Rita Katz (born in Basra, Iraq, 1963) is a terrorism analyst and the co-founder of the Search International Terrorist Entities (SITE) Intelligence Group, a private intelligence firm based in Washington, DC.
|Born||1963 (age 55–56)|
|Alma mater||Tel Aviv University|
|Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America|
Katz, a fluent Arabic speaker, was born in Basra in Southern Iraq in 1963 to a wealthy Iraqi Jewish family. After the Six-Day War and shortly after Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party seized power in Iraq in 1968, her father was arrested on charges of spying for Israel. The family's property was confiscated by the state, and the rest of the family put under house arrest in a stone hut. The following year, after having been tortured, Katz's father was convicted and executed in a public hanging in the central square of Baghdad, witnessed by more than half a million Iraqis; the government offered free transportation to people from the provinces, and belly dancers performed for the crowd. Katz' mother managed to escape with her three children to Iran, from where they made their way to Israel.
The family settled in the seaside town of Bat Yam. While in Israel, Katz served in the Israeli Defense Forces and studied politics, history, and Middle Eastern studies at Tel Aviv University. As a committed Zionist, Katz was reluctant to ever leave Israel, saying, "I believed that Jews belong in Israel". Nevertheless, in 1997 Katz' husband was offered a research fellowship in endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health and they moved to Washington with their three children. Katz has acknowledged that at this time she worked in violation of the provisions of her visa. This was disclosed whilst she was acting as a witness against a defendant accused amongst other things of visa fraud.
1998 Katz began working for a research institute called the Investigative Project, run by the former journalist Steven Emerson. She worked there on counterterrorism investigations. During her first research project, she suspected that the Holy Land Foundation, a charity organization dedicated to supporting humanitarian programs primarily in the West Bank and Gaza, was a front group for Hamas. Wanting to examine it more closely, she attended a fundraiser of theirs dressed as a Muslim woman. Soon thereafter, again disguised as a Muslim woman, wearing a burqa and wearing recording equipment, Katz began attending Islamic conferences and fundraisers, visiting mosques, and participating in pro-Palestinian rallies in the U.S. as an undercover investigator in order to expose links of American Islamic groups to foreign terrorist groups.
Katz' SITE Institute, co-founded with Josh Devon in July 2002, was funded by various federal agencies and private groups. It analyzes "corporate records, tax forms, credit reports, video tapes, internet news group postings and owned websites, among other resources, for indicators of illicit activity". It provided information on radical Muslim groups operating in the United States, and led to closures of organizations, deportations, and ongoing investigations. She spends hours every day monitoring password-protected online chat rooms in which Islamic terrorists discuss politics, exchange tips, and announce their plans and accomplishments. Katz and her staff research online sources for intelligence, which her staff translates and sends out by e-mail to about 100 subscribers. Among her subscribers are people in government, in corporate security, and in the media. Katz has worked with prosecutors on more than one dozen terrorism investigations, and many American officers in Iraq rely on her e-mails to, for example, brief troops on the designs for explosives that are passed around terrorist Web sites.
With the SITE Institute, which she co-founded to monitor Islamic extremist websites and to expose terrorist front groups, Katz worked with federal investigators in terrorism cases. She was cited in Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, as having helped to provide information to the government on the Al Qaeda network. Clarke wrote that she and Steven Emerson, for whom she formerly worked, regularly provided the White House with a stream of information about possible Al Qaeda activity inside the U.S. that was apparently largely unknown to the FBI before the 9/11 attacks. They gave Clarke and his staff the names of Islamic radical Web sites, the identities of possible terrorist front groups, and the phone numbers and addresses of possible terror suspects—data Clarke was unable to get from elsewhere in the government. Katz also served as a consultant in a $1 trillion wrongful-death suit seeking to hold Saudi government and business interests accountable for the 9/11 attacks.
In May 2003, Katz published an anonymous semi-autobiography entitled Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America. She appeared in disguise on the CBS newsmagazine, 60 Minutes, to promote her book using the pseudonym "Sarah", and wearing a wig and a fake nose, to protect herself and her family from retaliation from groups that she said were linked to al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah. In the book she tries to reveal what she sees as the gravity and extent of the presence of Islamic fundamentalism in America, and that government agencies still do not work together as one to fight terrorism, instead concealing information from each other, attempting to take over investigations, and even deliberately slowing down terrorism investigations.
SITE's work was cited in The New York Times and the Washington Post about twice a month as of 2006. In January 2007, Al Jazeera reported that the National Association of Muslim American Women filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Criminal Section, and with the Executive Office for the United States Attorneys at the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that as a result of misleading and false information provided to U.S. law enforcement agencies, the media, and various governmental bodies, various Jewish organizations and individuals including Katz had sought to create an environment in the U.S. that is hostile towards U.S. Muslims, resulting in the deprivation and violation of Muslim civil liberties and civil rights.
