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Reports that the FBI suspects a mid-level Pentagon employee specializing in Iranian affairs of conveying classified documents to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, and further that two of the lobby's employees may have passed those documents to Israel, have led to a predictable storm of press coverage, much of it overheated. CBS, for example, led its Nightly News on Friday with its "scoop," and ABC's Nightline replaced its scheduled program with coverage of the spy story. For some unexplained reason the Nightline program included a segment on the USS Liberty incident and an interview with discredited Israel-basher and conspiracy theorist James Bamford.
Israeli officials and AIPAC have strongly denied any involvement in spying on America, and it is far too early to say whether anyone will be arrested or convicted of anything in this case, or whether any sensitive information was compromised. But there is no doubt that in its coverage of the affair the media has forgotten two fundamental facts:
• There have been entirely similar charges in the past of alleged spying for Israel which ended up being dropped for lack of evidence or merit.
• Countries don't just spy on their enemies, they also spy on their friends. It is well known, for example, that Israel has spied on America at least once in the past, in the Jonathan Pollard affair, which Israel apologized for. Less well known, however, is the fact that the United States has also spied on Israel, even recruiting Israeli military officers and politicians.
Israel's Alleged Spies
Supposed spies for Israel have included David Tenenbaum, an Orthodox Jew and engineer who worked at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command in Warren Michigan. Tenenbaum was charged with passing sensitive information on the Patriot missile and advanced armor to Israel. (Detroit Free Press, Feb. 20, 1997) More than a year later the case was quietly dropped, with the FBI stating only that "The case is closed. No criminal charges have been filed."
After the case was dropped Tenenbaum got his job back, but he has filed a lawsuit against the government claiming that he was singled out for scrutiny and prosecution solely for his religious beliefs. (Detroit Free Press, Oct. 13, 2000)
Also suspected of spying for Israel was CIA employee Adam Ciralsky. According to an internal CIA memo Ciralsky was guilty of "deliberately compromising U.S. government classified information to an Israeli national, accepting compensation from an Israeli national in exchange for U.S. government classified information, and deliberately concealing from the U.S. government a relationship with an Israeli national." (Associated Press, Feb. 7, 2000)
Despite the seemingly serious charges against Ciralsky, he has to this date not been charged with any wrongdoing, and he has filed his own lawsuit against the U.S. government, charging that he was:
unjustly singled out for investigation and subsequently interrogated, harassed, surveilled and terminated from employment with the CIA solely because he is a Jew and he practices the Jewish religion. Moreover, this ultra vires and constitutionally repugnant conduct was knowingly undertaken by defendants in conformance with a custom, policy and practice of both the CIA and FBI. Here, Mr. Ciralsky seeks damages to compensate for him for his injuries, and injunctive relief to prevent further harm to himself and other Jewish-Americans who work or seek to work in the federal government in so-called intelligence agencies. Indeed, damages and injunctive and other equitable relief are being sought pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ...
In addition, because of the anti-Semitic language used in many of the CIA's memos on Ciralsky (references to his "rich Jewish friends" and "wealthy daddy") , the agency arranged to have the ADL provide sensitivity training to its internal investigators. (U.S. Newswire, Apr. 14, 1999, letter from CIA Director George Tenet to the ADL)
Even the 9/11 terror attacks spurred bizarre stories claiming that Israel somehow had prior knowledge of the attacks, either because its intelligence is supposedly so good that it knows everything, or because Israeli spies in the United States had allegedly been monitoring the Arab hijackers for months. Carl Cameron of Fox News, for example, offering not a shred of evidence, claimed that investigators believed that Israeli agents "must have known" about the 9/11 plot, and obviously failed to warn the U.S. In the same series of reports Cameron also claimed that an Israeli-based high-tech company named Amdocs may have compromised both the 9/11 investigation and the security of White House telephone communications.
According to Cameron's report Amdocs handles "most directory assistance calls and virtually all call records and billing in the United States," and the supposed fear of once more unnamed "investigators" was that "certain suspects in the September 11th attacks may have managed to stay ahead of them by knowing who and when investigators are calling on the telephone."
The Amdocs story was and is ridiculous, and has been repeatedly knocked down, only to reappear later. For example, more than six months before the Fox story aired, a New York Times report on almost identical allegations against Amdocs was headlined "Israeli Spy Inquiry Finds Nothing, Officials Say."
