Israel’s aggressive and widespread espionage activity in the US is increasingly angering American government officials and has “crossed red lines,” Newsweek reported Tuesday.
The report anonymously quotes senior intelligence officials and congressional staffers who have been privy to information on Israeli spying activities. Staffers called the extent of Israeli espionage “sobering” and “shocking,” far exceeding similar activities by any other close US allies.
Some of the spying was allegedly industrial in nature, conducted by Israeli companies or individuals. But a significant amount appeared to be state-sanctioned reconnaissance gathering, according to the report.
“There are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes,” one former aide who attended a classified briefing on the issue told Newsweek. “It is quite shocking. I mean, it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that after all the hand-wringing over [Jonathan] Pollard, it’s still going on.”
Pollard, a US-born navy intelligence analyst, is serving a life sentence in a North Carolina prison for spying for Israel. He was captured in 1985.
Now the issue of Israel’s spying activities appears to be holding it back from achieving its goal of joining the US visa waiver program, which would allow Israeli citizens to travel to the US with much greater ease.
The requirements to get into the waiver program are already tough. According to a statement by the Department of Homeland Security quoted by Newsweek, these include “enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States; timely reporting of lost and stolen passports; and the maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, aviation and document security standards.”
Two obstacles are said to be a relatively high rate of visa refusal — caused by an increase in young Israelis seeking to enter America as tourists and then work illegally — and Israel’s alleged discrimination against Arab-Americans.
But while Israeli diplomats maintain that Jerusalem is taking concrete steps to meet the required standards, the former aide disagreed. “They think that their friends in Congress can get them in, and that’s not the case,” he said. “The Israelis haven’t done s**t to get themselves into the visa waiver program.”
Even if they did did, the magazine said, US officials fear allowing Israel into the program would make it much easier for the Jewish state to spy on its ally.
“They’re incredibly aggressive. They’re aggressive in all aspects of their relationship with the United States,“ the aide said. “If we give them free rein to send people over here, how are we going to stop that?”
Raphael Ahren and JTA contributed to this report.