In October 2007, it was revealed that Katz had discovered and issued to the Bush administration a copy of an Osama bin Laden video which had yet to be released by al-Qaeda. Katz issued the video via a private link to a SITE web page to White House counsel Fred F. Fielding and Joel Bagnal, deputy assistant to the President for Homeland Security. Within 20 minutes, computers registered to various parts of the Executive Branch began downloading the video, and within hours a transcript referencing SITE had appeared on Fox News. Katz had requested that the web page remain confidential, and has reported that dissemination of this information tipped off her Al-Qaeda supporters who had since eliminated the ability of SITE to gather such information.
In July 2003 two of the groups she discussed in her book and on television (the Heritage Education Trust and the Safa Trust) sued her and revealed her name and identity. The number of lawsuits she was named in rose to three, all in connection with her work helping the government investigate Islamic charities in northern Virginia. In two of the suits, targets of the investigation said they were defamed in the 60 Minutes television broadcast. Katz said she has been the victim of a smear campaign, and attempts to intimidate her, adding:
As they were never able to challenge the accuracy of my research, and as they were upset by the ramifications of it in terms of arrests, indictments, and raids, a few Muslim activist organizations have on occasion tried to portray me as a Muslim-basher. I have no quarrel with Islam or Muslims, and I only target terrorists and their supporters.
In one case, in 2005 federal Judge Leonie Brinkema dismissed Katz from the lawsuit by a leader of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, Iqbal Unus, and Katz's dismissal was upheld on appeal unanimously by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2009. The court also ordered Unus to pay Katz $41,000 in legal fees.
Critics of Katz claim she is giving terrorists a larger platform than they would otherwise have, and is too eager to find plots where they don't exist. Some people also do not think a private group with limited resources can do as good a job as government agencies can. Katz maintains professionals missed many signals about al-Qaeda before 9/11, and she is simply filling a gap. A 2004 audit showed that the FBI alone had thousands of hours of untranslated intercepts.
In 2015, Katz described an apparent Australian online supporter of ISIS who used the online handle "Australi Witness" as holding a "prestige" position in online jihadi circles and as being "part of the hard core of a group of individuals who constantly look for targets for other people to attack". It later transpired that "Australi Witness" was a Jewish American called Joshua Ryne Goldberg who was arrested by the FBI.
- Terrorist Hunter: The Extraordinary Story of a Woman Who Went Undercover to Infiltrate the Radical Islamic Groups Operating in America, (as Anonymous). |Ecco, May 6, 2003. ISBN 0-06-052819-2
- "American servers of terror", San Francisco Chronicle, with Josh Devon, August 11, 2002
- "Getting at the Whole Network; A lawsuit helps expose more of al Qaeda", National Review, with Josh Devon, August 20, 2002
- "The Weakness of the West; Stopping al Qaeda", National Review, with Josh Devon, September 17, 2002.
- "Collaborating Financiers of Terror: Hamas and al Qaeda", National Review, with James Mitre, December 16, 2002.
- "Terror Tools; Saudi-funded front in Michigan", National Review, with Josh Devon, March 11, 2003.[dead link]
- "Ending Al Qaeda; War’s many fronts", National Review, with Josh Devon, March 20, 2003.[dead link]
- "Perilous Power Play; FBI vs. Homeland Security", National Review, with Josh Devon, May 27, 2003.[dead link]
- "A Global Network; What’s really happening on some U.S. paintball courses", National Review, with Josh Devon, June 30, 2003.[dead link]
- "WWW.JIHAD.COM; E-Groups abused by jihadists", National Review, with Josh Devon, July 14, 2003.
- "Al Qaeda’s Fitna; The jihad on Muslims", National Review, with Josh Devon, February 6, 2004.
- "Center of the Jihadist World; They call it “Londonistan” for a reason", National Review, with Michael Kern, July 11, 2005
- Katz, Rita. "It’s Real; The arguments over that Zawahiri letter suggests we don’t know our enemy", National Review, October 21, 2005
- "The Coming New Wave of Jihad", The Boston Globe, March 13, 2006
- "Terrorist 007, Exposed", The Washington Post, with Michael Kern, May 26, 2006. Preview
- "Osama's olive branch to Shi'ites", The Boston Globe, with Josh Devon, July 26, 2006
- "Web of Terror", Forbes, with Josh Devon, May 7, 2007
- "Franchising Al Qaeda", The Boston Globe, with Josh Devon, June 22, 2007
- "The Online Jihadist Threat", Testimony Before the House Armed Services Committee; Terrorism, and Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, U.S. House of Representatives, with Josh Devon, February 14, 2007
- "The Online Jihadist Threat", Testimony Before The Homeland Security Committee; Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment, U.S. House of Representatives, with Josh Devon, November 6, 2007
Katz is the subject of director Ann Shin’s documentary The Terrorist Hunter.
