rabinovich - Alon Ron - November 29 2010
Former ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich. Photo by Alon Ron
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The United States broke an Israeli code and tapped the secure phone line in the Israeli Embassy in Washington without Jerusalem's knowledge.

That revelation about Israeli-American relations did not come from WikiLeaks, but rather from former ambassador to Washington Itamar Rabinovich, in a radio interview yesterday.

Rabinovich did not say exactly when the code was broken and when Israel found out about it, but it was understood from his remarks that the tap started after his 1993-1996 tenure in the U.S. capital and was discovered only years later.

The former envoy said that every staffer at the Israeli Embassy in Washington is warned about possible leaks of conversations held in the building and on ordinary phone lines, but also on the secure phone line.

After the Americans broke the code, Israel's deepest policy secrets were apparently exposed.

"Every 'juicy' telegram was in danger of being leaked," Rabinovich told Army Radio's Razi Barkai. "We sent very few of them. Sometimes I came to Israel to deliver reports orally. The Americans were certainly tapping the regular phone lines, and it became clear that in later years they were also listening to the secure line."

Wiretapping, code-breaking and intercepting of messages is the province of the National Security Agency. It is no secret that despite intelligence cooperation and an understanding between the two countries that they will not spy on each other, both Israel and the United States have been involved in such actions.

For example, Israel has had involvements with agents like Jonathan Pollard, and stolen sensitive information and technological secrets for its security industries.

No spies caught

As far as is known, American spies have not been caught by Israel's intelligence services, although there have been instances when U.S. intelligence operatives contacted Israeli citizens and explored the possibility of recruiting them.

The Americans have also used their military attaches to gather information.

Israel believes that over the years, U.S. intelligence services have been listening - or at least attempting to listen - to conversations between key people in Israel and staff at its missions around the world.

For that reason, diplomats going abroad are instructed by the Shin Bet security service to treat every conversation as if it is being tapped and to make sure not to reveal secret information.

However, the assumption was still that the secure phone line could not being tapped.