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PV Vivekanand: Israel spying in the US
April 17, 2012
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This month’s sentencing of a former scientist who worked for the US government on charges of spying has brought new focus on what must but be an exceptional relationship between the US and Israel when it comes to intelligence gathering.

In 1986, the US government discovered that navy analyst Jonathan Pollard was a spy and had handed over sensitive documents to Israel, which in turn gave the information to the then Soviet Union in return for data on Arab defence capabilities and permission for thousands of Jews to migrate to Israel.

Washington, which sought to hush up the affair although Pollard was sentenced to life in prison, issued a warning to Israel and the two sides agreed that they will not engage in spying on each other’s territory. It is an agreement that neither side has kept, intelligence experts say.

“The Israeli government didn’t even honour its commitments in the aftermath of the Pollard case, failing to return the ... stolen information to enable the US to conduct a damage assessment,” says Justin Raimondo, an author  and contributing editor for the American Conservative. “The United States, for its part, continued to recruit and run agents inside Israel throughout the 1980s and 1990s. And it was known within the intelligence and counterintelligence communities that Israel did the same in the United States.”

According to Raimondo,  David Szady, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) assistant director for counterintelligence, “was so dismayed by the level of Israeli spying in the late ’90s that he called in the head of the Israeli embassy’s Central Institute for Intelligence and Special Activities (Mossad) office and told him, ‘Knock it off’.”

This month, Stewart Nozette, 54, a former scientist at the National Aerospace and Scientific Administration, was sentenced to 13 years in jail for trying to sell top secret information on US military satellites to federal agents posing as Israel’s super secret Mossad operatives. The sting operation was prompted by suspicious financial transactions carried out by Nozette.

“I accept full responsibility for this error” of falling into the FBI trap, Nozette told the court.

Nozette is believed to have provided what is described as a treasure trove of top secret information about US early-warning systems, satellites, communications intelligence and military and defence strategy.

Although it was a sting operation, the FBI also stumbled upon a discovery that Nozette had in the past worked for Mossad. “I thought I was working for you already,” he reportedly told the FBI agent who was posing as a Mossad operative, adding, “I mean that’s what I always thought, (the foreign company) was just a front.”

The “foreign company” cited in the complaint against him is Israel Aerospace Industries.

The  prosecutors’ complaint against Nozette says he “acted as a technical consultant for an aerospace company that was wholly owned by the government of the state of Israel.”

There is also an Indian link to the affair.

Nozette has been working with NASA, on a collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to search for water on the moon. How much of the information he gained was passed on to Mossad remains unknown, but Isro officials insisted he had no access whatsoever to sensitive or confidential information.

On the other hand, there is also speculation that he could have used his travel to India for passing information to Israel. The prosecution papers said Nozette  travelled abroad and returned to the US in January 2009 without two computer chips found in his luggage when he left the US.

The possibility was raised that he had handed over the data either to someone in India who could have forwarded it to Israel. But this was not included in the prosecution papers.

It is interesting that the  Justice Department took pains to point out that “the complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offence under US laws in this case.”

Everyone knows that Israel is deeply engaged in spying in the US, but no one wants to talk about it.

There are Mossad agents attached not only to every Israeli diplomatic mission in the US but also in Israeli commercial establishments there always on the lookout for secret information. Often such information is used to “persuade” US politicians into shifting positions favouring Israel or to discredit them if they refuse.

A 1996 report by the General Accounting Office stated that the Israelis run the “most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any US ally” and that “classified military information and sensitive military technologies are high-priority targets for the intelligence agencies of this country.”

Two senior officials of the Israeli lobby in Washington, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), were implicated in a recent case of Israeli spying.

In 2005, Lawrence Franklin, a former Department of Defence employee, entered a guilty plea to several espionage-related charges and was sentenced in January 2006 to nearly 13 years of prison which was later reduced to 10 months’ house arrest. Two former AIPAC employees, Steve J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, who were suspected of having received classified national defence information related to US policy on Iran and potential attacks on US forces in Iraq, were also indicted, but the case was dismissed.

Former Pentagon offcials as high as Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith under the Bush administration were also investigated for allegedly passing on classified information to Israel.

In December 2008, Ben-Ami Kadish,  a former US Army mechanical engineer, pleaded guilty to spying for Israel – working as an “unregistered agent for Israel.”

His handler was Yosef Yagur, who also directed Pollard under cover as a science attaché at the Israeli consulate general in New York, and his Washington Israeli embassy counterpart Ilan Ravid fled the US in 1985 after Pollard was arrested, but remained in touch with Kadish.

Raimondo notes that someone identified as “Mega” and suspected to be a more senior Mossad agent in Washington who handled the Mossad handlers remains at large.

Israel has always steadfastly dismissed as untrue reports that it is spying on the US.

Well, facts speak for themselves.

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