The foot in the mouth of American intelligence

Ron Ben-Yishai – Ynet Published: 05.11.14, 00:42 / Israel Opinion

Op-ed: Newsweek’s articles only point out hypocracy and ignorance in a US intelligence community that harbors a vindictive attitude towards Israel.

The second Newsweek article on Israel’s alleged spying efforts in the US, titled “Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the US Mostly Hushed Up”, embarrasses its author and sources almost more than the original piece published last Tuesday.

It serves as additional proof to what anyone who has ever worked in Washington DC and with the White House knows – American analysis of events pertaining to foreigners is at times distorted or even downright mistaken.

US security and intelligence officials have a tendency to judge the actions of others as if they were undertaken by the Americans, resulting in the pot calling the kettle black.

The US intelligence community, which eavesdrops on every corner of the known world, attributes the same to us at times, especially when it serves US interests. The best example of this is actually the incident regarding Israel’s alleged attempt to place a spy in Al Gore’s hotel room, the incident which opens Jeff Stien’s second Newsweek’s article.

The article cites a Secret Service man who reportedly secured the then-vice-president’s hotel room in Jerusalem, probably, the Kind David Hotel, and made sure the room was free of wire taps.

As is protocol in such cases, and this is well known to Israel’s security and intelligence officials, one Secret Service man remains in the hotel room to make sure it remains ‘clean’ and no would be assassins attempt to enter while the room is vacant.

According to the Newsweek report, the bodyguard was alone in the room when he suddenly heard a noise from the air-condition vent and saw its cover being removed from within the vent. Someone was allegedly attempting to enter the room through the now open duct.

The Secret Service agent then coughed to alert the intruder of his presence and the “Israeli spy” whom he reportedly caught red-handed, did an about-face and returned up the vent to whence he came. That is the article’s proof of Israel’s “aggressive” spy tactics.

Anyone in the loop knows that if Israeli intelligence services wanted to spy against Al Gore, it could have done so in numerous ways, especially while in Israel where they enjoy a home field advantage.

In this case, sadly and embarrassingly for Newsweek, it is probably no other than a hotel maintenance worker taking care of the AC system. It was probably nothing but a routine examination, one conducted in anticipation of the State visit of such a senior ranking figure.

The story is full of additionally ’embarrassing’ stories for the Israeli spy service, including stories of senior Israeli military industry CEOs being invited to the US for tours of possible business opportunities and these business trips were framed in the article as clear-cut proof of Israel’s malicious intentions.

As Yedioth Aharonoth’s Washington correspondent for almost seven years, the tendency of US intelligence officials to attribute their own MO to others is well known to me. In my mind there is no doubt that the Newsweek report did not make up the stories it reported.

It was fed the tales by former members in the US spy service and congressional aides privy to briefings by security officials. The resulting report is something between embarrassing and laughable, and testifies more than anything to a general lack of understanding regarding the workings of intelligence collection.

What is concerning is the motivation of those sources feeding Stein to pen two such stories, and they probably have three main responses for pushing such reports:

1. A desire to prevent the release of convicted US-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and anger at the Obama administration’s willingness to succumb to Israeli pressure and offer his release in return for extending peace talks.

The deal never actualized, but US Secretary of State John Kerry’s success in convincing Obama to disregard the recommendations of his intelligence services – which have thus prevented his release with scandalous and baseless claims – have inspired their anger.

The anti-Israeli core of the US intelligence services have blocked Pollard’s release by claiming that Israel is still involved in spying against the US and has yet to divulge the full scope of Pollard’s work. His continued remand is their vengeance.

At the time of the reported deal, the head of the CIA threatened to quit should the release take place, and even former US President Bill Clinton expressed apprehension. The fact that Obama was even willing to move forward was an irregular step.

2. The move to allow Israel to join the exclusive Visa Waiver club, one of the pro-Israel lobby’s potentially greatest achievements, has invoked the anger of the US intelligence community. It is also possible that conservative republicans are using these unnamed former intelligence officials to slam Obama’s administration.

3. There is growing anger from US intelligence officials at their Israeli counterparts, who have repeatedly embarrassed them. For example, in an intelligence briefing from 2005 regarding Iran’s nuclear program the US intelligence community announced Iran had frozen its nuclear program.

Israel claimed that the assessment was mistaken and Israel was slammed for it, only to have the assessment’s authors recant and apologize only a few years later.

An additional such case of embarrassment took place in regards to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s usage of chemical weapons. Then head of the IDF Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Itai Baron, repeatedly claimed the Americans were mistaken, and that Assad had in fact used chemical weapons – and again the Americans had to put their foot in their mouth.

It is also worth recalling the American’s intelligence efforts against their “Israeli friends”, as was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden – a revelation which caused the US intelligence services no small amount of embarrassment. And the latter do not forget.

All these – the attempt to prevent the release of Pollard, the attempt to block Israel’s ascension to the Visa Waiver program, and the attempt to shame the Israeli intelligence community for its past transgressions, as well as the possible attempt to head-butt Obama, make up the motivation behind Newsweek’s second, but no less embarrassing, report on Israel’s alleged spy efforts against the US.

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