Longtime investigative journalist James Bamford’s latest piece for The Nation looks at Canary Mission, a shadowy pro-Israel group that publishes the photos and personal details of students who take part in Palestinian advocacy on U.S. colleges, branding them antisemites and often damaging their career prospects. Bamford explains how this operation has direct links to the Israeli government, and that wealthy Americans who fund this effort could be breaking the law by acting as agents of a foreign power. “The purpose is to blacklist and dox students, professors, and largely anybody who disagrees with Israel or is pro-Palestinian,” Bamford tells Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
We look now at what some are calling the “Palestine exception” to free speech and academic freedom on college campuses across the United States. Soon we’ll hear from a student and professor at Barnard, but we begin with a new report by longtime investigative journalist James Bamford in a series for The Nation on Israel’s spying and covert actions in the United States against pro-Palestinian students, supporters and groups. It’s headlined, the latest piece, “Who Is Funding Canary Mission? Inside the Doxxing Operation Targeting Anti-Zionist Students and Professors.” Last month, Jim Bamford wrote a piece headlined “Israel’s War on American Student Activists.” He’s joining us now from Washington, D.C.
James Bamford, welcome back to Democracy Now! Tell us what the Canary Mission is.
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s a very massive program that’s been going on for years and years. It’s secretly run out of Israel. And the purpose is to blacklist and dox students, professors, and largely anybody that disagrees, largely, with Israel or is pro-Palestinian.
Many, many people suddenly wake up, and they find out people are calling them and saying, “Your name is on a blacklist,” the Canary Mission blacklist. And, you know, it’s designed to intimidate these people, to get them to stop joining pro-Palestinian groups or to stop being activists and to comply with whatever the people behind Canary Mission want. And that’s basically to silence them.
And the threat is that if you don’t be silent, then, you know, your name is going to go on the blacklist, and if you go look for a job when you get out of — when you graduate, or if you’re trying to rise up in the professional ranks or a professorship, it’s going to be blocked, because your name is on this list. And it’s almost impossible to get off the list. So, that’s just one of the many ways that the Israeli government has been pushing the American public, basically, to steer away from pro-Palestinian activism.
AMY GOODMAN: But how do you know that the Israeli government runs the Canary Mission? And why is it called the Canary Mission?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, I don’t know why it’s called Canary Mission. It has something to do with canaries in the mine or something like that.
AMY GOODMAN: In the coal mine?
JAMES BAMFORD: Yeah, I guess so. The organization that runs it is very, very secret. Two of the organizations that looked into it was the Jewish Forward magazine and the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and they determined that it was being run secretly from a place in Israel, very secret place in Israel, and that there was a rabbi behind it. Tracing all these links back is very difficult, but that’s where they traced it, to these people in Israel that were basically running it. A lot of the funding comes from — and again, this is from Haaretz and also from The Forward — a lot of the funding comes from American — wealthy Jewish Americans and Jewish American foundations, millions of dollars and so forth. So that’s where a lot of the funding comes from.
The Israeli government gets involved, because they use Canary Mission as a tool. So, if people are coming over from the United States, either Jewish or Palestinian — they’re maybe going to visit families — they look at Canary Mission. They actually have it there, and they look at it. And they’ll kick people out of Israel. They’ll land at the airport. They’ll be questioned — and they’ll be questioned because their name is on Canary Mission — and then be deported, held in confinement for, you know, a couple days or whatever, and then deported. That’s happened numerous times to people. Again, they tried keeping secret the fact that they’re using Canary Mission, but a number of the professors and students who have been thrown out have seen that their name is on the — the guards at the airport or the inspectors are checking their names off the Canary Mission list. So, there’s a heavy involvement of the Israeli government in there, in this. It’s run by mysterious Israelis, and it’s funded by pro-Israeli money in the United States. So, Israel has its fingers all over Canary Mission.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, James Bamford, could you talk about the reasoning and the context in which they created online profiles, Canary Mission did, for members of The Harvard Crimson’s editorial board, the student newspaper?
