In his 21-year battle for redress from the U.S. Army, Southfield resident David Tenenbaum has enlisted some very powerful new advocates.
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters, a committee member, have sent a letter to James Mattis, the current secretary of the Department of Defense, to finally provide closure and relief for the 60-year-old Tenenbaum.
For the past 33 years, Tenenbaum has worked as a civilian engineer at the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command, known as TACOM, near 11 Mile and Mound roads in Warren. During a significant part of that time, Tenenbaum says he was subjected to vile anti-Semitism from co-workers and from the Army itself.
He recounts how he has been harassed, intimidated and accused of spying for Israel. And, he says, he was subjected to an extended and intrusive FBI investigation that made his life a living hell.
Tenenbaum’s efforts to seek a remedy in the federal court system was thwarted by the government’s unsubstantiated claim Tenenbaum’s persecution couldn’t be discussed because of “state secrets.”
As a last resort, Tenenbaum has convinced Senate Homeland Security committee members to take up his case. And his effort is bipartisan, according to a longtime member of his legal team, attorney Daniel Harold of Morganroth & Morganroth in Southfield. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, the committee chair, and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa also support the cause.
David Tenenbaum is a chemical engineer who is also an expert in bio-engineering. One reason he was hired at TACOM was his familiarity with Israel and his ability to speak Hebrew with Israeli counterparts.
One area of his focus at work was the survivability of the troops in combat. He was aware of how susceptible soldiers riding in Humvees (large, jeep-like vehicles) were to rocket-propelled grenades, as was the case in the guerilla war in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. In 1995, on his own initiative, Tenenbaum began a project to retro-fit the Humvees to protect defenseless soldiers riding in them.
“In private industry, no one would stand for discrimination, anti-Semitism and false accusations. So, why isn’t the government held accountable?”
— David Tenenbaum
Tenenbaum’s “Light Armor Survivability Systems” project included experts from Israel and Germany — Israel because of its experience with terrorism and Germany because of its expertise with computer models. As part of his job, he would speak Hebrew with his Israeli counterparts and traveled to the Jewish state.
Everything fell apart, however, when some of Tenenbaum’s local co-workers secretly and falsely accused him of spying for Israel in 1996. Tenenbaum later discovered they had been secretly accusing him of such spying as early as 1992. He found out they would observe him, an Orthodox Jew, carrying his kosher lunch to work every day in a backpack and they would fantasize that the backpack could be used to smuggle classified documents out of the building.
Some co-workers didn’t like him, he said, because he was a diligent employee who didn’t goof off on the job or join co-workers at restaurants for lunch or at bars after office hours. Some co-workers made anti-Semitic remarks behind his back, and a bag of pork rinds was once placed on his desk.
He recounts that one reason people said they suspected him of spying for Israel was that he spoke Hebrew with the Israelis — ironically one of his major qualifications for being hired at TACOM in the first place.
Tenenbaum said his antagonists at TACOM surreptitiously set him up for false spying charges. Having no legitimate factual reason to have him investigated, they went to a high-level official at the command who suggested having Tenenbaum considered for a higher security level where he could be interviewed without an attorney present. Tenenbaum likened this to an interrogation.
He was then told to take a lie detector test. The polygraph operator, however, destroyed his notes and then wrongfully reported Tenenbaum had confessed to spying for Israel, according to Tenenbaum and his attorney Harold.
Based on the co-workers’ allegations and the bogus report of a confession, the FBI initiated a full criminal investigation.
It was Shabbat lunchtime Feb. 14, 1997, when FBI agents raided the Tenenbaum house, seizing his computer and stripping the family residence of many personal effects, including drawings made by his then 4-year-old daughter. The girl remained terrified for months afterward, Tenenbaum said.
For half a year, FBI agents staked themselves out in front of the Tenenbaum home in an unsuccessful attempt to turn his Jewish neighbors against him. To intimidate him, he said, they followed him wherever he went. They leaked misinformation to the news media that he was an spy for Israel, just like Jonathan Pollard, who had been jailed a decade earlier. Tenenbaum estimates the government spent millions of dollars in its efforts to investigate him.
The investigation ended a year later. “I was cleared of everything,” Tenenbaum said. “They said to me I did nothing wrong, and that mine was one of the most investigated cases ever done.”
