|Born||September 22, 1971|
|Education||University of Illinois, J.D.|
|Years active||1999 – present|
Adam Ciralsky (born September 22, 1971) is an American award-winning journalist, TV and film producer and attorney.
His television career includes CBS News' 60 Minutes and later NBC News where, over the course of a decade, he has won many of journalism’s highest honors, including three Emmys, a Peabody Award for Significant & Meritorious Achievement in Broadcasting & Cable, a Polk Award for Outstanding Television Reporting, an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for Breaking News and Sustained Coverage, a Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism and a Barone Award for Excellence in National Affairs/Public Policy Journalism. He now writes long-form articles for Vanity Fair, where he has written subjects ranging from the Pentagon’s chronic mismanagement of the most expensive weapons program in U.S. history, Israel narrowly averting a large-scale terrorist attack, interview with the leader of Hamas, and an exposé of a world-renowned surgeon as a fabulist.
Before beginning his journalism career, Ciralsky was recruited to join the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) while still in law school. Described as “a Wünderkind of the national security establishment”, Ciralsky began his career in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).
Early life and education
Ciralsky grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended George Washington University in Washington, DC from which he graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in International Affairs. His work on weapons proliferation issues landed him a research scholarship in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois where, in 1996, he received his Juris Doctor (J.D.).
As a student at George Washington University, Ciralsky began work in the Pentagon’s Office of Non-Proliferation Policy where, among other things, he served as a representative to interagency working group on the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). While in law school, Ciralsky returned to Washington to spend his summers working in the newly renamed Office of Counter-Proliferation Policy. A budding lawyer, he analyzed sensitive intelligence helping provide legal rationales for the imposition of sanctions under the Missile Technology Control Regime.
Ciralsky’s work caught the attention of the CIA, which offered him a slot in its Legal Honors Program. During his tenure at the CIA, Ciralsky handled a variety of sensitive matters involving CIA operations and officers and was honored with an Exceptional Performance Award from Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet.
In July 1997, Richard Clarke, then President Clinton’s Counter-Terrorism Czar, offered Ciralsky a rotational position at the National Security Council (NSC), which he was slated to begin in early 1998. However, in August 1997, however, the CIA’s Counterespionage Group (CEG) blocked the rotation citing concerns about Ciralsky’s “Jewish roots”. Ciralsky fought the allegations and, in so doing, unearthed many documents, including, an incendiary memorandum from a top CIA official: " I'd like to know if he admits his family has actual contacts with right wing politicians like Prime Minister Netanyahu. If not contacts, then maybe his family has donated money to Israeli government causes. From my experience with rich Jewish friends from college, I would fully expect Adam’s wealthy daddy to support Israeli political or social causes in some form or other, perhaps though the United Jewish Appeal.”
While under investigation by the CEG, Ciralsky was subjected to a polygraph test which – one of the Agency’s own documents suggests – was rigged "[CIA Director] Tenet says this guy is out of here because of his lack of candor…subject is scheduled for a poly…Once that's over, it looks like we'll be waving goodbye to our friend." Ciralsky subsequently passed a polygraph test administered by the former chief of the FBI polygraph lab.
Ciralsky subsequently sued the CIA for discrimination. The case prompted a CIA investigation of the CEG and led the Agency to hire the Anti-Defamation League to provide "sensitivity training" to CEG employees. During the case, it was revealed that Ciralsky’s CIA polygraph administrator referred to him as “that little Jew bastard” when speaking to a colleague. Tenet conceded that the Agency’s actions were “insensitive, inappropriate and unprofessional,” and could be construed as anti-Semitic.
In February 2000, Ciralsky was interviewed by Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes about the CIA's investigation of him. 60 Minutes reported that according to intelligence sources, ethnic profiling of the sort Ciralsky had been subjected to had “become a tool used by the nation's spy catchers to root out traitors.” Ciralsky said that the CIA had created a “Jewish resume” for him that omitted “all secular information about him in favor of the religious, mentioning his college minor in Judaic studies but leaving out his international affairs major, and pointing to his Hebrew language study while ignoring his Spanish classes.”
Ciralsky’s 2010 deposition of CIA director George Tenet is considered unprecedented. Victoria Toensing, the former chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that she hadn’t heard of any such thing happening before. “Usually the agency tries to circle the wagons and protect the director from ever having to provide facts,” she said, “The fact that he was privy to the gross violations that occurred here is what is significant.”
After 12 years, Ciralsky withdrew his lawsuit. He said that he was not concerned about financial compensation, but wanted merely to bring facts into the public eye and to use them to spur changes in the CIA. He said that he was still “proud of [his] service with the CIA and” had “a deep and abiding respect for the organization and its mission.”
Following his departure from the CIA in December 1999, Ciralsky was hired by the CBS Newsmagazine 60 Minutes. His first story, "Death by Denial", which dealt with the scourge of HIV/AIDS in Africa, won a Peabody, broadcast journalism’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. While he was at 60 Minutes, Ciralsky’s stories were nominated for three Emmy Awards. During that time, he also helped track down and interview the only participant in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to remain at large.
