The Israelification of American Domestic Security

New York —

In October, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department turned parts of the campus of the University of California in Berkeley into an urban battlefield. The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual SWAT team exposition organized to promote "mutual response," collaboration and competition between heavily militarized police strike forces representing law enforcement departments across the United States and foreign nations.

At the time, the Alameda County Sheriff's Department was preparing for an imminent confrontation with the nascent "Occupy" movement that had set up camp in downtown Oakland, and would demonstrate the brunt of its repressive capacity against the demonstrators a month later when it attacked the encampment with teargas and rubber bullet rounds, leaving an Iraq war veteran in critical condition and dozens injured. According to Police Magazine, a law enforcement trade publication, "Law enforcement agencies responding to…Occupy protesters in northern California credit Urban Shield for their effective teamwork."

Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in "counter-terror" operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police — whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media — reflected a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.

The Israelification of America's security apparatus, recently unleashed in full force against the Occupy Wall Street Movement, has taken place at every level of law enforcement, and in areas that have yet to be exposed. The phenomenon has been documented in bits and pieces, through occasional news reports that typically highlight Israel's national security prowess without examining the problematic nature of working with a country accused of grave human rights abuses. But it has never been the subject of a national discussion. And collaboration between American and Israeli cops is just the tip of the iceberg.

Having been schooled in Israeli tactics perfected during a 63 year experience of controlling, dispossessing, and occupying an indigenous population, local police forces have adapted them to monitor Muslim and immigrant neighborhoods in US cities. Meanwhile, former Israeli military officers have been hired to spearhead security operations at American airports and suburban shopping malls, leading to a wave of disturbing incidents of racial profiling, intimidation, and FBI interrogations of innocent, unsuspecting people. The New York Police Department's disclosure that it deployed "counter-terror" measures against Occupy protesters encamped in downtown Manhattan's Zuccotti Park is just the latest example of the so-called War on Terror creeping into every day life. Revelations like these have raised serious questions about the extent to which Israeli-inspired tactics are being used to suppress the Occupy movement.

The process of Israelification began in the immediate wake of 9/11, when national panic led federal and municipal law enforcement officials to beseech Israeli security honchos for advice and training. America's Israel lobby exploited the climate of hysteria, providing thousands of top cops with all-expenses paid trips to Israel and stateside training sessions with Israeli military and intelligence officials. By now, police chiefs of major American cities who have not been on junkets to Israel are the exception.

"Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism," said former US Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer, who now serves as the US Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. Cathy Lanier, the Chief of the Washington DC Metropolitan Police, remarked, "No experience in my life has had more of an impact on doing my job than going to Israel." "One would say it is the front line," Barnett Jones, the police chief of Ann Arbor, Michigan, said of Israel. "We're in a global war."

Karen Greenberg, the director of Fordham School of Law's Center on National Security and a leading expert on terror and civil liberties, said the Israeli influence on American law enforcement is so extensive it has bled into street-level police conduct. "After 9/11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture," Greenberg told me. "The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There's been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now we're going to spread that into the fabric of everyday American life? It's counter-terrorism creep. And it's exactly what you could have predicted would have happened."

Changing the way we do business

The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) is at the heart of American-Israeli law enforcement collaboration. JINSA is a Jerusalem and Washington DC-based think tank known for stridently neoconservative policy positions on Israel's policy towards the Palestinians and its brinkmanship with Iran. The group's board of directors boasts a Who's Who of neocon ideologues. Two former JINSA advisors who have also consulted for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Douglas Feith and Richard Perle, went on to serve in the Department of Defense under President George W. Bush, playing influential roles in the push to invade and occupy Iraq.

Through its Law Enforcement Education Program (LEEP), JINSA claims to have arranged Israeli-led training sessions for over 9000 American law enforcement officials at the federal, state and municipal level. "The Israelis changed the way we do business regarding homeland security in New Jersey," Richard Fuentes, the NJ State Police Superintendent, said after attending a 2004 JINSA-sponsored Israel trip and a subsequent JINSA conference alongside 435 other law enforcement officers.

During a 2004 LEEP trip, JINSA brought 14 senior American law enforcement officials to Israel to receive instruction from their counterparts. The Americans were trained in "how to secure large venues, such as shopping malls, sporting events and concerts," JINSA's website reported. Escorted by Brigadier General Simon Perry, an Israeli police attaché and former Mossad official, the group toured the Israeli separation wall, now a mandatory stop for American cops on junkets to Israel. "American officials learned about the mindset of a suicide bomber and how to spot trouble signs," according to JINSA. And they were schooled in Israeli killing methods. "Although the police are typically told to aim for the chest when shooting because it is the largest target, the Israelis are teaching [American] officers to aim for a suspect's head so as not to detonate any explosives that might be strapped to his torso," theNew York Times reported.

Tags: counterterrorism, israel, jewish institute for national security affairs, max blumenthal, nypd, occupy wall street, ows, police, urban shield, yamam, zuccotti park

    • Max Blumenthal
    • Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author whose articles and video documentaries have appeared in The New York TimesThe Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The NationThe Guardian, The Independent Film Channel, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Al Jazeera Eng...

    • Max Blumenthal's full bio »