Spies Like Us

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of this article were subject to deletions by the Israeli Military

The United
States Embassy in Tel Aviv, in a prime beachfront location at 71
HaYarkon Street, is six stories tall, not including the mysteries
on its roof. Israeli intelligence operatives and journalists have
for many years suspected that atop the embassy and perhaps in its
basement are sophisticated surveillance systems that keep a close
electronic eye on the Jewish state. Certainly, as is standard in
most any U.S. Embassy, there is a suite of offices comprising the
CIA station, its staffers given diplomatic titles such as “second
secretary.” No attempt is made to hide their identity from
Israeli authorities because this host government is considered friendly.

between nations, especially in the volatile Middle East, is not
naïve. The Mossad and other Israeli security agencies, as well
as top politicians, assume that the United States routinely listens
to their phone conversations, copies fax messages, and intercepts
email messages – data known in the spy business as comint (communications
intelligence) – and also gathers sigint (signals intelligence),
which involves analyzing data transmitted on various wavelengths
by Israeli military units, aviation manufacturers, space launch
sites, labs suspected of doing nuclear work: any defense-related
facility that puts out signals. This assumption is strengthened
by the fact that more than 20 years ago, embassy officials approached
Israeli authorities with a request to rent office space in the Mandarin
Hotel, on the beach north of Tel Aviv. Permission was denied, because
that location is on a precise east-west line barely a mile from
Mossad headquarters (inland at the Gelilot highway intersection)
and a bit farther from the equally secretive military intelligence
codebreaking and high-tech surveillance Unit 8200.

If Israeli
counterintelligence – the spy-catchers at Shin Bet (the domestic
security service known to Israelis as Shabak) – really
wanted to check the roof or the basement on HaYarkon Street, perhaps
they could break in to the building. In 1954, U.S. security officials
at the embassy found microphones concealed in the ambassador’s
office. In 1956, bugs were found attached to two telephones in the
home of an American military attaché. Shin Bet also made
crude attempts to use women and money to seduce the U.S. Marines
who guarded the embassy. However, in the view of top Israeli intelligence
insiders, the mystery of the roof – even though they have noticed
that some antennae and equipment are covered – is closer to
an urban espionage myth. The United States can easily park signals-intercepting
ships in the Mediterranean near the Israeli coast; the U.S. National
Security Agency controls plenty of spy-in-the-sky satellites and
can watch and listen to most anything on the NSA’s agenda.

Indeed, there
is no doubt the Americans regularly listen in to the private communications
of the Israeli government and military. Hebrew linguists are trained
and sought after by the NSA. The clearest case of such U.S. spying
on Israel came to light in 1967, when the U.S. Navy’s ship
Liberty was attacked by Israel’s air force during the
Six Day War. Thirty-four American sailors were killed, and many
of the survivors say their mission was to gather comint and sigint
about Israeli and Egyptian military moves and plans. Most of them
think the attack was intentional, to blind and deafen that particular
NSA intelligence operation, but Israel firmly denies it.

Being in the
business of collecting information, intelligence agencies know very
well that everyone does it, friend or foe. Certainly the CIA station,
based in the embassy, busies itself with clipping newspapers, harvesting
web articles, recording radio and TV broadcasts, talking with Israelis,
analyzing the results, and reading between the lines. Yet our image
of espionage usually means running agents: recruiting people to
betray their country for money or other motives. “In my 21
years in the agency, I never saw any official request for us to
go recruit Israeli citizens,” says Robert Baer, a longtime
case officer in the Near East Division of the CIA’s Directorate
of Operations. “They don’t have to,” said a former
head of the Mossad who asked not to be identified by name. “They
can get – and probably do get – whatever they want, because
we Israelis don’t know how to keep secrets. We are talkative,
and the CIA has great access to all levels of the Israeli government.”

While the CIA
and Israel’s intelligence community have enjoyed close liaison
in recent decades, cooperation has not always been the norm. From
its founding in 1948 as a socialist country led by immigrants from
Russia and Eastern Europe, the State of Israel was perceived by
the CIA as part of the hostile Soviet sphere of influence. In 1951,
David Ben Gurion toured the United States, met with General Walter
Bedell Smith, Truman’s director of central intelligence, and
convinced U.S. intelligence to give Israel a try. A highly personal
relationship between the intelligence communities was forged, and
James Jesus Angleton, who would become legendary for his obsessively
suspicious counter-spy campaigns, was put in charge of the U.S.
side. Israeli intelligence assigned Amos Manor and Teddy Kollek,
who later would enjoy decades as mayor of Jerusalem, as his counterparts.

