Jeff Stein has followed up on his Newsweek report from Tuesday on how Israel spies on the U.S. more than any other ally. Today he writes the reason this is not more widely known is because it is hushed up:
Beginning in the mid-1990s, well after Israel promised to stop spying in the U.S. in the wake of the Pollard affair, the FBI regularly felt compelled to summon Israeli diplomats in D.C. for a scolding, two former top counterintelligence officials told Newsweek. During the decade following 9/11, one said, the Israelis were summoned “dozens” of times and told to “cut the shit,” as one, a former top FBI official, put it. But as an “ally,” the Israelis almost always got off with only a warning.
But no matter how stern the FBI’s lecture – usually delivered personally to the embassy’s senior intelligence representative – the Israelis were unmoved, another former top intelligence official said. “You can’t embarrass an Israeli,” he said. “It’s just impossible to embarrass them. You catch them red-handed, and they shrug and say, ‘Okay now, anything else?’”
Always lurking, former intelligence officials say, was the powerful “Israeli lobby,” the network of Israel’s friends in Congress, industry and successive administrations, Republican and Democratic, ready to protest any perceived slight on the part of U.S. security officials. A former counterintelligence specialist told Newsweek he risked Israel’s wrath merely by providing routine security briefings to American officials, businessmen and scientists heading to Israel for meetings and conferences.
“We had to be very careful how we warned American officials,” he said. “We regularly got calls from members of Congress outraged by security warnings about going to Israel. And they had our budget. When … the director of the CIA gets a call from an outraged congressman–’What are these security briefings you’re giving? What are these high-level threat warnings about travel to Tel Aviv you’re giving? This is outrageous’ – he has to pay close attention. There was always this political delicacy that you had to be aware of.”
Stein’s earlier report received much attention from Israel’s supporters in the U.S. and the Israeli government itself. Avigdor Liberman called Stein’s reporting “malicious,” and another anonymous Israeli official was quoted as saying Tuesday’s piece “had the whiff of anti-Semitism in it.” Jeffrey Goldberg wouldn’t go quite that far but said it was “filled with dog-whistles,” meaning it used provocatively coded language aimed at Jews. Today’s article should be read, in part, as a response to those criticisms:
former U.S. intelligence operative intimately familiar with Israeli espionage rejected the anti-Semitism charge. “There is a small community of ex-CIA, FBI and military people who have worked this account who are absolutely cheering on [the Newsweek] story,” he said. “Not one of them is anti-Semitic. In fact, 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.”
Stein also includes this zinger: “Such blanket accusations infuriate defenders of Israel, who detect that ‘whiff of anti-Semitism’ in them. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials who opposed Pollard’s early release were also accused of anti-Semitism.”
Similar to Tuesday’s piece, today’s includes some juicy nuggets revealing Israeli statecraft:
In the States, Israeli officials and businessmen are forever trying to lure attractive American targets to visit Israel. Representatives of Maf’at, an administrative body that yokes the Israel Defense Ministry to its military industries, give U.S. counterintelligence agencies great concern, one of the former U.S. intelligence officials said. “They were the ones that really caused us a lot of concern. Because they had a plausible reason to attend all these conferences and defense contracting facilities and whatnot. It was a great cover vehicle for industrial espionage,” he said. . . .
“Their goal,” he continued, “is to get contacts to come out of the U.S. and over there and then wine them, dine them, assess them, see what their weaknesses are. I mean, we had government officials going over there who were offered drugs, like, ‘Hey, do you want to go get some pot?’ What? 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.”
“No matter how high the official” – get it?!
More seriously, the piece ends by bringing it back to the visa waiver issue that prompted Stein’s earlier article. The Israeli request to join the U.S. visa waiver program has been held up in part by Israeli spying. Stein ends with this anecdote:
“I was in this briefing — there were several” on Israeli espionage by U.S. security officials in 2013, a former congressional aide told Newsweek. “The one I was in had senior staffers from foreign affairs, the full committee, the subcommittee … from judiciary, Republicans and Democrats, senior leadership staff. I don’t think there was anyone in there who didn’t work for a member that wasn’t ardently and publicly pro-Israel,” he said.
“And afterwards, we were saying, ‘No way. You’ve got to be fucking kidding.’” The evidence of Israeli spying was overwhelming, he said. Visa waivers was off the table.