Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S.By Jeff Stein / May 6, 2014 5:31 AM EDT
Israel is flouting the “friendly” rules of espionage to steal U.S. trade and tech secrets
Now U.S. intelligence officials are saying—albeit very quietly, behind closed doors on Capitol Hill—that our Israeli “friends” have gone too far with their spying operations here.
According to classified briefings on legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. secrets under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts have “crossed red lines.”
Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and unseemly, counterspies have told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, going far beyond activities by other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan. A congressional staffer familiar with a briefing last January called the testimony “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.”
The Jewish state’s primary target: America’s industrial and technical secrets.
“No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” said a former congressional staffer who attended another classified briefing in late 2013, one of several in recent months given by officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the State Department, the FBI and the National Counterintelligence Directorate.
The intelligence agencies didn’t go into specifics, the former aide said, but cited “industrial espionage—folks coming over here on trade missions or with Israeli companies working in collaboration with American companies, [or] intelligence operatives being run directly by the government, which I assume meant out of the [Israeli] Embassy.” ...
“If we give them free rein to send people over here, how are we going to stop that?” the former congressional aide asked. “They’re incredibly aggressive. They’re aggressive in all aspects of their relationship with the United States. Why would their intelligence relationship with us be any different?”
According to a senior former U.S. intelligence operative, a Secret Service agent who was enjoying a moment of solitude in Gore’s bathroom before the Veep arrived heard a metallic scraping sound. “The Secret Service had secured [Gore’s] room in advance and they all left except for one agent, who decided to take a long, slow time on the pot,” the operative recalled for Newsweek. “So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.”
Did the agent scramble for his gun? No, the former operative said with a chuckle.
“He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”
To some, the incident stands as an apt metaphor for the behind-closed-doors relations between Israel and America, “frenemies” even in the best of times. The brazen air-duct caper “crossed the line” of acceptable behavior between friendly intelligence services – but because it was done by Israel, it was quickly hushed up by U.S. officials. ....
“It has been extensive for years,” a former top U.S. security official told Newsweek Wednesday after Israeli Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, among other top Israeli officials, “unequivocally” denied the Newsweek report, saying Israel stopped all spying operations in the U.S. after Jonathan Pollard was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987. One anonymous official was quoted in the Israeli media as saying Newsweek’s account “had the whiff of anti-Semitism in it.”
But a former U.S. intelligence operative intimately familiar with Israeli espionage rejected the anti-Semitism charge. “There is a small community of ex-CIA, FBI and military people who have worked this account who are absolutely cheering on [the Newsweek] story,” he said. “Not one of them is anti-Semitic. In fact, it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. It has only to do with why [Israel] gets kid-glove treatment when, if it was Japan doing it or India doing it at this level, it would be outrageous.”
... “You can't embarrass an Israeli,” he said. “It’s just impossible to embarrass them. You catch them red-handed, and they shrug and say, 'Okay now, anything else?'”
Always lurking, former intelligence officials say, was the powerful “Israeli lobby,” the network of Israel’s friends in Congress, industry and successive administrations, Republican and Democratic, ready to protest any perceived slight on the part of U.S. security officials. A former counterintelligence specialist told Newsweek he risked Israel’s wrath merely by providing routine security briefings to American officials, businessmen and scientists heading to Israel for meetings and conferences.
“We had to be very careful how we warned American officials,” he said. “We regularly got calls from members of Congress outraged by security warnings about going to Israel. And they had our budget. When ... the director of the CIA gets a call from an outraged congressman–’What are these security briefings you're giving? What are these high-level threat warnings about travel to Tel Aviv you're giving? This is outrageous’ – he has to pay close attention. There was always this political delicacy that you had to be aware of.”
The annual exercise in which the State Department publishes security profiles on foreign countries gave the intelligence agencies huge headaches, he added.
“When we were doing the annual threat rating for the U.S. Embassy and consulates [in Israel], it was always a huge debate,” he said. “The intelligence community would always be urging the highest level of threats, while the State Department would be saying, ‘This is not going to go over very well, we can't give this kind of rating, because there will be certain consequences in terms of travel warnings and restrictions.’ It was always a big, big debate on how you rate the threat over there.”
But the danger is real, he and other former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with Israel’s methods say. Israeli agents “go after senior U.S. Navy officers on shore leave in Haifa, after space industry officials, or scientists with intellectual property, anywhere. This has always been a huge concern for the community.”
In the States, Israeli officials and businessmen are forever trying to lure attractive American targets to visit Israel. Representatives of Maf’at, an administrative body that yokes the Israel Defense Ministry to its military industries, give U.S. counterintelligence agencies great concern, one of the former U.S. intelligence officials said. "They were the ones that really caused us a lot of concern. Because they had a plausible reason to attend all these conferences and defense contracting facilities and whatnot. It was a great cover vehicle for industrial espionage,” he said.
... “Their goal,” he continued, “is to get contacts to come out of the U.S. and over there and then wine them, dine them, assess them, see what their weaknesses are. I mean, we had government officials going over there who were offered drugs, like, ‘Hey, do you want to go get some pot?’ What? These are U.S. government officials. The drugs, women coming to your hotel room – they throw everything at you. No matter how high the official.”