Lieberman: It's 'Malicious' to Claim Israel Spies on U.S.

Foreign minister says two countries making progress on Israel's inclusion in the U.S. visa waiver program.

Lieberman and Kerry in Washington - AFP
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (L) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speak to the media before meeting privately at the U.S. State Department, April 9, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday morning rejected a Newsweek report that Israel "crossed red lines" in spying on the United States, and called it a "malicious" and false accusation.

The report is "made up," Lieberman told Army Radio. "We categorically reject such an accusation." The foreign minister ruled out the possibility that Israel is involved, either directly or indirectly, in espionage against the United States.

Lieberman said he could not speculate as to who is behind the claims. He said that Israel and the United States have been discussing Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver program in the past year and noted that the discussions were "good and constructive."

The article quoted confidential briefings by American intelligence officials to Congress, in which they said that Israeli espionage operations in the U.S. have "gone too far." 

The article caused anger in Jerusalem and the Israeli embassy in Washington was instructed to protest the allegations to the U.S. government. On Tuesday, the spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington Aharon Sagi said the report was false, and condemned it.

"Israel doesn't conduct espionage operations in the United States, period," he said. "We condemn the fact that such outrageous false allegations are being directed against Israel." 

The Newsweek article explained that intelligence officials cite Israel's massive spying as the reason for the failure to provide visa waivers to Israelis entering the United States.

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.