Israeli Espionage Against the US


[This survey of Israeli spying on the US was compiled in 1997.]

The Washington Post reported in a front-page story on May 7th, 1997 that US intelligence had intercepted a conversation in which two Israeli officials had discussed the possibility of getting a confidential letter that then-Secretary of State Warren Christopher had written to Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. One of the Israelis had commented that they may get the letter from “Mega”– apparently a codename for an Israeli agent within the US government.

This revelation has been treated by much of the press as something of an aberration, as Israeli officials have claimed that they do not spy on the US. Israel Foreign Minister David Levy told the Washington Post (5/8/97) that “Our diplomats all over the world, and of course specifically in the US, don’t deal with such a thing.” Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office declared: “Israel does not use intelligence agents in the United States. Period.”

Here is a sampling of the public record of Israeli espionage and covert actions against the US:

According to Time magazine (5/19/97), the US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, last year “complained privately to the Israeli government about heavy-handed surveillance by Israeli intelligence agents, who had been following American-embassy employees in Tel Aviv and searching the hotel rooms of visiting US officials.”


Three relevant documents were made public in early 1996:

1) A General Accounting Office report “Defense Industrial Security: Weaknesses in US Security Arrangements With Foreign-Owned Defense Contractors” found that according to intelligence sources “Country A” (identified by intelligence sources as Israel, Washington Times, 2/22/96) “conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally.” The Jerusalem Post (8/30/96) quoted the report, “Classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.”

The report described “An espionage operation run by the intelligence organization responsible for collecting scientific and technologic information for [Israel] paid a US government employee to obtain US classified military intelligence documents.” The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (Shawn L. Twing, April 1996) noted that this was “a reference to the 1985 arrest of Jonathan Pollard, a civilian US naval intelligence analyst who provided Israel’s LAKAM [Office of Special Tasks] espionage agency an estimated 800,000 pages of classified US intelligence information.”

The GAO report also noted that “Several citizens of [Israel] were caught in the United States stealing sensitive technology used in manufacturing artillery gun tubes.”

2) An Office of Naval Intelligence document, “Worldwide Challenges to Naval Strike Warfare” reported that “US technology has been acquired [by China] through Israel in the form of the Lavi fighter and possibly SAM [surface-to-air] missile technology.” Jane’s Defense Weekly (2/28/96) noted that “until now, the intelligence community has not openly confirmed the transfer of US technology [via Israel] to China.” The report noted that this “represents a dramatic step forward for Chinese military aviation.” (Flight International, 3/13/96)

3) The Defense Investigative Service circulated a memo in late 1995 warning US military contractors that “Israel aggressively collects [US] military and industrial technology.” The report stated that Israel obtains information using “ethnic targeting, financial aggrandizement, and identification and exploitation of individual frailties” of US citizens. (Washington Post, 1/30/96) (This report was criticized by several groups for allegedly implying that Americans Jews were particularly suspect.)


From New York Times December 22, 1985, by David K. Shipler:

Many American officials are convinced of Israel’s ability, on a routine basis, to obtain sensitive information about this county’s secret weapons, advanced technology and internal policy deliberations in Washington…

The F.B.I. knew of at least a dozen incidents in which American officials transferred classified information to the Israelis, [former Assistant Director of the F.B.I.] Mr. [Raymond] Wannal said. The Justice Department did not prosecute.

“When the Pollard case broke, the general media and public perception was that this was the first time this had ever happen,” said John Davitt, former chief of the Justice Department’s internal security section. “No, that’s not true at all. The Israeli intelligence service, when I was in the Justice Department, [1950-1980] was the second most active in the United States, to the Soviets.”


From “The Samson Option,” by Seymour M. Hersh
[Page numbers are from the Vintage paperback edition, 1992.]

The name “Mega” in the recent Washington Post story may be noteworthy:

[I]llicitly obtained intelligence was flying so voluminously from LAKAM into Israeli intelligence that a special code name, JUMBO, was added to the security markings already on the documents. There were strict orders, [Ari] Ben-Menashe recalled: “Anything marked JUMBO was not supposed to be discussed with your American counterparts.” (“The Samson Option,” pg 295)

After Jonathan Pollard was arrested for selling secrets to Israel, the Israeli leadership denied all knowledge. Hersh provides several sources indicating that they did know. Here’s one:

The top leadership, of course, knew what was going on. One former Israeli intelligence official recalled that Peres and Rabin, both very sophisticated in the handling of intelligence, were quick to ask, as the official put it, “Where are we getting this stuff?” They were told, the Israeli added, that Israeli intelligence ‘has a penetration into the U.S. intelligence community.’ Both men let it go. No one said: ‘Stop it here and now.'” (“The Samson Option,” pg 296)

One of the little-known aspects of the Pollard case is that information was passed along by the Israelis to the Soviets:

