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Best of friends? CIA considers Israel one of its biggest spy threats

Published time: July 28, 2012 18:34
Edited time: July 28, 2012 22:34
"Trust me." US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

"Trust me." US President Barack Obama shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP Photo/Saul Loeb)

While US politicians boast strong ties with Israel, CIA officials suggest Israel is one of its biggest counter-intelligence threats. With spyware that rivals that of American agencies, it is extremely difficult to detect the extent of its spying.

In a CIA ranking of the world’s intelligence agencies and their willingness to help the US fight the War on Terror, Israel fell below Libya.

Speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, current and former US intelligence officials blame Israel for incidents that indicate attempts to acquire secret information.

One CIA station chief noticed that the communication equipment that he used to contact CIA headquarters from Israel had been tampered with, even though it was in a locked box. Another CIA officer based in Israel had his home broken into. While nothing was stolen, the officer noticed his food had been rearranged.

In addition to home intrusions and equipment tampering, CIA officials also suspect that a leak by Israel led to the capture and presumed death of an important US agent inside Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The US suspects that Israel’s foreign intelligence service, Mossad, and its FBI equivalent, the Shin Bet, have been trying to steal American counter-intelligence secrets. In the CIA’s Near East Division, which oversees spying across the Middle East, Israel is considered the main counter-intelligence threat. This suggests that counter-intelligence secrets are thus safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

However, the distrust has been ongoing for decades. Several years ago, two female CIA officers were fired for having unreported contact with Israelis. One of the women admitted to a relationship with a member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, who introduced her to a person that worked for Shin Bet.

In 1987, Jonathan Pollard, a US Navy civilian intelligence analyst, was convicted of spying for Israel and sentenced to life in prison.

In 2006, a former Defense Department analyst received 12 years in prison for sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat and two pro-Israel lobbyists.

Moreover, Israel’s high-tech spyware and services rival American agencies, making it more difficult to detect the extent of any spying. With advanced equipment and full access to the highest levels of the US government in military and intelligence services, Israel has a large capacity to monitor its ally.

This sometimes poses problems for US foreign affairs. Even though the US and Israel have a tight friendship, the two countries have sometimes conflicting interests abroad, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Furthermore, America’s relationship with Israel can also affect the way Muslim countries perceive the US.

“It’s a complicated relationship,” said Joseph Wippl, head of the CIA’s office of congressional affairs. “They have their interests. We have our interests. For the US, it’s a balancing act.”

But while the two countries are strong allies, Washington continues to distrust Israel with sensitive national security information. Its most trusted allies are Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Together, the “Five Eyes” agree not to spy on one another, while sharing sensitive information.

The relationship between the US and Israel is known as “Friends on Friends,” which comes from the phrase, “Friends don’t spy on friends.” But that pact has repeatedly been broken, and CIA officials continue to distrust Israel with each additional case of spying.

But as intrusions into the homes of US agents in Israel continue and instances of spying increase the distrust, the US continues to give vast amounts of money to Israel, while the president trumpets an “unshakeable commitment to Israel.” On Friday, President Obama promised Israel an additional $70 million in military aid to help Israel produce a short-range rocket defense system.

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