, the Act is a paradigm shift. On close and disinterested inspection, moreover, CALEA appears to embody potentially wrong-headed sacrifices of privacy principles, flawed and incomplete conceptions of law enforcement's ends and means, and an imperfect appreciation of the incompatible incentives of the players in the game that would inevitably be played in the process of its implementation.”(emphasis mine)

The real novelty – and the danger – of CALEA is that telecom networks are today configured so that they are vulnerable to surveillance. “We’ve deliberately weakened the computer and phone networks, making them much less secure, much more vulnerable both to legal surveillance and illegal hacking,” says former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor Mark Rasch. “Everybody is much less secure in their communications since the adopting of CALEA. So how are you going to have secure communications? You have to secure the communications themselves, because you cannot have a secure network. To do this, you need encryption. What CALEA forced businesses and individuals to do is go to third parties to purchase encryption technology. What is the major country that the U.S. purchases IT encryption from overseas? I would say it’s a small Middle Eastern democracy. What we’ve done is the worst of all worlds. We’ve made sure that most communications are subject to hacking and interception by bad guys. At the same time, the bad guys – organized crime, terrorist operations – can very easily encrypt their communications.” It is notable that the first CALEA-compliant telecom systems installed in the U.S. were courtesy of Verint Inc.


If a phone is dialed in the U.S., Amdocs Ltd. likely has a record of it, which includes who you dialed and how long you spoke. This is known as transactional call data. Amdocs’ biggest customers in the U.S. are AT&T and Verizon, which have collaborated widely with the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping programs. Transactional call data has been identified as a key element in NSA data mining to look for “suspicious” patterns in communications.

Over the last decade, Amdocs has been the target of several investigations looking into whether individuals within the company shared sensitive U.S. government data with organized crime elements and Israeli intelligence services. Beginning in 1997, the FBI conducted a far-flung inquiry into alleged spying by an Israeli employee of Amdocs, who worked on a telephone billing program purchased by the CIA. According to Paul Rodriguez and J. Michael Waller, of Insight Magazine, which broke the story in May of 2000, the targeted Israeli had apparently also facilitated the tapping of telephone lines at the Clinton White House (recall Monica Lewinsky’s testimony before Ken Starr: the president, she claimed, had warned her that “a foreign embassy” was listening to their phone sex, though Clinton under oath later denied saying this). More than two dozen intelligence, counterintelligence, law-enforcement and other officials told Insight that a “daring operation,” run by Israeli intelligence, had “intercepted telephone and modem communications on some of the most sensitive lines of the U.S. government on an ongoing basis.” Insight’s chief investigative reporter, Paul Rodriguez, told me in an e-mail that the May 2000 spy probe story “was (and is) one of the strangest I've ever worked on, considering the state of alert, concern and puzzlement” among federal agents. According to the Insight report, FBI investigators were particularly unnerved over discovering the targeted Israeli subcontractor had somehow gotten his hands on the FBI’s “most sensitive telephone numbers, including the Bureau's ‘black’ lines used for wiretapping.” “Some of the listed numbers,” the Insight article added, “were lines that FBI counterintelligence used to keep track of the suspected Israeli spy operation. The hunted were tracking the hunters.” Rodriguez confirmed the panic this caused in American intel. “It's a huge security nightmare,” one senior U.S. official told him. “The implications are severe,” said a second official. “All I can tell you is that we think we know how it was done,” a third intelligence executive told Rodriguez. “That alone is serious enough, but it's the unknown that has such deep consequences.” No charges, however, were made public in the case. (What happened behind the scenes depends on who you talk to in law enforcement: When FBI counterintelligence sought a warrant for the Israeli subcontractor, the Justice Department strangely refused to cooperate, and in the end no warrant was issued. FBI investigators were baffled.)

London Sunday Times reporter Uzi Mahnaimi quotes sources in Tel Aviv saying that during this period e-mails from President Clinton had also been intercepted by Israeli intelligence. Mahnaimi’s May 2000 article reveals that the operation involved “hacking into White House computer systems during intense speculation about the direction of the peace process.” Israeli intelligence had allegedly infiltrated a company called Telrad, subcontracted by Nortel, to develop a communications system for the White House. According to the Sunday Times, “Company managers were said to have been unaware that virtually undetectable chips installed during manufacture made it possible for outside agents to tap into the flow of data from the White House.”

