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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Does the US spy on Israel too?

Shavua tov - a good week to everyone. For those who are wondering how an Orthodox Jew can be on the computer on what is the eighth night of Pesach (Passover) in much of the world, please go here.

Does the US spy on Israel too? And why does it seem that instances of people spying on behalf of the Jewish state are a much bigger deal in America than spying on behalf of Russia or China, for example? Two Jerusalem Post columnists devoted their weekend columns to this issue in the context of Ben Ami Kadish's arrest this past week. Both Herb Keinon and Caroline Glick take it for granted that the United States spies on Israel. But the Israeli reaction to the spying is very different from the American one. For the record, both Keinon and Glick were - like me - born in the United States. Here's Keinon:
The surprise arrest in the US this week of 84-year-old Ben-Ami Kadish for allegedly spying for Israel a generation ago highlights a fascinating little point: One never hears about the US spying on Israel.

Why not? Is Washington not interested in inside info on what Israel is up to?

Is the CIA, with agents spanning the globe, not keen on securing pre-knowledge of Israel's technological advances in defense and security fields?


Rather, the more probable reason is because when US spies are uncovered here, as they surely have been over the years, it never hits the news.

Yossi Alpher, a former senior Mossad officer, cited former US officials as saying that the CIA spies on Israel, just as it spies everywhere else. "But when someone is caught here, he receives a wrap on the knuckles, and is declared persona non grata," Alpher said. "The fact that you never hear that someone was tried and put in jail for spying for the US reflects a different approach on Israel's part. It is not that we are not worried about sensitive information falling into other hands, it's just that when those hands happen to be friendly ones, we deal with it differently - unlike the US Justice Department."
And Glick:
As for espionage, as the late Yitzhak Rabin once noted, every few years Israel discovers another US agent committing espionage against the state. Rather than make a big deal about it, and in spite of the fact that some of the information being stolen is deeply damaging to Israel's national security, out of a sense of comity with Washington, Israel keeps the scandals quiet and generally deports the spies.
So why does it create such headlines in the US when someone is arrested for spying for Israel? Does the US target Israeli spies? Both Keinon and Glick argue that it does, although Keinon places the blame with the Justice Department and Glick places it mostly with the State Department and US intelligence agencies. Here's Keinon again:
Alpher, who now co-edits the Israeli-Palestinian on-line dialogue magazine bitterlemons.org - and is most definitely not a conspiracy theorist seeing an anti-Semite lurking under every US government desk [That's an understatement. I have a subscription to Bitterlemons.org. It's a newsletter that presents two Israeli views and two 'Palestinian' views on each issue. Most of the Israelis lean left. CiJ] - said he can't escape the conclusion that the US Justice Department is looking for Israel.

"When you take this case, together with the refusal to release [Jonathan] Pollard, even when spies working for the Soviet Union and China who caused death to other agents have been released, when you take into account the AIPAC case [the 2005 arrest of two senior AIPAC staffers on espionage charges], and attempts to recruit Israelis [to spy here for the US], it seems the Justice Department is targeting Israel. I don't know why, but we are being treated pretty roughly."

Alpher said it is not unheard of in the annals of espionage, both here and abroad, that when someone old and frail is caught having spied may years ago, the charges are just dropped.

But not this time.

"The Justice Department is targeting Israel," he said. "They have been looking for additional Americans spying for Israel for a long, long time."

Indeed, one senior government official said Kadish's arrest may finally shed some light on why the US has been so adamant for so long in holding Pollard, even though other spies who have spied for hostile countries - not friendly ones - have been treated more leniently.
I doubt that we're going to learn why Pollard is being held. Many years ago, I had a meeting with someone who was in the intelligence unit in the IDF that was 'handling' Pollard. He claimed that the issue with Pollard is not what he did but what he knows. He claimed that the Americans will never let Pollard go free because what he knows remains explosive to this day. Obviously, he couldn't tell me anything about what Pollard knows.

Glick places some of the blame at the Justice Department's doorstep too, but she places most of it with the Intelligence agencies and at the State Department:
Tuesday was a banner day, a proud day for Jewish conspiracy theorists in America. People like Joseph E. diGenova smiled with glee as they watched 84-year-old Ben Kadish carted into the Manhattan Federal District courthouse on charges of transferring classified information to Israel 25 years ago.

He's just like Jonathan Pollard, they whooped. Another Pollard! At last, we have proof that Israel operates spy rings and SLEEPER CELLS in America! They bragged and bragged and smiled and smiled as their terrorist metaphors got wilder and wilder.

Sleeper cells? You mean agents sent to a country to lay in wait for the command to attack? Well, not exactly.

DiGenova made his name as the federal prosecutor who railroaded Pollard into a life sentence for crimes that generally should have netted him no more than a few years in the slammer. Obviously he has a way with words. And when he told The New York Times "sleeper cells," apparently he was referring to the FBI agents who went to sleep for 23 years and then suddenly woke up and decided to cart an old man out of his nursing home and charge him with capital crimes.


Most Israeli commentators and unnamed government officials angrily allege that the timing of Kadish's arrest was chosen to damage Israel's relations with the US at a key moment. In two weeks President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Israel to participate in its 60th Independence Day celebrations. It has been widely presumed that during his visit, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government will seek to secure Bush's agreement to commute Pollard's sentence and release him from prison before Bush leaves office. Kadish, it is alleged, was arrested to block any possibility that Pollard will be released.