JAMES BAMFORD: Sure. Soon after October 7th, the attack, the student newspaper came out — well, there were about 33 organizations that supported a statement basically saying this all didn’t start on October 7th, these activities have been going on for a long time, the fighting between Israel and Palestine, with the Palestinians, obviously, being on the losing side of the war against them by the Israelis. So they were basically saying that, look, it didn’t just start on October 7.
Well, that created a storm of opposition. And almost immediately, almost all the people involved found themselves on Canary Mission, even people tangentially involved that happened to sign this letter. So, that’s how it works. You know, you want to intimidate these people into not being an activist. Then you create this blacklist and doxxing, that tells where they are and who they are, and basically creates a dossier of them on this list. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: Jim, didn’t that happen —
JAMES BAMFORD: — you don’t want to get on the list. You don’t — activists —
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t that happen when The Harvard Crimson had an editorial supporting BDS, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions?
JAMES BAMFORD: Exactly, yeah. That’s, you know, any — it’s not just at Harvard. It’s at schools all over the United States. And Harvard was one perfect example. When they had that student letter come out and it was published in The Harvard Crimson, a lot of people the who were on that, who signed that letter, ended up on the blacklist for Canary Mission. So, again, it’s a tool for intimidation. And a lot of times it works.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And who are some of the prominent American donors who are involved in funding this effort?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, it’s very difficult to find that, because it’s secret who donates money to the organization, largely secret. There was a mistake some group made on a tax form. And what that showed was at least one of the groups was the Diller family in California. They’re one of the wealthiest families in California, billionaires. And they had donated $100,000 to the front organization of Canary Mission. It’s a thing called Megamot Shalom. It’s basically a front organization in Israel.
And so, what they did was they donated $100,000 through the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco. And then, from there, it went to another organization, the Central Fund for Israel, which is set up in New York, because if they send the money directly to Israel, they don’t get a tax advantage. So, by sending it through the sort of front organization, the Central Fund for Israel — or, Central Fund of Israel, in New York, then they get a tax advantage. And then the Central Fund of Israel just forwards the money to Megamot Shalom, the front organization for Canary Mission, and then it goes to Canary Mission.
And again, this was very difficult to figure out, because there are so many obstacles to trying to find out how the money actually goes from these wealthy individuals and organizations to this group in Israel. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying the Canary Mission should have to sign up as a foreign agent?
JAMES BAMFORD: Well, yeah. I’m saying that the people who — first of all, this is a clandestine organization. It’s very secretive. It’s hidden behind a front company in — or, front organization in Israel, and it’s being used by the Israeli intelligence to find people that they could deny entry at the airport and deport and so forth. So, this is an organization that’s secret. It’s being used by the Israeli government to the detriment of American citizens. So, if you’re contributing to it, you could be considered a — contributing to a foreign entity, and you could be considered an agent of a foreign government.
So, those are issues that should be looked into. You know, I’ve been doing all these stories. I’ve talked to numerous FBI agents, and the FBI agents are fully in favor of actually taking cases. The problem is, once they try to bring these cases up the channels to the Justice Department, nothing ever happens.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jim, we’re going to have to —
JAMES BAMFORD: So, no matter what it is —
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. We’re going to be speaking with a Barnard professor, but you do write about a Columbia University Law School professor, Katherine Franke, who at one time sat on the academic advisory council steering committee of Jewish Voice for Peace. Upon her landing in Tel Aviv, you write, an official at the airport showed her what appeared to be her Canary Mission profile. After being held in detention for 14 hours, she was deported and informed that she would be permanently banned from Israel. Just one example. Jim Bamford, we want to thank you for being with us, investigative journalist, well known for exposing National Security Agency, the CIA. The New York Times has called him “the nation’s premier journalist on the subject of the NSA.” The New Yorker called him “the NSA’s chief chronicler.” We’ll link to your series in The Nation, including the last one, “Who Is Funding Canary Mission?”
This is Democracy Now! Back with a Barnard professor in a moment.