In 1997, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department, working in tandem with the Secret Service, FBI, and DEA, found themselves suffering a similar inexplicable collapse in communications security. LAPD was investigating Israeli organized crime: drug runners and credit card thieves based in Israel and L.A., with tentacles in New York, Miami, Las Vegas, and Egypt. The name of the crime group and its members remains classified in “threat assessment” papers this reporter obtained from LAPD, but the documents list in some detail the colorful scope of the group’s operations: $1.4 million stolen from Fidelity Investments in Boston through sophisticated computer fraud; extortion and kidnapping of Israelis in L.A. and New York; cocaine distribution in connection with Italian, Russian, Armenian and Mexican organized crime; money laundering; and murder. The group also had access to extremely sophisticated counter-surveillance technology and data, which was a disaster for LAPD. According to LAPD internal documents, the Israeli crime group obtained the unlisted home phone, cell phone, and pager numbers of some 500 of LAPD’s narcotics investigators, as well as the contact information for scores of federal agents – black info, numbers unknown even to the investigators’ kin. The Israelis even set up wiretaps of LAPD investigators, grabbing from cell-phones and landlines conversations with other agents – FBI and DEA, mostly – whose names and phone numbers were also traced and grabbed.

LAPD was horrified, and as the word got out of the seeming total breakdown in security, the shock spread to agents at DEA, FBI and even CIA, who together spearheaded an investigation. It turned out that the source of much of this black intel could be traced to a company called J&J Beepers, which was getting its phone numbers from a billing service that happened to be a subsidiary of Amdocs.

A source familiar with the inquiries into Amdocs put to me several theories regarding the allegations of espionage against the company. “Back in the early 1970s, when it became clear that AT&T was going to be broken up and that there was an imminent information and technology revolution, Israel understood that it had a highly-educated and highly-worldly population and it made a few calculated economic and diplomatic discoveries,” the source says. “One was that telecommunications was something they could do: because it doesn’t require natural resources, but just intellect, training and cash. They became highly involved in telecommunications. Per capita, Israel is probably the strongest telecommunications nation in the world. AT&T break-up occurs in 1984; Internet technology explodes; and Israel has all of these companies aggressively buying up contracts in the form of companies like Amdocs. Amdocs started out as a tiny company and now it’s the biggest billing service for telecommunications in the world. They get this massive telecommunications network underway. Like just about everything in Israel, it’s a government sponsored undertaking.

“So it’s been argued that Amdocs was using its billing records as an intelligence-gathering exercise because its executive board over the years has been heavily peopled by retired and current members of the Israeli government and military. They used this as an opportunity to collect information about worldwide telephone calls. As an intelligence-gathering phenomenon, an analyst with an MIT degree in algorithms would rather have 50 pages of who called who than 50 hours of actual conversation. Think about conversations with friends, husbands, wives. That raw information doesn’t mean anything. But if there’s a pattern of 30 phone calls over the course of a day, that can mean a lot. It’s a much simpler algorithm.”

Another anonymous source – a former CIA operative – tells me that U.S. intelligence agents who have aired their concerns about Verint and Amdocs have found themselves attacked from all sides. “Once it’s learned that an individual is doing footwork on this [the Verint/Amdocs question], he or she is typically identified somehow as a troublemaker, an instigator, and is hammered mercilessly,” says the former CIA operative. “Typically, what happens is the individual finds him or herself in a scenario where their retirement is jeopardized – and worse. The fact that if you simply take a look at this question, all of a sudden you’re an Arabist or anti-Semitic – it’s pure baloney, because I will tell you first-hand that people whose heritage lies back in that country have heavily worked this matter. You can’t buy that kind of dedication.”

