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Allies and Espionage

Jane’s Intelligence Digest, 3/15/2002

It is rather strange that the US media, with one notable exception, seems to be ignoring what may well prove to be the most explosive story since the 11 September attacks - the alleged break-up of a major Israeli espionage operation in the United States which aimed to infiltrate both the justice and defence departments and which may also have been tracking Al-Qaeda terrorists before the aircraft hijackings took place.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been quick to dismiss a 4 March report by Intelligence Online, a French web site that specialises in security matters (and expanded on by French daily Le Monde the following day) that US authorities had arrested or deported some 120 Israelis since February 2001 and that the investigation was still continuing. The FBI insists that no Israeli has been charged with espionage, but has agreed that an undisclosed number of Israeli students have been expelled for "immigration violations". Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden dismissed the espionage allegations as "an urban myth that’s been circulating for months..."

If the reports from Paris are correct, it would be the largest known Israeli espionage operation mounted in the USA, the Jewish state’s closest ally and one on which it depends for its survival.

Israel’s intelligence organisations have been spying on the USA and running clandestine operations on US soil since the Jewish state was established.

This has included smuggling an estimated 200 pounds of weapons-grade uranium for its secret nuclear arms programme in the 1960s to widescale industrial espionage, much of it conducted by the highly secret Scientific Liaison Bureau, known by its Hebrew acronym Lakam, which was run by the Israeli Defence Ministry and its equally little-known successor Malmab (the Security Authority for the Ministry of Defence). Indeed, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress, reported in April 1996 that Israel "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally".

While the sort of operation described by Intelligence Online and Le Monde (if indeed the allegation is true) is unlikely to have caused anywhere near the damage to US security inflicted by navy analyst Jonathan Pollard, an American who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1987 for providing Israeli intelligence with a mountain of top secret material in 1984-85, it would still be political dynamite which could result in a political backlash against Israel which is finding itself increasingly isolated within the international community...

US officials admitted to reporters that the entire investigation had become "too hot to handle", but declined to give further details. However, some FBI officials did confirm at the time that the Israelis were running a major eavesdropping operation that had penetrated into the highest echelons of the US administration.