Israel Spying on America always……
There’s an old American saying that goes, “With friends like that, who needs enemies?” That can be applied to Israel, who is frequently called America’s closest ally, but who carries out aggressive espionage operations against the American government and many American companies – especially those with valuable technology.
Israel has been trying to steal secrets from the US ever since its inception in 1948, and even before. On October 29, 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall telegrammed Washington from a United Nations meeting in Paris to complain that the Israelis knew what President Truman’s instructions had been on a key vote “almost as soon as [the Americans] had received the relevant telegram.” Israeli delegate Abba Eban attributed his delegation’s information to an “unimpeachable source.”
The spying was for more than political information. According to Samuel Cohen, the father of the neutron bomb, American nuclear scientists regularly gave nuclear weapons secrets to the Israelis. According to Seymour Hersh, author of the Samson Option, “the CIA helped the Israelis obtain technical nuclear information in the late 1950s.”
In May 1985, Richard Kelly Smyth, a NATO consultant with a high-level security clearance, was indicted for illegally shipping krytrons to Israel — devices which can, among other uses, trigger nuclear weapons. Smyth’s company, Milco Incorporated of Huntington Beach, California, acted as the American agent for the deal on behalf of Israel’s Heli Corporation.
US officials went out of their way to take the focus off Israel. They emphasized that the indictment against Smyth resulted from a Customs Service investigation designed to block the illegal flow of military and high-tech goods out of the US. The State Department stressed that the charges did not implicate any Israelis and the Israelis denied any intention to use the krytrons to trigger nuclear weapons.
But the Israeli spying has not stopped even though they have a decided military superiority over their neighbors in the Middle East. In fact, according to the latest issue of Newsweek, their behavior is worse and crossing “red lines” that were never crossed before.
In the words of one Congressional aide, with access to classified briefings on Israeli spying in January, Israel’s behavior was “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Israel is after everything it can lay its hands on: not just diplomatic and policy documents, but industrial and military technology. The means include Israeli trade missions to the US, joint ventures between Israeli and American companies and, presumably, spying by Israeli intelligence agencies.
Of course, Israel denied the charges. Avigdor Lieberman, the Foreign Minister called it, “A malicious fabrication aimed at harming relations…we do not engage in espionage in the US, neither directly nor indirectly.” Other Israeli officials charged it was anti-Semitism.
A Long History of Israeli Espionage
The history of Israeli spying against the US is long and well documented. US counter intelligence agencies were uncovering cases of Israeli espionage even before the establishment of colonial Israel. Zionist agents worked in America in the 1940s in order to acquire money and weapons for Jewish paramilitary groups. John Davitt, who worked for the Department of Justice from 1950 to 1980 and became the head of the department’s internal security, declared that throughout his tenure the Israeli intelligence service was the second most active in the US after the Soviet Union’s.
Most Americans were unaware of the level of Israeli spying until Jonathan Pollard, a Jewish-American naval intelligence analyst, was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for passing US secrets to Israel. These secrets, which detailed the degree to which the US had targeted Soviet military targets, were later passed by Israel on to the Soviet Union. After the embarrassment of the Pollard incident, Israel promised to stop its spying on the US. Unfortunately, most Americans saw the Pollard affair as an aberration in US/Israeli relations, not the normal state of affairs that it is.
Despite the promises, the spying continued. In 1997, the US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, “complained privately to the Israeli government about heavy-handed surveillance by Israeli intelligence agents, who had been following American-embassy employees in Tel Aviv and searching the hotel rooms of visiting US officials.” In fact, the US Secret Service even caught an Israeli spy trying to bug Vice President Gore’s hotel room.
In 1996, a General Accounting Office report “Defense Industrial Security: Weaknesses in US Security Arrangements With Foreign-Owned Defense Contractors” found that according to intelligence sources “Country A” (identified by intelligence sources as Israel) “conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally.” The Jerusalem Post quoted the report, “Classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.”
The GAO report also noted that “Several citizens of [Israel] were caught in the United States stealing sensitive technology used in manufacturing artillery gun tubes.”
In 2001 dozens of Israelis were arrested or held on suspicion of being part of a giant spy ring, and a US government report after 9/11 concluded that Israel ran the most aggressive espionage operation against the US of any ally. Three years later, two officials of AIPAC – America’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group – were charged with spying. According to US intelligence, they passed official documents on US policy towards Iran to Israel. The case was quietly dropped in 2009.
The problem isn’t just limited to Israel acquiring information for its own purposes. Frequently, Israel passes the information on to enemies of the US in return for some consideration. An Office of Naval Intelligence document, “Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare” reported that “US technology has been acquired [by China] through Israel in the form of the Lavi fighter and possibly SAM [surface-to-air] missile technology.” Jane’s Defense Weekly noted that “until now, the intelligence community has not openly confirmed the transfer of US technology [via Israel] to China.” The report noted that this “represents a dramatic step forward for Chinese military aviation.”
In 2000, the Israeli government attempted to sell China the sophisticated Phalcon early warning aircraft, which was based on U.S.-licensed technology. A 2005 FBI report noted that the thefts eroded U.S. military advantage, enabling foreign powers to obtain hugely expensive technologies that had taken years to develop.
