Associated Press: "U.S. Sees Israel, Tight Mideast Ally, as Spy Threat"
July 30, 2012, 02:00 PM
A+
|
a-
Print Friendly and PDF

From the AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The CIA station chief opened the locked box containing the sensitive equipment he used from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, to communicate with CIA headquarters in Virginia, only to find that someone had tampered with it. He sent word to his superiors about the break-in. 

The incident, described by three former senior U.S. intelligence officials, might have been dismissed as just another cloak-and-dagger incident in the world of international espionage, except that the same thing had happened to the previous station chief in Israel. 

It was a not-so-subtle reminder that, even in a country friendly to the United States, the CIA was itself being watched. 

In a separate episode, according to another two former U.S. officials, a CIA officer in Israel came home to find the food in the refrigerator had been rearranged. In all the cases, the U.S. government believes Israel`s security services were responsible. 

Such meddling underscores what is widely known but rarely discussed outside intelligence circles: Despite inarguable ties between the U.S. and its closest ally in the Middle East and despite statements from U.S. politicians trumpeting the friendship, U.S. national security officials consider Israel to be, at times, a frustrating ally and a genuine counterintelligence threat. 

In addition to what the former U.S. officials described as intrusions in homes in the past decade, Israel has been implicated in U.S. criminal espionage cases and disciplinary proceedings against CIA officers and blamed in the presumed death of an important spy in Syria for the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush. 

The CIA considers Israel its No. 1 counterintelligence threat in the agency`s Near East Division, the group that oversees spying across the Middle East, according to current and former officials. Counterintelligence is the art of protecting national secrets from spies. This means the CIA believes that U.S. national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

This kind of stuff tends to get shoved down the memory hole — literally, in the case of Carl Cameron`s five-part series on Fox News in November 2001, which was quickly deleted. (Fortunately, a number of citizens recorded it and you can find it here and there: here`s Part I).

For some perspective on the AP article, here`s a blog post at XX Committee (for an explanation of the historical reference, see here) by a professor at the Naval War College who was in counter-intelligence:

Aggressive Israeli spying on the U.S. is something polite people are never, ever supposed to discuss; mentioning it will not get you invited to the right Georgetown parties.

 

But there was nothing in the piece which was exactly news to anyone who knows how the global intelligence game is actually played. That CIA considers Israel to be the number-one spy threat in the Middle East is a revelation only to neophytes. Counterintelligence officers for decades have been aware of the extent of Israeli espionage against the U.S., at home and abroad, though politicos are customarily wise enough to never mention it. Indeed, CI experts for years have spoken of the Big Four threats to the USG: Russia, China, Cuba, and Israel.  

 



I prefer my spies to look like this …

 

Russia remains as big a spy threat to the West and the U.S. as it was at the height of the Cold War. Their operations are as aggressive as ever, and their playbook is the same. Although the round-up of a bigRussian illegal network in the U.S. two years ago was treated as a comic-opera affair in the media, with emphasis on hot redheads (and, let me say, who doesn’t like hot redheaded spy-vixens?), that story justifiably caused deep concern in CI circles and indicated big problems, including possible penetrations of U.S. intelligence.
The Chinese spy threat is less popularly understood, and there is a lot less written about it, with some happy exceptions, but Beijing’s espionage against the USG has risen in recent years and shows no signs of abating, rather the contrary. That said, Chinese HUMINT operations are seldom successful outside their ethnic millieu – though that may be cold comfort given the size of the overseas Chinese community in the West today.
The inclusion of Cuba on the Big Four list may surprise, given the comically pathetic condition of that country, but Havana’s intelligence agencies have long punched above their weight in the global spy game. Cuban operations against the USG are widespread and pernicious, including long-term penetrations of our intelligence agencies. Castro’s case officers for decades have had no trouble recruiting spies among Cuban exiles – usually they have more volunteers than they can handle – and Cuban-American groups are deeply penetrated (usually the crazier and more right-wing an exile pontificates, the more likely s/he is a mole for Havana). Not surprisingly, Florida is a hotspot for Cuban espionage. Neverthless, like the Chinese, the Cubans operate best among ethnic kin, save the occasional oddball lefty Anglos who actually lose money spying for Cuba.
The Israeli espionage threat to the United States, however, is different, because DC and Tel Aviv are such close partners, and Israel is the world’s biggest recipient of American aid dollars.  In the real world, allies do spy on each other. Per the counterspy’s mantra: There are no friendly intelligence agencies. Yet America’s closest intelligence partners, the Five Eyes of the Anglosphere (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, and usually New Zealand), have preserved a remarkable amount of the sincere spy-friendship borne of shared hardship in World War II, and come pretty close to being friends who don’t spy on each other.

Not like this.
Israel emphatically is not that sort of spy-buddy. The AP article included glimpses of just how aggressive and duplicitous Israeli HUMINT operations against American interests actually are, and have been for decades. Anyone who has looked closely at the infamous Pollard case, including Israel’s continuing lobbying to get their boy out of his jail cell, gets some sense of how the Israelis play the game.
It’s no secret inside the Beltway that Israel spies on everybody, America included, and uses its close partnership with the USG to further its espionage against it. None of this is new, and as far back as 1954 Israeli dirty tricks targeted the U.S., including the false-flag bombing of the U.S. Information Agency office in Egypt, the so-called Lavon affair. Espionage is a messy business, to be sure, but what sets the Israelis apart is that they act so aggressively even towards their closest friends.

One thing that`s interesting about U.S. politics is that the size of the bribes (at least of the folks who get caught) tends to be paltry—e.g., $90,000 in a Congressman`s freezers relative to how rich politicians can get in, say, Mexico or Russia. (Here`s Putin`s Palace, which, I must admit, is in surprisingly good 18th Century taste. I suspect Putin sees himself as a 21st Century Enlightened Despot.) 

If the carrots aren`t terribly large in America, maybe the sticks are bigger. We`re a fairly moralistic country, so maybe our politicians are best controlled by fear of having their scandals leaked. Carl Cameron devoted some of his lost series to how Israeli companies control a lot of the market in America for communication software and it wouldn`t be too hard to build into the software backdoors for Israeli intelligence to use. But, that`s just speculation.