Justice Department records confirm PROMIS scandal’s ties to Israel

Recently released memos lend credence to theory the controversial software was given to spymaster Rafi Eitan

Written by Emma Best
Edited by JPat Brown

Justice Department documents recently released by the National Archives confirm what some Inslaw witnesses have been saying for decades: that a copy of PROMIS software was given to Israel.

Previous records and admissions acknowledged the fact that the software was given to Israel while insisting that it wasn’t delivered to Israeli Spymaster Rafi Eitan but instead went to Dr. Joseph Ben Orr. According to a Department of Justice (DOJ) memo, however, the man they claim they gave the software to wasn’t in the country at the time. The DOJ later asserted that the records on the two Israelis mysteriously disappeared, leaving behind only a few memos and vague memories. These facts lend a great deal of credence to the statements from Bill Hamilton and others that the phantom Israeli they met was none other than Eitan.

In 1982, two Israelis arrived in the United States and went to the DOJ. According to Bob Roeder, then administrator for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy (OLP), the two went to the OLP as part of a prior arrangement that he was unaware of. Instructions came down from Deputy Attorney General Edward Schmults, the number two man in the DOJ, to hire them as “experts.” They were employed and given a GS-15 salary, the highest tier possible before the “executive level,” which is reserved for the civilian equivalent of military generals.

The search efforts went well beyond this, contacting multiple offices and executives and searching record systems that stretched back decades. DOJ’s bottom line was that “records must have been created re these two because they were on the DOJ payroll. But they can’t be found.”

Hamilton and others have identified Orr as being Eitan. According to Gordon Thomas, Eitan admitted the truth of this to him, per Thomas’ book and his affidavit, though the DOJ continues to deny the allegations. According to Jack Rugh (who was criticized by a federal judge for his role in the PROMIS affair) at the DOJ, he had received instructions from C. Madison “Brick” Brewer to provide a copy of PROMIS to “Dr. Ben Orr, a representative of the Government of Israel.”

The documents suggest that the instruction was issued between April 22nd, 1983 and May 6th, 1983. On the sixth, he declared that he had made a copy of the software and would provide it “to Dr. Orr before he leaves the United States for Israel on May 16th.” On May 12th, Rugh provided a package of PROMIS software and documentation to Brewer who provided it to Orr. When the DOJ interviewed Orr in 1993, however, a crucial fact was revealed: according to his passport, he was out of the country during this period.

The memo this fact was recorded in does not seem to have been provided to the House Judiciary based on the Judiciary’s public report.

Orr had reportedly visited Inslaw in February 1983, when he was still in the country, but the man identified in a photo lineup by Inslaw employees wasn’t Orr - it was Eitan. According to the account published by Wired, Orr had been “impressed with the power of PROMIS (Prosecutors Management Information Systems), which had recently been updated by Inslaw to run on powerful 32-bit VAX computers from Digital Equipment Corp.” Yet he never returned and never bought the software. Instead, he received a copy directly from the Justice Department.

When the DOJ reached the real Orr in late 1993, he claimed to still have the tape and seemed to expect it would still be readable. According to one of the DOJ memos, he would be making a trip to the United States in February 1994 and was willing to bring the tape with him. This apparently never happened. A cover sheet dated March 16th instructs Neil MacNeil at the American consulate to give a letter to Orr upon receiving the tape. The attached letter happened to waive any and all claims the DOJ might have against him.

Despite attempts to deny the fact that Rafi Eitan received a copy of PROMIS and to discredit those making the claims, these documents offer the first bit of corroborating evidence from the government that the man who received the copy of PROMIS was in fact the Israeli spymaster.

Read the full release embedded below, or on Archive.org.


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Image via Ronald Reagan National Library