Israelgate Barak campaign files snatched in D.C.

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WASHINGTON — Did the enemies of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak stage a Watergate-style burglary?

The question gripped Israel this week after intruders snatched confidential files and petty cash from the Washington offices of Greenberg Quinlan Research Inc., a polling firm working on Barak's campaign for prime minister.

"An Israeli Watergate?" screamed the daily newspaper Yediot Achronot, recalling the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters that led to Republican President Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974.

Stanley Greenberg, a partner in the firm and President Clinton's former pollster, was recently hired as an adviser to Barak, along with Democratic Party consultant James Carville.

The firm described the incident as "a sophisticated break-in of a suspicious nature."

District of Columbia police and the FBI are investigating the incident, which occurred late Monday night or Tuesday morning. The FBI was brought in due to the sensitive nature of the case.

The offices are just a few blocks from the Capitol.

Authorities and other sources said the burglars broke through an air-conditioning vent on the roof of the office, tore through the ceiling, dislodged an alarm system and then opened a door, possibly to let others inside.

Greenberg's firm provided no details about what was stolen, saying only that it appeared some of its international political work may have been targeted.

As of the Bulletin's press time Wednesday, no new leads had been made public.

In Tel Aviv, a Labor Party spokeswoman confirmed that materials about Barak's election campaign were stolen.

"We cannot point to any guilty party and certainly we have no idea who did this," Barak's spokeswoman Aliza Goren told Army Radio. "I hope very much this isn't related to our election campaign. I don't even want to think this is possible."

Tal Silberstein, who is managing Barak's campaign for the May 17 elections, was quoted as saying the thieves "knew exactly what they wanted because the only file taken was the one dealing with the Israeli campaign." Another source said that political questionnaires were among the materials taken.

Several Labor legislators immediately pointed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the likely culprit.

David Bar-Illan, Netanyahu's spokesman, vehemently denied any connection between the prime minister and the break-in, calling any attempt to make such an allegation "an absolute obscenity. There is no more basis for that than there was the journalistic canard that Netanyahu is a CIA agent."

The Likud Party issued a statement saying it hopes the thieves will be caught.

Washington media consultant Steve Rabinowitz, who has also been advising Barak on his campaign, said he hopes that "the burglary has no connection to the Israeli election and that it's entirely coincidental.

"Of course if it turns out that there is a connection, we would view such a development with grave concern. It would be absolutely outrageous."

Greenberg was a top pollster for Clinton during the 1992 campaign and worked as a White House pollster until 1994. He has also worked for British Prime Minister Tony Blair and South African President Nelson Mandela.

He is helping Barak, the former army chief, to develop a more aggressive speaking style.

Carville, who was in Argentina on Wednesday, didn't see the break-in as the work of amateurs.

"It wasn't some kids, but how could they be so dumb?" he told the Associated Press. "It strikes me as awfully dumb, but somebody did it."