For Shamir, the Israeli added, the relaying of the Pollard information to the Soviets was his way of demonstrating that Israel could be a much more dependable and important collaborator in the Middle East than the “fickle” Arabs: “What Arab could give you this?” (“The Samson Option,” pg 299)

The Pollard information helped in Israel’s ability to exercise “The Samson Option” — to threaten the Soviet Union, and therefore the US, with nuclear war if they didn’t get their way in developments in the Mideast. Disclosure of information to the Soviets also apparently led the Soviets to track down US agents:

One senior American intelligence official confirmed that there have been distinct losses of human and technical intelligence collection ability inside the Soviet Union that have been attributed, after extensive analysis, to Pollard. “The Israeli objective [in the handling of Pollard] was to gather what they could and let the Soviets know that they have a strategic capability–for their survival [the threat of a nuclear strike against the Soviets] and to get their people out [of the Soviet Union],” one former CIA official said. “Where it hurts us is our agents being rolled up and our ability to collect technical intelligence being shut down. When the Soviets found out what’s being passed”–in the documents supplied by Pollard to the Israelis–“they shut down the source.” (“The Samson Option,” pg 300)


A portion of a 1979 CIA internal report, “Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services” (from The Nation, “I Spy, You Spy, We All Spy,” December 14, 1985, by Alexander Cockburn) included the following:

In one instance Shin Beth [the Israeli internal security agency] tried to penetrate the US Consulate General in Jerusalem through a clerical employee who was having an affair with a Jerusalem girl. They rigged a fake abortion case against the employee in an unsuccessful effort to recruit him. Before this attempt at blackmail, they had tried to get the Israeli girl to elicit information from her boyfriend.

Two other important targets in Israel are the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) with headquarters in Jerusalem. There have been two or three crude efforts to recruit Marine guards for monetary reward. In the cases involving UNTSO personnel, the operations involved intimidation and blackmail.

In 1954, a hidden microphone planted by the Israelis was discovered in the Office of the US Ambassador in Tel Aviv. In 1956, telephone taps were found connected to two telephones in the residence of the US military attache.


In March 1978, Stephen Bryen, then a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer, was overheard in a DC hotel offering confidential documents to top Israeli military officials. The F.B.I. found Bryen’s fingerprints on the documents in question, and he admitted to having obtained them the night before the meeting with the Israelis. Bryen was forced to quit his job, but was never indicted. He was later brought on to the Defense Department as a deputy to Reagan Administration Assistant Secretary Richard Pearle. There Bryen was in charge of such matters as overseeing technology transfers in the Mideast. (See “The Armageddon Network” (Amana Books) by Michael Saba, an officer of the National Association of Arab Americans when he overheard Bryen offer the documents to the Israelis.)

As late as 1992, Stephen Bryen was serving on board of the pro-Israeli Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs while continuing as a paid consultant — with security clearance — on exports of sensitive US technology. (Wall Street Journal, 1/22/92, Edward T. Pound and David Rogers)


* “The Lavon Affair”: In 1954, Israeli agents attacked Western targets in Egypt in an apparent attempt to upset US-Egyptian relations. Israeli defense minister Pinchas Lavon was removed from office, though many think real responsibility lay with David Ben-Gurion.

* In 1965, Israel apparently illegally obtained enriched uranium from NUMEC corporation. (Washington Post, 6/5/86, Charles R. Babcock, “US an Intelligence Target of the Israelis, Officials Say.”)

* In 1967, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, an intelligence gathering vessel flying a US flag, killing 34 crew members. See “Assault on the Liberty,” by James M. Ennes, Jr. (Random House).

* In 1985 Richard Smyth, the owner of MILCO was indicted on charges of smuggling nuclear timing devices to Israel (Washington Post, 10/31/86).

* April 24, 1987 Wall Street Journal headline: “Role of Israel in Iran-Contra Scandal Won’t be Explored in Detail by Panels”

* In 1992, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli agents apparently tried to steal Recon Optical Inc’s top-secret airborne spy-camera system. (1/17/92, Edward T. Pound and David Rogers).

* In early 1997, an Army mechanical engineer, David A. Tenenbaum, told investigators that he “inadvertently” gave classified military information on missile systems and armored vehicles to Israeli officials (New York Times, 2/20/97).

* For detailed analysis of the Israel-US relationship, including covert operations, see “Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations with a Militant Israel” by Stephen Green (Amana Books). Also see “Dangerous Liaisons” by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn (Harper Collins).

* For information on economic espionage see “War By Other Means: Economic Espionage in America” by Wall Street Journal reporter John Fialka (Norton). Also see “Israel’s Unauthorized Arms Transfers” in Foreign Policy, Summer 1995, by Prof. Duncan Clarke of American University.



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