One reason for the refusal of the US to release Pollard was that the information he gave Israel was leaked to the USSR. According to the Samson Option, relaying of the Pollard information to the Soviets was their way of demonstrating that Israel could be a much more dependable and important collaborator in the Middle East than the Arabs.
However, the damage to US intelligence gathering was much worse than the mere transmission of information. According to the Samson Option, “One senior American intelligence official confirmed that there have been distinct losses of human and technical intelligence collection ability inside the Soviet Union that have been attributed to Pollard. “The Israeli objective [in the handling of Pollard] was to gather what they could and let the Soviets know that they have a strategic capability–for their survival [the threat of a nuclear strike against the Soviets] and to get their people out [of the Soviet Union],” one former CIA official said. “Where it hurts us is our agents being rolled up and our ability to collect technical intelligence being shut down. When the Soviets found out what’s being passed”–in the documents supplied by Pollard to the Israelis–”they shut down the source.”
This isn’t a one-time incident. CIA officials still bristle over the disappearance of a Syrian scientist who during the Bush administration was the CIA’s only spy inside Syria’s military program to develop chemical and biological weapons. Although the agency never formally concluded that Israel was responsible, CIA officials complained about Israelis leaking “information to pressure Syria to abandon the program.”
Syrian officials learned who had access to the sensitive information and eventually identified the scientist as a traitor. Before he disappeared and was presumed killed, he told his CIA contact that Syrian Military Intelligence fingered him.
(*) The story was from an AP report a few years ago, but I can’t seem to find it anymore. Here is a mention of it.
The result is that despite the close US/Israeli relationship, the American intelligence community must regard Israel as a major threat, just in order to protect American intelligence assets. A secret budget request obtained by The Washington Post from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden lumps Israel alongside U.S. foes Iran and Cuba as “key targets” for U.S. counterintelligence efforts. “To further safeguard our classified networks, we continue to strengthen insider threat detection capabilities across the Community,” reads the FY 2013 congressional budget justification for intelligence programs. “In addition, we are investing in target surveillance and offensive CI [counterintelligence] against key targets, such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and Cuba.”
Although some groups have apologized for this Israeli spying on the grounds that the Obama Administration is not friendly towards Israel, the pattern of spying on America over the past 70 years belies that. Israel’s espionage efforts go far beyond political or military intelligence gathering. The also continue no matter how friendly the administration in the White House. In many cases, Israeli spying is done, not for national security, but merely to give Israeli companies an advantage in the international economy.
The annual FBI report called “Foreign Economic Collection and Industrial Espionage” documents this industrial espionage. In 2005, it said, “Israel has an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States…These collection activities are primarily directed at obtaining information on military systems and advanced computing applications that can be used in Israel’s sizable armaments industry…Proprietary commercial and industrial information is also stolen.”
Since Israel earns much of its foreign currency through sales of weapons, this information is less for the protection of Israel then it is for increasing weapons sales, even at the expense of the US. In fact, some of these high tech weapons sales like those of drones to Russia, go directly to potential enemies of the US
Official Israeli industrial espionage has also encouraged private Israeli industrial spying. For example, in early 2005, a British programmer sold customized copies of his spy software to three Israeli private investigation firms. Those firms, in turn, worked for a number of Israeli firms, which allegedly used the software to spy on dozens of
their international competitors, including at least one major high-tech firm. The software tempted victims into installing it by posing as a package of confidential documents delivered via e-mail. Once installed, the software recorded every keystroke and collected business documents and e-mails on a victim’s personal computer and transmitted information to a server computer registered in London.
Why the Fuss?
So, if Israel has been spying on the US for close to 70 years, why has this become a headline issue now? Is it just that they are now crossing “red lines” that they never did before? Probably not. As we have outlined, Israeli spying has been very aggressive for the last seven decades.
The timing of the Newsweek report was probably orchestrated by the White House for two reasons. Susan Rice, Obama’s National Security Advisor is visiting Israel and the revelations were probably used to put pressure on the Israeli government on issues like the Middle East peace process, Iran, and other regional issues. By making it well known that Israel is spying on the US, it makes it harder for Netanyahu to “go over Obama’s head” to the American public and claim that Israel is America’s closest ally.
The second reason was the ongoing debate about allowing Israeli citizens to enter the US without a visa. Israel doesn’t have an agreement in place that allows the easy movement of Israeli’s into the US. And, Israeli lobbyists have been pushing to change it.
Up until now, the assumption was that the hold-up on Capitol Hill was due to accusations of discrimination against Arab- and Muslim-Americans seeking entry to Israel and a growing number of young Israelis who overstay tourist visas and work illegally in the US.
However, it appears that US national security agencies are concerned that a looser entry process for Israelis would make it easier for Israeli spies to enter the country. Israel is known for approaching scientists and engineers at trade shows or conferences and making a pitch to them to help Israel. Flooding these evens with unregistered Israeli agents would seriously damage American national security. By controlling the visa program, US counterintelligence can track the movement of these agents and limit their damage.
Will this stop Israeli espionage? No. Israel’s history clearly indicates that it will continue to spy on the US, no matter the administration or how warm relations are with America. However, by highlighting the risks, the Newsweek article may be able to make Americans more aware of the damage they do to American security.