Given the vindictiveness that has marked the US intelligence community's attitude toward Pollard since his arrest, it is possible that fear of a presidential pardon did inform the decision to arrest Kadish now. And yet, it is far from clear that an agreement on Pollard's release was ever in the cards. Bush has expressed no willingness to consider Israeli appeals for his release and neither the Sharon government nor the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has made any real efforts to secure Pollard's freedom. Indeed, in a sign of their contempt for Pollard, the Olmert-Livni-Barak government has Pollard's former handler, Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan, sitting in the security cabinet.


Kadish was arraigned the same day that the Los Angeles Times broke the story that CIA Director Michael Hayden would be briefing Congress on Thursday about Israel's September 6 air strike in Syria. For the past six months, the administration did everything it could to prevent any information on the Israeli air strike from getting out. In the end, Hayden was compelled to inform Congress about the details of the raid after the legislature conditioned its approval of the intelligence budget on receiving a full briefing on the air strike.

According to the Los Angeles Times report and subsequent stories, Hayden's testimony would acknowledge that US intelligence agencies failed to recognize the dangers of the North Korean-built plutonium reactor that Syria had constructed not far from its border with Turkey. It was Israeli, rather than American intelligence agencies that penetrated the facility, brought back video and physical evidence of its character, and then effectively destroyed it in a complicated air strike and commando raid.

So according to US media reports, Hayden's testimony would demonstrate two basic truths that the Jewish conspiracy theorists in the US intelligence community and the State Department are uninterested in having the public or Congress notice: Israeli intelligence is superior to US intelligence; and the US alliance with Israel is vital to US national security.

Since Israel's independence 60 years ago and especially since US-Israel strategic ties blossomed after the Six Day War, Washington has been of two minds about the Jewish state. The first, public mind is that Israel is the US's strongest and most reliable ally in the Middle East, and that the US-Israel alliance is strong because it is based on shared values as well as shared interests.

The second view is that Israel is a burden. As purveyors of this view see things, Israel is the national "Fagin." It is underhanded, pushy and untrustworthy. Indeed, as far as the anti-Semites in Washington are concerned, Israel is the source of all the US's difficulties in the Arab world and even in Europe.

For years, the purveyors of the second view have carried out an independent foreign policy regarding Israel that is completely at odds with the official US policy of embracing Israel as an ally. Indeed, the State Department has undermined every presidential attempt to treat Israel well since 1948.
As I argued last week, both Keinon and Glick see a connection between Kadish's arrest and President Bush's impending visit to Israel for the 60th Independence Day celebration. Here's Keinon again:
However, the proximity of the arrest to US President George W. Bush's visit to celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary next month does have some Israeli officials wondering whether the two events might not, indeed, be connected.

"They could have waited and done this after the Bush visit," the official posited. He speculated - and at this point it is all speculation - that there were some in the US intelligence community who wanted to keep Bush from coming here, and either announcing the release of Pollard, something that has been whispered about for the last few months, or giving Israel too many birthday presents before he leaves office, something that had been discussed more seriously.

The official pointed out that it was the same intelligence community that last year produced the National Intelligence Estimate that said Iran had ditched its nuclear weapons program in 2003 - conclusions which Jerusalem largely viewed as politically motivated to keep Bush from taking military action against Iran.

Among the "gifts" reportedly on the table and being discussed as Bush's parting gift to Israel are linking Israel to the American worldwide radar system that provides early warnings of any ballistic missile fired anywhere in the world; advanced models of the Joint Direct Attack Munition smart bombs, or JDAMs; the possibility of selling Israel the F-22 Raptor, a stealth fighter; integrating Israeli defense industries into the production of the Joint Strike Fighter; and the possibility of upgrading the US-Israel strategic alliance to include some kind of defense pact.

As a result of the Kadish case, there will now be those who will ask whether these types of "goodies" should be given to a country that spies on the US.
Glick argues that Israel needs to be a lot more aggressive in its relations with the US, and notes with bitter irony that Nada Prouty, who penetrated both the FBI and the CIA on Hezbullah's behalf, is likely to get off with a six-month sentence.
By arresting an 84-year-old World War II veteran in an effort to place Israel under a cloud of suspicion as its military triumph in Syria is exposed to the American people, the US is sadly showing Israel once again that nice guys finish last. If Israel wants to be treated with respect by the US, the lesson of the Kadish affair, of the Syrian raid and of the Pollard affair is that Israel had better start pushing back.

The first thing it should do is arrest officials suspected of transferring classified materials to the US without authorization. It should then publish the names and details of US spies whom Israel previously caught and treated with kid gloves. Then it should publicly demand that Bush release Pollard from the prison where he rots, while the likes of Hizbullah agent Nada Prouty - who penetrated both the FBI and the CIA - is expected to receive a six-month prison sentence for her crimes.

When Bush arrives to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday, Israel's leaders would do well to show him that at 60, Israel is a grownup country. And as such, it demands to be treated with the respect due to the US's most reliable ally in the Middle East.
I agree with Keinon and Glick. There is no doubt that Israeli spies are treated differently by the US - and with disproportionate harshness - as compared with spies for anyone else. As Glick points out, the ridiculous arrest of two AIPAC lobbyists - which has been hanging over our heads for four years now has been used by the US to avoid Israeli demands that it do anything concrete to stop Iran. I know that some Americans are going to react with hostility to this post - I have seen enough of that on LGF this week. I'm not advocating that Israel spy on the US. I'm advocating a uniform standard of justice for those caught spying for Israel as compared with those caught spying for other countries and entities. It's clear to me that standard does not exist.

Read the whole thing.


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