The former CIA operative adds, “There is no defined policy, at this time, for how to deal with this [security issues involving Israel] – other than wall it off, contain it. It’s not cutting it. Not after 9/11. The funeral pyre that burned on for months at the bottom of the rubble told a lot of people they did not need to be ‘politically correct.’ The communications nexuses [i.e. Amdocs/Verint] didn’t occur yesterday; they started many years ago. And that’s a major embarrassment to organizations that would like to say they’re on top of things and not co-opted or compromised. As you start to work this, you soon learn that many people have either looked the other way or have been co-opted along the way. Some people, when they figure out what has occurred, are highly embarrassed to realize that they’ve been duped. Because many of them are bureaucrats, they don’t want to be made to look as stupid as they are. So they just go along with it. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.”

Christopher Ketcham writes for Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s, Salon and many other magazines and websites. You can reach him at

I learned a lot a little too late, Donut learn as I did. Take care & beware, FTG The sun shineth upon the dunghill & isnt corrupted. We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them. Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis

(2) Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran: Helena Cobban on Tom Dine

From: Kristoffer Larsson <> Date: 15.11.2009 02:20 PM

Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran

In 1979 Kennedy launched his bid for the presidency, running in the primaries against President Jimmy Carter. Dine worked hard for Kennedy: "It was in the course of that campaign I met the organized Jewish community.... They were the kings in every city!"

Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran

This article appeared in the November 2, 2009 edition of The Nation.
October 14, 2009


If you walk along a certain dusty lane in the walled Old City of Damascus, you'll come to a heavy door that admits you to the tree-shaded courtyards of the Talisman Hotel. Last January I was part of a small group that stayed at the Talisman. We ate breakfast in its womblike bar/cafe, under a sixty-inch plasma screen that showed Al Jazeera's play-by-play of the ongoing destruction of Gaza. One morning my colleague Tom Dine introduced me to another guest. "And this is Helena Cobban," he said. "Back in the 1980s she caused me so many sleepless nights! But now we are working here together."

My jaw dropped. I caused sleepless nights to Tom Dine in the 1980s? How about all those sleepless nights he caused me back when I was trying to argue in Washington that Palestinians are people like everyone else and he was the much-feared executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), who took down the careers of people like me without a second thought?

Damascus, with its long tradition of conversions, seems a good place to launch this story. But step back to 1982, when Dine, figuratively speaking, picked up veteran Illinois Representative Paul Findley by the lapels and slammed him against the wall of electoral defeat--to make an example for any other members of Congress who might want to take even a half-step away from AIPAC's rigidly pro-Israel orthodoxy. (Four years earlier, Findley had met twice with PLO leader Yasir Arafat, eliciting from him a statement that offered guarded support for a two-state solution and, according to Findley, "de facto recognition" of Israel.) Dine was also the man who, as he told me recently, spent many Saturday mornings sitting with Secretary of State George Shultz, conferring closely--no aides present--on key aspects of US Middle East policy, especially arms sales.

Today AIPAC is just as much a powerhouse lobby as it was during Dine's thirteen-year reign, but it is much more pro-Likud than it was back then. And it is still working hard to drum up opposition to Syria. Dine left AIPAC in 1993 and has moved noticeably toward the peace camp since then. Recently he worked with the broadly dovish Israel Policy Forum (IPF), which advocates a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. And for the past year, Dine has been heading a small group dedicated to improving US-Syrian relations.

Dine has taken a long journey, from drinking Scotch one-on-one with Yitzhak Rabin in Jerusalem's King David Hotel--at a time when Rabin, as defense minister, was calling publicly for his soldiers to "break the bones" of unarmed Palestinians during the first intifada--to caucusing with well-connected Syrians in Damascus, two decades later.

Tom Dine was born in 1940 in Cincinnati, a city perched on the edge of the Old South. He told me he hated racial discrimination from an early age. The Dines were members of the Isaac M. Wise Temple, named for the rabbi who established the founding tenets and institutions of Reform Judaism. For young Reform Jews in 1950s Cincinnati, there were no bar or bat mitzvahs; there was "confirmation." And once Dine was confirmed, he pursued further religious studies at the city's Wise-founded Hebrew Union College (HUC).

