LA Times: Israel has long spied on U.S., officials say
Contradicting Israel's contention that it does not spy on America, U.S. government officials say Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
The officials said Israel has long attempted to recruit U.S. officials as spies and to procure classified documents, according to the Times.
The issue burst to the surface last weekend, when American media first reported that the FBI suspects Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin of funneling classified documents to Israel through the Jewish lobby AIPAC.
Israel says it set a policy of not spying on the United States after Jonathan Pollard's arrest in November 1985 and the damage it did to bilateral relations in general and to intelligence and security ties in particular. For 20 years, Israel says, that policy has translated into clear and unequivocal directives from the political leadership to the intelligence and defense communities: They are not allowed to locate candidates for recruiting as agents, cannot recruit and operate agents, nor pay for information.
"I can tell you here, very authoritatively, very categorically, Israel does not spy on the United States," Israeli ambassador to Israel Danny Ayalon told CNN this week. "We do not gather information on our best friend and ally."
But a former intelligence official who is familiar with the Franklin probe and recently left the government told the Times that Israel aggressively targets U.S. intelligence.
"There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States," the former official said. "Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States."
"The denials are laughable," the former official said.
Current and former officials involved with Israel at the White House, CIA, State Department and Congress had similar appraisals, the paper said, although not all made equally harsh assessments.
A Bush administration official confirmed that Israel ran intelligence operations against the United States, but said that was not unusual. "I don't know of any foreign government that doesn't do collection in Washington," he told the paper. Another U.S. official said Israeli espionage efforts were relatively subtle and typically involved intermediaries.
But a former senior intelligence official who focused on Middle East issues told the paper that Israel tried to recruit him as a spy in 1991.
"I had an Israeli intelligence officer pitch me in Washington at the time of the first Gulf War," he said. "I said, 'No, go away,' and reported it to counterintelligence."
The U.S. officials all insisted on anonymity because classified material was involved and because of the political sensitivity of Israeli relations with Washington.
U.S. diplomats, military officers and other officials are routinely warned before going to Israel that local agents are known to slip into homes and hotel rooms of visiting delegations to go through briefcases and to download computers, the Times said.
At the same time, FBI and other counterespionage agents have covertly followed, bugged and videotaped Israeli diplomats, intelligence officers and others in Washington, New York and elsewhere, officials told the paper. The FBI routinely watches many diplomats assigned to America.