Israeli espionage operations in the United States have "gone too far," senior U.S. intelligence officials have told Congress in recent weeks, Newsweek reported on Tuesday.
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The intelligence assessments were given in confidential briefings to a number of congressional committees dealing with proposed legislation that would lower visa restrictions on Israeli citizens wishing to enter the U.S., according to the report.
Israel spies on the U.S. under the cover of trade missions or as part of joint defense technology agreements between the two countries, the intelligence officials reportedly told Congress. "Israel has crossed red lines," Newsweek reported the officials as saying.
American counter-intelligence officials told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees at the end of January that Israel's espionage activities in America are "unrivaled and unseemly," going far beyond the activities of other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan.
"Their briefing was “very alarming, even terrifying,” a congressional staffer familiar with the details of the issue told Newsweek.
According to the report, Israel's espionage activities in the U.S. focus on America’s industrial and technical secrets. The intelligence agencies did not go into specifics in their briefings to Congress, though they cited Israelis visiting the U.S. as representatives of private Israeli companies working with American companies or intelligence operatives run directly by the government.
It was the second time in the past few weeks that the American media had published an article dealing with the U.S. intelligence community's opposition to the granting of visa exemptions to Israeli citizens, out of concern that it would make it easier for Israeli intelligence to spy on the U.S. The publications could reflect the fact that certain elements in the American government are attempting to scuttle ongoing contacts between the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the U.S. State Department and Homeland Security Department on the visa issue.
The Newsweek article included very strong statements against Israel, verging on anti-Semitism. The writer, Jeff Stein, stated that "since Israel is as likely to stop spying here as it is to give up matzo for Passover, the visa barriers are likely to stay up."
Stein quoted Paul Pillar, a senior former CIA officer, as saying that the "Zionists were dispatching spies to America before there even was an Israel, to gather money and materials for the cause and later the fledgling state."
Stein stated in the article that the U.S. also spies on Israel, but quoted a former top CIA operative as saying that Israel "was the last place you wanted to go on vacation,” because of heavy-handed Israeli surveillance.
Former congressional aides quoted in the article said that "there are no other countries taking advantage of our security relationship the way the Israelis are for espionage purposes, 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.”
Another former aide told Stein that "the Israelis 'thought they could just snap their fingers' and get friends in Congress to legislate visa changes, without going through the required procedures of the Department of Home Security.
The Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Department of Home Security recently established a joint team to deal with the visa waiver issue. Nevertheless, a former congressional aide quoted by Newsweek said that “the Israelis haven’t done s**t to get themselves into the visa waiver program.”
He added that "they think that their friends in Congress can get them in, and that’s not the case. Congress can lower one or two of the barriers, but they can’t just legislate the Israelis in.”