"While I was there, the rabbinic students did a petition in support of Martin Luther King's bus boycott," he recalled. "The head of HUC, Nelson Glueck, opposed their petition--well, certainly the visibility of it; I don't know about the sentiment. But the students defied his authority and stood up for their principles.... I was 15. Those are heavy influences."

At Colgate University, Dine joined the Congress of Racial Equality. Later he served with the Peace Corps in the Philippines, got a master's degree in South Asian history at UCLA, then took a job at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington. "I got this terrible, terrible disease the moment I got off the plane there: it's called Potomac Fever. I never got over it!" he said.

In Washington he met Joan Corbett, daughter of a prominent Unitarian family in Portland, Oregon, and soon thereafter they married. They spent two years in New Delhi, where Dine was assistant to US Ambassador Chester Bowles. After returning to Washington, Dine worked five years for Senator Frank Church, four years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under Edmund Muskie and one year with Ted Kennedy. "With Ted Kennedy, I was ostensibly doing defense policy, but really I was orchestrating his Jewish-vote efforts," he said.

In 1979 Kennedy launched his bid for the presidency, running in the primaries against President Jimmy Carter. Dine worked hard for Kennedy: "It was in the course of that campaign I met the organized Jewish community.... They were the kings in every city!" The campaign was troubled from the start, but in March 1980 Kennedy won a surprise victory in the New York primary. By all accounts, that win was propelled by the support he got from the Jewish community--particularly after Carter's UN ambassador failed to protect Israel from a Security Council vote denouncing its West Bank settlements. Meanwhile, in Washington, the AIPAC board offered Dine the job of executive director. "I said I would go with [Kennedy] as far as it goes," Dine recalled. "Then in July or so, Carter gets renominated.... And I said yes to AIPAC."

Dine said he thought the style of his AIPAC predecessor, Morris Amitay, had been too arrogant. He wanted to return to the slightly more discreet approach pioneered by Isaiah "Si" Kenen, who had founded the organization in the 1950s. But, Dine admitted, "I did give AIPAC visibility. You can't grow an institution unless people know about it." In 1981 he fought hard to block the Reagan administration's proposed sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. He narrowly lost that one, "but you never really want to have this kind of confrontation," he told me. "It's not good for the executive branch, not good for the legislative branch and probably not good for AIPAC."

George Shultz was apparently convinced by that argument and started hosting those quiet Saturday one-on-ones with Dine. "We'd talk about future arms sales so it would never come to that confrontation again," Dine said. "It was one of the nicest things that ever happened to me, associating myself with George Shultz." Did Dine talk about the administration's proposed arms sales with people in Israel before he went to the meetings? "Sometimes, sometimes not. Definitely with people throughout the executive branch, and people on the Hill that I respected."

In September 1982 Reagan announced a new plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The New York Times called Dine for a reaction. "I said there were some positive elements in the plan," he recalled. "That went into the paper, above the fold. The president of the AIPAC board called me up and yelled me out. People were furious in the Jewish community and said, 'How dare you defy [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin [who opposed the plan]?' I said, 'I don't work for Begin.'"

Dine said he had four main goals when he took the AIPAC job. "First, I wanted to run something. Second, I wanted to stimulate Jewish participation in American political life like it had never happened before. Third, I had always felt the US-Israel relationship was precarious, even though it might not seem that way if you're on the other side.... But [I wanted to] give some meat to it, make it close and strong. And fourth, if you make it close and strong...and if you've really increased Jewish political participation...then Israel can take risks for peace."

Dine said he frequently tried out that last idea on Begin. "He looked at me as if I was coming from another planet. I barely said it to [Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak] Shamir, because he didn't understand it either. But Shimon Peres understood it, when he was prime minister for a couple of years, 1984 to 1986," Dine said, adding, "I believe in strong bilateral relations. But not in a Likud foreign policy. We tried the latter for so long, and it didn't get us very far."

The effects of Dine's campaign to stimulate Jewish participation in US political life were soon felt throughout the land. Findley was not the only legislator who, having crossed some AIPAC red line, suddenly found an opponent awash in funding mobilized through Dine's nationwide network of donors. After Findley lost his re-election bid in 1982, he published They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby. The book tracks campaigns AIPAC waged in the early 1980s that Findley thought helped defeat other Congressional candidates, people like Charles Percy and Adlai Stevenson III.