- Lopez, Kathryn Jean (June 26, 2003). "Q-A: The Terrorist Hunter Speaks; An amazing story of an Iraqi Jew at the heart of dismantling terrorism". National Review. Archived from the original on March 13, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Bartholet, Jeffrey (September 11, 2007). "Keeping an Eye on Al Qaeda: Rita Katz surfs jihadi websites for indications of terrorist activity". Newsweek. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Warrick, Joby (September 12, 2007). "Bin Laden, Brought to You by ..." The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Wallace-Wells, Benjamin (May 29, 2006). "Private Jihad: How Rita Katz got into the spying business". The New Yorker. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Glick, Caroline B. "A personal jihad", Jerusalem Post, page 12B, July 25, 2003, (fee required) Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Aaron Leibel Author Infiltrates Islamic Terror Cells' Washington Jewish Week 29 August 2003
- Benjamin Wallace-Wells, 'PRIVATE JIHAD: How Rita Katz got into the spying business', The New Yorker, 29 May 2006
- Bob Fick, Associated Press. Jurors in Saudi computer student's terrorism trial can view, 14 May 2004
- Malone, Julia. "Group hunting terrorists online: A nonprofit outfit screens thousands of jihadist Web sites", (fee required) Richmond Times, April 9, 2006. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Watt, Holly, and Winnett, Robert. "Spies trawl Friends Reunited for terror whispers", The Sunday Times, August 6, 2006. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Leibel, Aaron."Author Infiltrates Islamic Terror Cells", Jewish Journal, August 28, 2003. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Cha, Ariana Eunjung."From a Virtual Shadow, Messages of Terror", The Washington Post, page A01, October 2, 2004. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- "Consultant gives limited testimony; Katz's court role in Al-Hussayen case mundane", Spokesman-Review, May 16, 2004,(fee required). Retrieved 03-23-10.
- Schmitt, Richard B. "Demand Broadens the Field of Terror Experts; Young, Internet-savvy consultants are making careers in an area once reserved for bookish academics. Critics worry they're just cashing in", Los Angeles Times, (fee required) April 17, 2004. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
- Sealey, Geraldine."Thursday's must-reads", Salon, April 1, 2004, accessed January 31, 2010 Archived December 15, 2004, at the Wayback Machine
- Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball."Terror Watch: How Clarke 'Outsourced' Terror Intel; The Former Counterterrorism Chief Tapped A Private Researcher To Develop Intelligence On Al Qaeda. The Disclosure Sheds New Light On White House Frustrations With the FBI", Newsweek, March 31, 2004. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Marc Perelman,‘Muslim Charities Sue CBS, Investigator’, Forward, 13 June 2003
- "National Association of Muslim American Women files for Department of Justice investigation of Jewish Lobby Archived 2010-05-27 at the Wayback Machine," Al Jazeera, January 19, 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Warrick, Joby (October 9, 2007). "Leak Severed a Link to Al-Qaeda's Secrets: Firm Says Administration's Handling of Video Ruined Its Spying Efforts". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Schmitt, Richard B."Antiterror expertise goes high-tech; Many consultants young, Web-savvy", Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Gerstein, Josh. "Judge Dismisses Suit Questioning Federal Tactics", The New York Sun, November 8, 2007. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- O'Dell, Larry, Associated Press."Appeals court says raid on Muslims' Va. home OK", The Guardian, May 7, 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Worth, Robert F. "Mideast Analysis, Fast and Furious", The New York Times, June 18, 2006. Retrieved 2010-03-23.
- Elise Potaka and Luke McMahon. "FBI says 'Australian IS jihadist' is actually a Jewish American troll named Joshua Ryne Goldberg". Sydney Morning Herald. 12 September 2015.
- "The Terrorist Hunter". revealnews.org. The Center for Investigative Reporting. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
- "Tracking the Terrorists Online", Yassin Musharbash, Der Spiegel, August 29, 2008
- Gannon, Kathy (March 8, 2008). "Al-Qaeda taps tech-savvy militants". USA Today. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
- Warrick, Joby; Rondeaux, Candace (April 9, 2009). "Extremist Web Sites Are Using U.S. Hosts: Ease and Anonymity Draw Taliban, al-Qaeda". Washington Post. Retrieved March 23, 2010.