To the Editor of Haaretz,
You published an attack on me and my reporting without providing a shred of evidence to back up your assertions. My Israeli lawyer sent this letter to you more than 24 hours ago, but no response has been received. I repeat my question: Do you have the intellectual guts or honesty to publish such a letter? The answer appears to be no. And that should tell your readers volumes about your intellectual honesty or lack thereof.
In uncritically publishing the statement of senior U.S. officials criticizing my article regarding the retraction of the U.S. Government’s offer to help in the search for Shaul Oron, the IDF soldier taken by Hamas, Haaretz has proven its manifest left-wing political agenda. That a newspaper that is championed and promoted so many times by Hamas and its terrorist front groups in the West devotes such a lengthy portion of its article to attacking me is not a coincidence.
In relying on the unsubstantiated reporting of ideologically biased commentators, and by judging me guilty merely by association with others who the authors detests, the Haaretz article ironically reveals your unprofessional journalistic bias rather than mine. The article’s author, of course, brings not one iota of evidence for what he claims I believe or do.
It is clear that Haaretz used this reporting in an attempt to further its political agenda, especially in its longstanding vendetta against Sheldon Adelson. Haaretz may disagree with Mr. Adelson’s policies but it is not entitled to change the facts. Facts, as they say, are stubborn things. And in contrast to Haaretz, at least Mr. Adelson does not support groups like Hamas.
It is also rather strange that a newspaper like Haaretz that prides itself on routinely challenging the facts presented by the Israeli Government now suddenly uncritically champions a narrative put out by the U.S. Government, which has experienced its own severe credibility problems of late.
If the Haaretz author had done his homework, he would have seen that I am not a “right wing Republican;” I have written critical articles about President Obama, but I did the same for President Bush when I thought it necessary. Further, my investigative reporting has been praised by the entire political spectrum from the left to the right, in addition to having been awarded numerous prestigious journalistic awards.
In my original article from last Friday, I reported that after IDF Sargeant Shaul Oron was reported missing and suspected to have been kidnapped on July 20, Israel reached out to the U.S. Government for assistance in getting private internet server information on Oron’s Facebook page, which Hamas had hacked into. In turn, the FBI contacted a United States Attorney’s Office in a nearby district to initiate the legal process to get a court order to serve Facebook for server information on the account belonging to the soldier.
“Due to HAMAS status as a Designated Terrorist Organization (DTO), there is a great effort to locate those who kidnapped and/or killed ORON,” read an FBI email to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “HAMAS is already using the kidnapping as propaganda, which is material support to a DTO.”
In their email, the FBI noted there was unusual activity on Oron’s Facebook account after his kidnapping and said it needed more information from Facebook that it could only obtain with a court order. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Attorney’s Office replied that it was ready to obtain a court order, but before it could do so, it needed specific information on Oron’s Facebook account that it could present to the judge.
In fact, I have since learned that in their original request, the FBI also noted that they had served Facebook with a “2702 request”- a government order that authorizes internet service providers to provide limited information to the government without a court order under emergency conditions. But the FBI noted that the limited information provided by Facebook to the FBI under the “2702 request” was not useful in the search for the missing Israeli soldier. So the FBI stated that it needed to obtain a court order from the U.S. Attorney’s office that contained a “2703D order” – which is a government order mandating Facebook (or any other internet service provider) disclose all records pertaining to a specific account referenced in the court order.
Prosecutors determined that they could in fact legally and quickly obtain a court order, and sent emails saying so at noon on July 21.
Only at 5 p.m. on July 21 did the FBI respond to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In their email, FBI agents revealed that they were told to stand down, that their request had been over-ridden, and that permission was withdrawn from them to seek a court order. In other words, the rug was inexplicable pulled out from underneath them in their valiant efforts – and they made no bones in expressing their deep and unabiding frustration with the decision.
Their email did not explain why their request had suddenly been denied. Nor did they explain who made this decision. Nor did they explain when this decision had been made.
A former assistant FBI director for counter-terrorism has said that such a decision to revoke the authority for this request, “could only have come from or thru the senior management levels of the FBI or the Attorney General’s Office or higher.”
In light of this evidence, the statement of a “senior U.S. official” in Tel Aviv that the U.S. Government had provided “useful” information to the Israelis on the social media account of Shaul Oron was not correct. The initial information that was provided to the Israelis was deemed not in fact “useful,” which is why the FBI had turned to the U.S. Attorney’s office to seek a court order to compel Facebook to reveal all data associated with the Israeli soldier’s account. But that, of course, never happened.
The questions still remain “why and who revoked the authority to seek a court order to obtain the Facebook information on the missing Israeli soldier?” Congress should begin to probe this mystery. Perhaps we will soon learn the answers.
Steven Emerson is a frequent writer on terrorism issues for U.S. and international publications. He is the executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) and the author of six books on national security and Islamic terrorism.