AIPAC's greatest strength, friends and foes agree, lies at the Congressional district level. There its organizers deploy networks of committed Israel supporters who build early relationships with up-and-coming political figures and keep close tabs on actions and attitudes regarding AIPAC's concerns. The headquarters aids that process by distributing timely bursts of information on how each legislator has voted on matters of interest to AIPAC. In 1982 Dine hired M.J. Rosenberg to be a key distributor of that information by editing the biweekly Near East Report, which AIPAC sent out to members and supporters.

Rosenberg has also long since departed from AIPAC and moved to the left, and to a greater extent than Dine. He disputes the notion that AIPAC's disfavor has ever been the decisive factor in taking down Congressional candidates. "There were cases, like Cynthia McKinney, where the candidate was already damaged goods, and AIPAC helped push the candidacy over the edge," Rosenberg said. "But they still don't dare take down people in good standing in their constituencies, like [Virginia Representative] Jim Moran, even though he does a lot of things AIPAC doesn't like." Rosenberg--like, not surprisingly, Dine himself--therefore challenges the argument John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have made about the all-prevailing nature of AIPAC's power in Congress.

Dine says he has "no regrets" about his AIPAC years. Some of his fondest memories of those days are of times he spent with Rabin. "It's no secret that he was an alcoholic--or anyway, that he really liked his drink. I used to buy him his Johnny Walker Red. He would drink a whole bottle at a time. The best conversations I had with him were in the 1980s when he was out of office, conversations at a deep intellectual level." Nearly all those discussions were about Israel's defense, Dine said. "The first intifada was a turning point for him: when he came back into office [as prime minister] in 1992, he was ready for peace."

Bill Clinton's 1992 victory brought exultation to the pro-Israel community. Clinton had, after all, beaten George H.W. Bush just months after Bush had forced a showdown with Yitzhak Shamir over Israel's West Bank settlements by threatening to link $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel's compliance with a settlement freeze. And Clinton had many pro-Israel advisers. His first National Security Council staff member on Middle East issues was Martin Indyk, a hurriedly naturalized Australian citizen who had been AIPAC's deputy director of research before leaving in 1985 to found a strongly pro-Israel think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

But Dine didn't last long in the Clinton era. In 1993 he had to resign after an Israeli journalist published a book that quoted him saying, "I don't think mainstream Jews feel very comfortable with the ultra-Orthodox.... Their image is 'smelly.'" Rosenberg told me Dine's firing was engineered by a man Dine had hired, Steve Rosen, "mostly because Dine was always a liberal, whereas Steve Rosen has always been a Likudnik and a neocon."

Rosen would attract great notoriety in 2005, when he was indicted under the Espionage Act, along with AIPAC colleague Keith Weissman, for passing classified information to Israeli government officials (the Justice Department finally dropped the charges in May). Dine said the espionage indictments were bad for AIPAC in two ways. First, they spread "a black cloud" over the organization--"and it still hasn't gone away. And then AIPAC said it would fundraise around this, and it has done very well by attracting funding mainly from people who practice orthodoxy.... If you think there's a conspiracy out there, you'll give money. So AIPAC's fundraising has gone way up. But in doing so, I think it's gotten its eye off the ball. It no longer talks about peace, no longer thinks about the two-state solution."

Dine took his firing hard, but he eventually landed another intriguing job: president of the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. When he took over, the stations faced an acute challenge: the end of the cold war had prompted Congress to pass legislation that would end their funding in 1999. If Dine wanted to save RFE/RL, he would need to find another mission. In the fall of 1997 he was reading the Washington Post "and there, above the fold, were two stories, one about Iran and one about Iraq.... I snapped my fingers and said, 'That's it! We're going to be like NATO, and we're going to go out of area!'"