It seems that since Amdocs was founded in Israel, no charge against the company is too outlandish to be believed or rehashed by at least some reporters and investigators.
Perhaps the most serious instance of supposed spying by Israel against the United States involved a person code-named "Mega," who may well not have existed. As reported by the Washington Post on May 7, 1997:
The FBI has opened an investigation to determine whether a senior U.S. government official has been passing highly sensitive information to the Israeli government, according to sources with direct knowledge of the inquiry.
The investigation was launched in January after the National Security Agency intercepted a secure communication between a senior Israeli intelligence officer in Washington and a superior in Tel Aviv that referred to someone code-named "Mega," and an attempt to obtain a sensitive American document, U.S. government officials said.
Israeli officials strongly denied that they were spying against the United States, and also denied that they were familiar with anyone code-named "Mega." As the officials explained, however, the Hebrew term for the CIA sounded something like "Mega," perhaps explaining the confusion. In any event, no one was ever charged with being "Mega," and it seems the investigation was, again, quietly dropped. Though, of course, not before Israel's reputation was again dragged through the mud.
Despite the nonexistence of "Mega," the Post story certainly did reveal spying – on Israel by the United States. For as the report indicated, the NSA monitored a secure communication between Israeli intelligence officials. Just monitoring the conversation, whether it was secure or not, is spying. But a secure communication would be encrypted, and because Israel is one of the world's leaders in the science of cryptography, there is no chance that even the NSA's supercomputers could have cracked the Israeli code. The only other possibility is a U.S. mole within Israeli intelligence who passed on to the U.S. the key to the Israeli code.
In other words, the "Mega" case proved beyond any doubt that the United States was spying on Israel. Nor was it an isolated incident – there have been previous cases of such spying by the U.S.
America's Spies in Israel
Yosef Amit was an intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Forces, responsible for running agents in Arab countries, who eventually rose to command an intelligence base on the border with Lebanon. While there Major Amit ran into difficulties with the law in 1978, and was discharged from the IDF. Eventually going to work as a private investigator, he was recruited into the CIA by Tom Waltz, a Jewish CIA officer based at the American embassy in Tel-Aviv.
The Americans were supposedly especially interested in information on Israeli troop movements and plans in Lebanon and the territories, which Amit provided. He also apparently passed to the Americans secret documents from Israel's internal security service, the Shin Bet, which he got from a friend who worked there.
The Shin Bet eventually caught up with Amit in 1986, when he was secretly arrested for espionage. The trial was also secret, though it is known that Amit received a long prison sentence. (Ha'aretz, Dec. 12, 1997)
Another U.S. spy was the Israeli politician Andrzej Kielczynski, a friend of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and also a member of the Likud Central Committee. Kielczynski was recruited into the CIA in 1985 by the same Mr. Waltz who recruited Yosef Amit, and he allegedly turned over to the Americans information on where Israel based nuclear weapons, and also helped to uncover Jonathan Pollard's spying against America. (Haaretz, May 18, 2001)
Kielczynski later sued the CIA, claiming breach of contract – supposed promises of money and American citizenship having not been forthcoming. In contesting the suit, the CIA did not deny that Kielczynski was a CIA asset. Instead, it won the case by citing a 125 year-old precedent (Totten v. United States, 92 U.S. 105 ) to the effect that "secret information agreements to which a United States government agency is a party cannot be enforced in the courts ... because its litigation could jeopardize confidential information." ( New York Law Journal, Feb. 27, 2001)
In other words, the CIA's own legal defense confirmed that it had recruited Kielczynski as a spy against Israel.
Spy stories and allegations always garner banner headlines and television "exclusives" if Israel is involved, but the reality is that most such cases fade away for lack of any credible evidence. Many seem to be the result of overzealous investigators, some of whom may harbor unfriendly attitudes towards Jews or Israel (witness, for example, the anti-Semitic language in the Ciralsky memos).
The media, and the public, should remember this when new spy allegations crop up. The media should also remember that spying is a two way street – and while Israel has spied on America in the past, so has America spied on Israel. Mentioning this fact in the periodic stories that allege Israeli spying would provide much needed context.