“It wasn’t
easy to persuade the anti-communist Angleton that we could be friends,”
Manor told us before his death two and a half years ago. “Even
I was suspected by him, that I was a Soviet spy.” Manor, an
Auschwitz survivor, had emigrated to Israel from Romania, which
became a communist country after World War II. Over sleepless nights
at Manor’s apartment on Pinsker Street in Tel Aviv, the Israeli
did his best to keep up with Angleton at whiskey-sipping and chatting
about the world. The two men became close friends, laying the foundation
for CIA-Mossad intelligence cooperation as Manor proved to Angleton
that what had been considered an Israeli disadvantage could be turned
into a great advantage: Israel’s population of immigrants from
the Soviet Union and its East European satellites made the country
an indispensible source about everything that interested the CIA
at the height of the Cold War, from the cost of potatoes behind
the Iron Curtain to plans for new aircraft and ships there. The
great turning point was the secret speech in Moscow in 1956 by Soviet
leader Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Stalin’s crimes. A Jewish
journalist in Poland procured the much-sought-after text and gave
it to Israeli intelligence in Warsaw. It was quickly delivered to
the CIA.

Still, while
cooperating in anti-Soviet operations, the two countries had some
conflicting interests. Desperate to have a qualitative military
edge over its Arab neighbors, Israel ordered agents to steal U.S.
technology. From the 1960s until the late 1980s, American law enforcement
busted several conspiracies run by Israelis to procure defense and
high-tech secrets and even components for Israel’s suspected
nuclear arsenal. This clandestine work was not done by the Mossad
but by military officers and by a small Defense Ministry unit known
as Lakam (Lishka le-Kishrei Mada, the “science liaison
bureau”), which also ran Jonathan
, who is now serving a life sentence for espionage.

In the late
1950s, the prime target of American suspicion in Israel was the
Negev Nuclear Research Center near Dimona, which was constructed
by the French as part of a secret deal linked with the Israeli-French-British
invasion of Suez, Egypt, in 1956 that took President Dwight Eisenhower
by surprise and greatly angered him. The CIA was assigned to find
out what the Israelis were up to in the Negev Desert. The station
chief in Tel Aviv in the 1960s, John Hadden, told us he would make
a point of driving as close as he could to the nuclear reactor and
occasionally stopped his car to collect soil samples for radioactive
analysis. Shin Bet was obviously tailing him, and an Israeli helicopter
once landed near his automobile to stop it. Security personnel demanded
to see identification, and after flashing his U.S. diplomatic passport
Hadden drove off, with little doubt there were big doings at Dimona.

When Americans
were permitted to enter the Dimona facility as part of a deal with
President John F. Kennedy, “it cost us a hell of a lot of money
to arrange it so their inspectors wouldn’t find out what was
going on,” the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban told
us, as quoted in our book Friends
In Deed
. False walls were erected, doorways and elevators
were hidden, and dummy installations were built to show to the visitors,
who found no evidence of the weapons program secreted underground.
[Sentence deleted by the Israeli Military Censor.]

Nuclear gamesmanship
did not spoil the progress of friendly connections between the two
intelligence communities. John Hadden set the pattern for all future
CIA station chiefs in Tel Aviv by spending most of his time in open
liaison activities, cultivating ties with Israeli officials in all
fields. Hadden remembers attending a diplomatic dinner in 1963,
when he was well aware that Israel, then an austere nation, saw
Americans as hard-drinking and garrulous. Usually keeping his CIA-taught
language skills to himself, he heard the hostess say hopefully to
an Israeli colonel that if Hadden kept imbibing perhaps he would
talk too much. The puckish spy smiled and surprised his hosts with
his decent Hebrew: “Nichnas yayin, yotzeh sod!” which
means “Wine goes in, a secret comes out!”

The next two
decades would see gradual growth in mutual confidence, as U.S. interests
in the Middle East increasingly matched Israel’s concern with
Arab radicalism and Palestinian terrorism. Yet in 1985, when Jonathan
Pollard was arrested at the gates of the Israeli Embassy in Washington,
by coincidence the CIA was assessing a “walk in”: an Israeli
officer, Major Yossi Amit, who had served in a secretive military
intelligence unit. As far as we know, Major Amit was the closest
the CIA got to recruiting an Israeli as an agent. In his hometown
of Haifa, Amit met a U.S. Navy officer who introduced him to the
CIA. Amit offered his services as an experienced case officer who
had run Syrian and Lebanese networks. He flew to Germany and spent
time with CIA operatives and a psychologist, who used a polygraph
and other tests to judge his credibility. This evaluation was handled
well away from the CIA’s Tel Aviv station, though a counter-terrorism
officer stationed in Tel Aviv was part of the team in Germany.

Amit claims
that he did not intend to betray or spy on Israel, but he might
have been willing to help the CIA in various Arab countries. He
was arrested by Israeli authorities, tried in secret, and served
seven years in prison.

In the 1990s,
with an Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
brokered by the United States, the CIA’s involvement in the
region leapt forward. The Tel Aviv station was enlarged and given
duties far beyond liaison with counterparts in the Mossad. The CIA’s
new assignment was to turn Yasser Arafat’s secret police and
commando units into a professional entity that would be pro-peace,
pro-American, and in effect agents of influence for the CIA.

George Tenet,
as deputy CIA director before getting the agency’s top job,
was given the task in 1996. As Tenet wrote in his memoirs, At
the Center of the Storm
, he was reluctant, but it was an
order from President Bill Clinton and he understood: “Security
was the key. You can talk about sovereignty, borders, elections,
territory, and the rest all day long; but unless the two sides feel
safe, nothing else matters.”

the rest of the article

14, 2010

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