Did an Israeli Spy Hide in Al Gore's Bathroom?

Former intel officials deny Newsweek claims operatives would entice U.S. officials with women and drugs to find their weak spots.

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Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks during an interview at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin Texas, U.S., on Saturday, March 9, 2013.
Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore speaks during an interview at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW) in Austin Texas, U.S., on Saturday, March 9, 2013. Credit: Bloomberg

Just days after Newsweek quoted senior U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Israeli espionage operations in the United States have "gone too far," the online magazine revealed more details of such "aggressive operations" and how they were "hushed up."

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An article by Jeff Stein that was published on Thursday describes a scene that could have easily belonged in a spy movie (or, for that matter, a spy movie spoof): An Israeli spy hiding in the air duct in Al Gore's bathroom in 1998.

According to a former U.S. intelligence operative quoted in the article, a Secret Service agent who was using the then-vice president's restroom heard a metallic sound coming from the vent above him. "And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room,” the official says, adding that after the agent coughed, the guy went back into the vents.”

Such incidents, claims the new report, were hushed up for one reason: The transgressor was Israel.

Newsweek's report last Tuesday on Israeli espionage operations crossing "red lines" caused anger in Jerusalem, and the Israeli embassy in Washington was instructed to protest the allegations to the U.S. government. The spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington Aharon Sagi said the report was false, and condemned it, while Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected it as a "malicious" and false accusation.

But citing these denials, Newsweek on Thursday quoted more officials who alleged "extensive" Israeli espionage "for years." Regarding one anonymous official's remarks that Newsweek's report "had the whiff of anti-Semitism in it,” a former U.S. intelligence operative was quoted as saying that "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.”

'You can't embarrass an Israeli'

The report claims that Israelis were told dozens of times to "cut the shit," in the words of one former FBI official. But "you can't embarrass an Israeli,” another official was quoted as saying. “It’s just impossible to embarrass them. You catch them red-handed, and they shrug and say, 'Okay now, anything else?'”

One of Newsweek's sources also described the "brazen" way in which Israeli operatives would approach prominent Americans in the hope of luring them to visit Israel, where the operatives could "assess them and evaluate their weaknesses." According to the source, the Israelis had no qualms about showing their targets a good time in order to get them to drop their guard.

"We had government officials going over there who were offered drugs, like, ‘Hey, do you want to go get some pot?’," the source to Newsweek. "These are U.S. government officials. The drugs, women coming to your hotel room – they throw everything at you. No matter how high the official.”

In Tuesday's article, Newsweek reported that 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.

Israel's former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin confronted the allegations of "aggressive" espionage on the U.S., calling them "absolutely baseless" and "strange."

"Let me be clear," said Yadlin in a Saturday interview on Channel 2, "Israel is unequivocally not spying in the U.S."

Newsweek's claims have been publically dismissed by a number of Israeli intelligence officials, including former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon who also said Saturday in an interview to Channel 10 that the idea was "utterly improbable."

While "Israel has made many mistakes in its relationship with the United States," he said, "I'm sure the lessons from the Pollard affair have been well learned."

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