Dine saved RFE/RL from extinction by turning it into an important lever of US soft power in a broad swath of Muslim (and some non-Muslim) countries. It retained the relatively high journalistic standards it had followed in Eastern Europe, now broadcasting from the Balkans to Afghanistan, from Moldova to Iran. (Washington's later foray into "surrogate broadcasting," with the Bush-launched Al Hurra TV station and Radio Sawa in Iraq, was far less professional. Dine has just been hired by their parent company as a consultant to burnish their image.)

Close engagement with people from other cultures can turn out to be a two-way street. Of his eight years at RFE/RL's Prague headquarters, Dine said, "My world became more Muslim-oriented. And I started asking, Who are these people?... And Joan and I befriended them socially.... I care a lot about these people. So when I left the radios, I could look with a fresh set of eyes and sensitivities at the Palestinians and other Arabs and ask what was this hate all about?"

In 2007 Dine returned to Washington, where he became a senior policy adviser with the liberal Israel Policy Forum. He also took part in the US-Muslim Engagement Project, which issued a thoughtful bipartisan report in September 2008. In mid-2008 the DC-based nonprofit Search for Common Ground was looking for someone to lead a small, discreet project to improve Washington's badly frayed relations with Syria. Dine took the job, and has since made four trips to Syria. When he describes his early impressions of Syria, and the well-connected Syrians with whom he works, Dine's bony face lights up with enthusiasm. "They are so warm. They have so many of the same concerns as us." When I have seen him with his Syrian counterparts, it seems clear they have built warm working relationships.

Improving US-Syrian relations has, however, proven difficult. Syria has been on the State Department's terrorism list since the late 1970s. In late 2003, when AIPAC's supporters were still joyous about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, they persuaded Congress to pass the Syria Accountability Act, which tightened sanctions on Damascus. Two years later President Bush signaled his displeasure at Syria's alleged (but unproven) involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri by withdrawing the US ambassador.

Many Barack Obama supporters hoped that after his inauguration he would act fast to mend ties with Damascus. President Bashar al-Assad's government is, after all, a key player in Arab-Israeli diplomacy and in restoring stability to Iraq. It has demonstrated its readiness to cooperate with Washington in these two spheres, and in Lebanon as well. In June the administration finally informed Syria it would send an ambassador to Damascus, but months later it still has not named anyone. This relationship--like Obama's Arab-Israeli diplomacy more broadly--seems stuck in the doldrums. Not even the involvement of the once-feared Tom Dine has been able to free the logjam. Meanwhile, the newer, more liberal kids on the US Jewish lobby block, like IPF and J Street, have shown themselves ready to go much further than Dine in openly challenging the AIPAC orthodoxy--especially on the Palestinian issue.

Dine may have worked for IPF, but he still seems reluctant to challenge AIPAC's hardline approach on Israel-Palestine. I asked him a couple of times whether he thought Obama should push the Israeli government harder on this front. At one point he cautiously recalled, "There have been episodes along the way when the US used the instruments of its national power to prod Israeli change on peace issues--but not since the days of Bush I and [Secretary of State James] Baker.... And yes, the Bush-Baker policy did help persuade the Israelis to vote for Rabin [against Likud's Shamir]." But Dine avoided saying whether he thought Obama should engage in a similarly tough-minded pursuit. Another time I asked why he thought solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in America's interest. Instead of answering, he explained why solving it is in Israel's interest.

The differing attitudes Dine displays toward Palestinians and Syrians seem to spring in good part from the different degree of familiarity this very hands-on, sociable man has with the two peoples. At one point he said bluntly, "I don't know very many Palestinians." Surveying the Jewish community more broadly, however, he noted that many more Jewish Americans had gotten to know Palestinian Americans, and other Palestinians, over the past fifteen years than had been the case back when he was head of AIPAC. "So yes, there has been a new level of exchange and understanding." Dine has not, up till now, gone as far in embodying that new understanding as the more fearless Jewish activists and organizers in J Street and Jewish Voice for Peace. But he--like many other Americans--has traveled a long way since the 1980s. For many, perhaps including Tom Dine, that journey continues.

About Helena Cobban

Helena Cobban publishes the blog Her latest book is Re-engage! America and the World After Bush (Paradigm). more...

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