Ex-Mossad chief calls Newsweek spy story ‘delusional’

Danny Yatom says Israel has more advanced methods than crawling through hotel air vents to snoop on vice presidents

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom. (Photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)
Former Mossad director Danny Yatom. (Photo credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash90)

A former head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, on Sunday brushed off as “delusional” a Newsweek article alleging an Israeli spy hid in the vents of a Jerusalem hotel during a visit by then-US vice president Al Gore 16 years ago.

“We did not spy on [Gore] or any other American targets in Israel or abroad,” Danny Yatom, who was chief of the Mossad at the time, said in an interview on Army Radio. “I think that there are much more advanced methods that everybody who’s seen movies and read books on the subject knows to say to himself that these methods of agents crawling through the ventilation ducts to get to the room of the vice president of the United States — these descriptions are delusional.”

According to a former senior US intelligence agent who spoke to Newsweek, when Al Gore was vice president, a surprise guest was hiding in an air duct in his hotel room during a trip to Israel 16 years ago — an alleged Israeli spy. The source detailed how after US Secret Service agents swept the room, clearing it, one of the men stayed behind to use the bathroom before Gore was to arrive, when he heard a sound.

“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,” the former operative told Newsweek, adding that the Secret Service agent did not scramble for his gun. “He kind of coughed and the guy went back into the vents.”

Former US vice president Al Gore (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0, Erik Charlton from Menlo Park, USA/Wikimedia)
Former US vice president Al Gore (Photo credit: CC BY 2.0, Erik Charlton from Menlo Park, USA/Wikimedia)

On Thursday, Newsweek published a report quoting unnamed former US intelligence officials, alleging that Israel’s aggressive spying activities in the United States have been routinely hushed up because of the country’s powerful connections in Congress.

Israel has emphatically denied the claims. Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said Saturday that an impression was forming in Israel that “someone” was trying to harm the “excellent” intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States.

The Newsweek article came two days after a story published in the magazine cited US intelligence officials and congressional staffers who have been privy to information on Israeli spying activities, calling the extent of it “shocking,” “sobering” and far exceeding similar activities by any other close US allies.

The issue of spying has come to the forefront in recent months as the possible release of Jonathan Pollard, a jailed American-Israeli spy, was brought up in connection with Israel-Palestinian peace talks.

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.

The issue of Israel’s spying also became an issue in its bid to join the US visa waiver program. Reports have indicated that Israel’s covert activities were holding it back from achieving its goal of joining the program, which would allow Israeli citizens to travel to the US with much greater ease.

A former aide told Newsweek that even if Israel takes the required steps to enter the program, there are reservations within the American security establishment about letting them in.

“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?

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