In 2004, Ciralsky was hired away by NBC News where his work covering the 2006 Lebanon War earned him his first Emmy. After exposing a fraudulent passport ring in South America and rescuing a young woman from human traffickers in Malaysia, Ciralsky went on to produce two stories about malfeasance by Pentagon procurement officials.
His multi-part series entitled Trophy, about U.S. Army efforts to scuttle an Active Protection System designed to shoot down rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), earned Ciralsky his second Emmy as well as the George Polk Award for special achievement in journalism; specifically for “investigative and enterprise work that is original, requires digging and resourcefulness, and brings results.” Trophy also went on to win the Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. As the judges put it:
This report revealed a secret effort by the US Army to thwart development of a new Israeli device called "trophy," designed to defend soldiers from rocket-propelled grenades. Over an eight-month period, the reporting team uncovered the army's aim to protect a $70 million Raytheon contract to produce a competing product from scratch. Their timely story triggered a government accountability office investigation and a new law in Congress.
The Trophy series, for which NBC’s Lisa Myers served as the correspondent, also garnered the Barone Award from the Radio and Television Correspondent Association (RTCA) for excellence in Washington-based reporting on national affairs and public policy.
Ciralsky followed Trophy with another multi-part series about the U.S. Army’s decision to ban Dragonskin, a flexible form of body armor, and instead force soldiers to wear Army-issue body armor called Interceptor.
Despite significant pushback by the Army, Ciralsky’s stories not only resulted in multiple investigations - by the Pentagon’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office - but also a decision by the Army to recall “16,000 sets of ceramic body armor plates that the Pentagon’s inspector general believes were not properly tested and could jeopardize the lives of U.S. service personnel.” The body armor series won Ciralsky his third Emmy award. While at NBC News, Ciralsky earned an additional four Emmy nominations.
Physics Package Production
In 2008, Ciralsky started his own production company, Physics Package Productions (P3), which in 2009 landed a primetime docu-series on NBC entitled, “The Wanted”. Although NBC purchased twelve episodes, the network only aired two episodes following criticism and poor ratings. After Shine Reveille negotiated the overseas rights, six episodes aired worldwide. The show's premiere focused on Mullah Krekar, an Iraqi refugee living in Norway since 1991 who is also one of the founders and early leaders of the Ansar al-Islam organization, an Islamist group considered a terrorist organization by U.N. authorities as well as by the European Union. In 2003, the deportation of Krekar from Norway to Iraq was ordered, but the order was suspended due to concerns about the human rights situation in Iraq, particularly the risk that Krekar would be tortured or executed. The Krekar episode of "The Wanted" was aired in Norway in July 2009, where the topic had been a hot-button political issue for several years. The Norwegian foreign ministry claimed the show dealt "with a serious matter in a superficial manner", reiterating that Krekar would be expelled "as soon as the necessary conditions are met". Nevertheless, Norwegian authorities relied in part on Ciralsky’s interview with Krekar on “The Wanted” in a 2012 case that resulted in Krekar’s conviction for making death threats.
In late 2009, Ciralsky became a contributor to Vanity Fair, writing long-form articles.
Vanity Fair's January 2010 issue contained Ciralsky's article “Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy,” an in-depth profile of Blackwater founder Erik Prince. “For the past six years,” Ciralsky revealed, Prince had “led an astonishing double life.” While serving publicly as Blackwater C.E.O. and chairman, Prince had been secretly working as a CIA asset, “helping to craft, fund, and execute” various operations, some of them targeting al-Qaeda. In short, he had become “a Mr. Fix-It in the war on terror,” and according to sources was considered extremely valuable to U.S. military intelligence. Prince told Ciralsky that, far from being a “war profiteer,” as many charged, he had made no money off of this work and had paid “for all sorts of intelligence activities...out of my own pocket.”
It was announced in November 2014 that Ciralsky would be producing a motion picture adaptation of “Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy” together with Nicolas Chartier, producer of The Hurt Locker, and Craig Flores. Two months later, Stuart Beattie signed on to write the script.
In September 2013, Vanity Fair published Ciralsky's “Will It Fly?”, a detailed exposé of the mismanaged development of the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35 Lightning II. This jet, “the most expensive weapons system ever developed,” wrote Ciralsky, was meant to be “the most formidable strike fighter ever fielded...a single stealthy, supersonic, multi-service airplane [that] could entirely replace four existing kinds of aircraft” and that “would do everything: air-to-air combat, deep-strike bombing, and close air support of troops on the ground.” Its development, however, had been “plagued by design flaws and cost overruns.”
The article, which included damning details from a program insider, led to controversy in several countries that had purchased the plane. “The failure of the JSF to match rival aircraft will jeopardize our national sovereignty,” Australia’s Business Insider wrote. “[T]he JSF ‘deep throat’ positioned himself in carefully selected a cafe at the top of Washington’s Union railway station where he could see everyone below but they could not see him. When the ‘coast was clear’ he would phone one of America’s top journalists, Adam Ciralsky, who would make his way through the rail crowds and up the stars to be briefed on the truth about the JSF.”
