Spy vs. Spy, America vs. Israel
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
[NRO title: "No Surprises: Israel, America, and Spying"]
Israelis spying on Americans is in the news again: leaders of the Jewish state just petitioned for Jonathan Pollard's release and the Associated Press reported with alarm that U.S. national security officials at times consider Israel to be "a genuine counterintelligence threat." Its tone of breathless outrage suggests: How dare they! Who do they think they are?
But spying on allies is the norm, and it's a two-way street. Before getting too worked up, Americans should realize that Washington is no innocent. From Reagan to Obama, the U.S. government has sustained a massive spying effort against Israel. Examples:
Observers have drawn the obvious conclusion: Yitzhak Rabin, twice prime minister commented, in Caroline Glick's paraphrase, that "every few years Israel discovers another US agent committing espionage against the state." An Israeli counterintelligence agent notes that Americans "are trying to spy on us all the time—every way they can." Matthew M. Aid, the American author of Intel Wars (2012), finds that Washington "started spying on Israel even before the state of Israel was formally founded in 1948, and Israel has always spied on us."
As Aid indicates, the spying is reciprocal. More: it's been routine, known and implicitly accepted by both sides. It's also not terribly worrisome, for these allies share much in common, from moral values to ideological enemies, and they often work in tandem. Therefore the mutual spying has few larger consequences.
Why then spy at all? Why not invite Israel into the Anglophone "five eyes" grouping that promises not to spy on each other? Because Israel is at war. As Ben-Zur of Shin Bet puts it, "At the end of the day, the United States does not want to be surprised. Even by us." Nor, for that matter, do the Israelis want to be surprised. Even by Americans.
So, let's be adults about this and calm down. States spy, even on allies. That's okay.
Aug. 7, 2012 addendum: This column builds on information provided in greater length in a blog begun in 2005, "Next Time Someone Gets Indignant about Israeli Spying on the United States …" Other than immediate responses to this column below, that's the place to check for further updates on the topic of American spying on Israel.
Aug. 7, 2012 updates: (1) Jay Nordlinger of National Review responded to this column with a memory of Richard Helms, the director of Central Intelligence from 1966 to 1973, being asked on the David Brinkley show about the Jonathan Pollard affair. Sam Donaldson said to him, "Well, surely, Mr. Helms, the United States isn't spying on its allies, is it?" Helms matter-of-factly replied, "I certainly hope so."
(2) Gideon Remez, co-author of Foxbats Over Dimona wrote to me and mentioned an article he published in 2001, "Ex-Likud politician tells reporter he spied for CIA." In it, he tells the story of Andrzej Kielczynski, who
In contrast to Pollard, who is spending decades in prison, the Israeli authorities appear to be allowing Kielczynski to live in freedom.
(3) Shamai K. Leibowitz holds that anti-Israel blogger Richard Silverstein made up the story about Leibowitz helping the U.S. government spy on Israel. (I thank a reader, Göran Burenstein, for pointing this out.)
(4) In "The AP Spy Story Decoded," CAMERA's Tamar Sternthal looks closely at the statistics in the Associated Press article that prompted my column.
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