In April 1998, he was returned to his job at TACOM. All his projects, however, were canceled, including the one to provide armor for Humvees. This proved ultimately disastrous for the rank-and-file soldiers, as Tenenbaum recounts. When military action was taken against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s, a new weapon was used against U.S. troops — the improvised explosive devise (IED). These IEDs were roadside bombs detonated by booby traps or remote control. As the Humvees drove by, the bombs penetrated the unprotected vehicles.
Thousands of U.S. soldiers were killed or maimed, Tenenbaum said. His project, if not canceled by the Army some seven years earlier, could have provided protection. The Army later did devise alternative protection, but it was too late for the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“David’s false accusers have blood on their hands,” attorney Harold said. “The price of their prejudice was born by the soldiers.”
Tenenbaum added, “No one has been held accountable. In fact, many of the instigators have been promoted. In private industry, no one would stand for this discrimination, anti-Semitism and false accusations. So, why isn’t the government held accountable?”
In 2000, attorneys Mayer Morganroth, Jeffrey Morganroth and Daniel Harold joined the cause. A lawsuit had been previously filed in federal court in Detroit, but in 2002 the government managed to get the case dismissed. The government claimed that the alleged anti-Semitic actions against Tenenbaum couldn’t be explored because of “state secrets.”
In 2006, then-U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan was instrumental in finally getting Tenenbaum’s case investigated by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.
The Inspector General issued a report in July 2008 finding discrimination against Tenenbaum based on religion and ethnicity. But despite the best efforts of Inspector General Claude Kicklighter, anti-Tenenbaum elements within his office managed to greatly water down the report, Tenenbaum said.
In 2009, Tenenbaum again sued the Army, seeking money damages and using the Inspector General report as evidence. This effort, too, was dismissed on the Army’s argument that the Inspector General hadn’t investigated the so-called “state secrets” issue.
Tenenbaum said the report should have been enough to require action, but the Army refused to abide by its own report and provide a remedy. So, the plea for justice from the senators to the current secretary of defense is perhaps his last avenue of relief.
An End In Sight?
In the meantime, Tenenbaum remains on the job at TACOM, but the torment he feels continues. He says he has been purposely underutilized and remains a pariah.
“David has to scratch and claw for everything,” said attorney Harold. “Over the past several years, David has created some programs or tried to create programs. Sometimes he gets the run-around, and the programs are not given the go-ahead. Other times, as soon as they are ready to be successful, they are taken away from him.
“It’s to drive him crazy and force him out. Like an eviction.”
Because of his history and the Army’s refusal to make amends, defense contractors decline to work with him on Army projects and would refuse to hire him if he left TACOM. He describes his job as a state of professional limbo.
A response is expected soon from the Department of Defense. It could agree with the senators’ letter and provide Tenenbaum with an apology and financial compensation. Or it can decline to give him relief.
Many others have advocated on Tenenbaum’s behalf. A “Justice for Dr. David Tenenbaum” petition can be signed online at bit.ly/2l9ngw1. The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Council/AJC of Metropolitan Detroit have expressed their support.
Tenenbaum has authorized a book about his travails to be published in the next six months. He says the book is not intended to make money but to get the full impact of his story of anti-Semitism out to the public.
Tenenbaum’s cause has also been aided by the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group. Moral support has also been given by Dr. Michael Engleberg of the New York Center for Civil Justice, Tolerance & Values in Woodmere, N.Y.
Even though this case is about Southfield engineer David Tenenbaum who’s been persecuted by a segment of the U.S. government — it’s seen as not just his problem.
In a letter of support for Tenenbaum, Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of the New York-based Orthodox organization Agudath Israel of America, stated that if the government doesn’t make amends with Tenenbaum, “then the not so subtle message is that Jewish Americans, especially Orthodox Jewish Americans, can never be trusted within the Department of Defense. As you can well imagine, this message is devastating.”
David Tenenbaum’s father, Nathan, was a Holocaust survivor who died just prior to the false spying charges being made 21 years ago. The elder Tenenbaum many times had warned his son about pervasive anti-Semitism in the world. “Don’t think it can’t happen again,” he said.
Attorney Harold said, “We’re hopeful that through the senators we can finally get a remedy to David and bring a formal end to this whole horrible situation.”
As for now, Tenenbaum waits for words of redress from his government.
“Thank God we were able to find the right people to help us,” he said. “I feel that there’s a lot I can give in terms of work. Being in this atmosphere takes a toll on you.
“I don’t want to fight to work,” Tenenbaum said. “I would like to get work done.”
Making The Case For Ethics – Sidebar Article by Robert Sklar