Ciralsky's article “Did Israel Avert a Hamas Massacre?” covered how Israeli intelligence officials “may have narrowly averted their nation’s own 9/11.” According to those officials, members of Hamas were planning “to emerge from more than a dozen cross-border tunnels and proceed to kill as many Israelis as possible.” Hamas leader Khalid Mishal acknowledged that given this shift in the balance of power, “we had to be creative in finding innovative ways. The tunnels were one of our innovations.”
The article was accompanied by a lengthy interview with Mishal, who said that Hamas is “against ideological, political, or military extremism” and “against any aggression, or any killing of innocent human beings.” Mishal also claimed that the Gaza tunnels were defensive in purpose. “We do not kill Israelis because they are Jews,” he maintained. “We kill them because they are occupiers.” In addition, Mishal called Benjamin Netanyahi “a criminal” who “is responsible for the war on Gaza.”
Ciralsky's Vanity Fair piece “Documenting Evil: Inside Assad’s Hospitals of Horror” appeared in June 2015 and told the story of a military crime-scene photographer and archivist from Syria, code-named Caesar, who amassed and defected with photographic and archival evidence of war crimes by the Assad regime. Ciralsky managed to interview individuals – including doctors and nurses – who had been forced to take part in acts of brutality and violence on the regime's orders. The regime, he reported, had made systematic use of hospitals to “provide cover” for its crimes. “People are brought into the hospitals, and killed, and their deaths are papered over with documentation,” said one source. According to U.S. and European officials, “rarely in the annals of international justice” had so much evidence of war crimes been accumulated. The article was illustrated with some of Caesar's photographs.
Vanity Fair's February 2016 issue included Ciralsky's exposé “Man of Her Dreams (titled online “The Celebrity Surgeon Who Used Love, Money, and the Pope to Scam an NBC News Producer”). It recounted a relationship between world-renowned surgeon Paolo Macchiarini and NBC News producer Benita Alexander, which began on a professional level, with Alexander producing a news story about Macchiarini's putative surgical advances, and developed into a romance and marital engagement, with Macchiarini telling Alexander that Pope Francis, whom he described as a close friend, had agreed to officiate at their wedding. When this proved to be untrue, Alexander canceled the marriage and hired a private investigator, who told Ciralsky, “I’ve never in my experience witnessed a fraud like this, with this level of international flair,” said the investigator. Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. Ron Schouten, called Macchiarini “the extreme form of a con man.”
In the course of his reporting, Ciralsky discovered that Macchiarini, who worked for Sweden’s Karolinska Institute – which gives out the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology – had falsified both his academic credentials and work history. Ciralsky’s revelations prompted Karolinska to initiate a formal investigation “to verify the accuracy of the information the researcher submitted to KI prior to his employment in 2010.”
On February 4, 2016, Karolinska announced that it was severing ties with Macchiarini and shuttering his lab. In a statement to Vanity Fair, KI spokesman Claes Kiesu conceded that the Institute’s investigation had indeed “given false information about some of his previous employments and academic titles at foreign institutions.” On February 7, 2016, Urban Lendahl, the Secretary General of the Nobel Committee in Physiology or Medicine and the Nobel Assembly – the independent body at KI that awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine – announced his resignation after KI’s University Board announced an external investigation into Macchiarini’s recruitment and work at the facility.
Finally, on February 9, 2016, NBC News, under fire for keeping the Alexander-produced, Meredith Viera Special (“Leap of Faith”) on its website in the wake of the Vanity Fair revelations, told Page Six that it planned to take it down. “There were multiple discussions about adding editorial notes [since the Vanity Fair article],” said a source. “But the story’s moving so quickly, the guy’s being investigated . . . They decided to take it down.”
The Somali Project
In late 2010, Ciralsky joined forces with former 60 Minutes colleague Shawn Efran to co-direct a feature-length documentary film, “The Somali Project” (originally titled “The Project”) which profiled the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). The film, which was selected to premiere as a “Spotlight film” at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, and on which Ciralsky and Efran served as co-executive producers, co-producers, and co-directors, follows the "intense, gripping and disarming ride" of the PMPF as they take "the hijacking of the African waterways and the kidnapping of innocent citizens into their under-trained hands" and "face mutiny, death and a loss of corporate funding in their dangerous quest to free the Middle East shipping industry from terror."
The Hollywood Reporter described the film as "a stark and shocking look at the outlaw police force that seems a world away, but has a vast impact on the way [Americans live]." “Using the latest digital tools to create an immersive form of verité storytelling,” wrote the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Ciralsky, Efran and their small crew integrated with former U.S. Army Special Forces operative Roger Carstens, who agreed to train and transform the Puntland Maritime Police Force from ragtag, private mercenaries into an efficient police force capable of capturing Somali pirates and making the North African shipping lanes safe again.” The result was “a balanced, insiders' version of a complex, often hidden story, featuring harrowing footage of a climactic hijacking rescue as well as battle casualties that have to be seen to be believed.”
The film's world premiere took place at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013. It was also shown that year at film festivals in Vancouver, Bergen and Austin, where it was nominated for the award for Best Documentary Feature.
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