‘Israel does not spy on the US,’ says ex intel chief

Yadlin calls Newsweek reports on espionage ‘problematic,’ reliant on ‘questionable sources’; Steinitz: ‘Someone’ trying to harm ties

Amos Yadlin, former director of military intelligence and current head of the Institute of National Security Studies (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Amos Yadlin, former director of military intelligence and current head of the Institute of National Security Studies (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

‘Israel does not spy on the US,” the former head of military intelligence Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Saturday, following two reports in Newsweek published this past week alleging that Israel’s espionage activities in the US are aggressive and have been swept under the rug due to the country’s powerful connections in Congress.

“As a former head of military intelligence, [I can say] with certainty, Israel does not spy on the United States. And military chiefs from the past 29 years will tell you the same thing,” said Yadlin.

Speaking to Channel 2 Saturday, the former intelligence chief, who now heads the INSS think tank in Tel Aviv, said that given the history between Israel and the US, “every prime minister [of Israel], since the [Jonathan] Pollard incident, has very clearly instructed his intelligence establishment: Israel does not spy on the US.”

“These [reports] are malicious hearsay. I’m surprised at Newsweek. It [published these articles] based on questionable sources,” he added.

Yadlin said that US intelligence officials should either “come out and say that there is no basis to these reports or present the evidence.”

“The American people must be told of the benefits [resulting from] the cooperation between our countries. There must be some balance to these very problematic reports,” he added.

Earlier Saturday, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz that an impression was forming in Israel that “someone” was trying to harm the “excellent” intelligence cooperation between Israel and the United States.

“In all my meetings with heads of the US intelligence establishment, I’ve never heard one claim about Israeli espionage in the United States,” Steinitz said Saturday, according to Channel 10.

Steinitz added that he was set to meet this week with the head of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence and would bring up the issue of the publication of these reports.

Newsweek’s published two reports this week, one alleging that the extent of Israeli espionage operations in the US was “sobering” and “shocking,” and a follow-up article alleging that Israel’s aggressive spying activities are routinely covered up because of Jerusalem’s powerful connections in Congress. The latter report detailed an alleged incident involving a former vice president, an unexpected hotel room visitor and a private moment in the loo.

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 Secret Service agents swept the room, clearing it, one of the men stayed behind for a private bathroom moment 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.”

The second Newsweek article came two days after the original 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.

“It has been extensive for years,” an official told the magazine.

“There is a small community of ex-CIA, FBI and military people who have worked this account who are absolutely cheering on [Newsweek’s original] 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.”

The official was responding to vigorous denials by Israeli officials, including one who said that some of the reported was “tainted by a whiff of anti-Semitism.”

Intelligence officials quoted in Thursday’s article said that the “Israel lobby” was ready to pounce on any suggestion of misconduct on Israel’s part.

In addition, they said, Israel goes after “senior US 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.”

One former American official said Israel regularly tries to pump US scientists and defense industry officials for information at conferences and trade shows.

“I remember speaking to one US scientist who was at a conference and being worked by a group from [Israel]. And this scientist, who was savvy enough to recognize what she saw, said it was really unbelievable how the elicitation techniques were being used – the invitations to come over – basically getting the data dump from a fellow scientist. And the naïveté on the part of the American scientists was really striking. We saw this all the time.”

Israel’s commercial attache in Washington, DC, invited him to come to Israel on a free tour after he gave a lecture at a security industry trade show, he claimed.

“Their goal,”  the official said, “is to get contacts to come out of the US 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 US government officials. The drugs, women coming to your hotel room – they throw everything at you. No matter how high the official.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday morning shot down Newsweek’s claims that Israel was spying on the United States.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)

“First of all, these are malicious accusations,” he said in an interview with Israel Radio, adding that there was “no basis” to the report and that Israel was not doing anything even similar to spying on the US.

“I would not agree to any spying on the United States, neither directly nor indirectly,” he said.

But Liberman insisted that while he was on a diplomatic trip in the US last month, none of the congressmen he spoke with in formal meetings or behind closed doors had any “complaints” about spying, adding that he believes the accusations are a plot by entities in the US who seek to sabotage relations between the US and Israel.

The foreign minister downplayed concerns that the report would affect the two countries’ relationship.

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.

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