Israel a "Key Target" in U.S. Spying Efforts

For all the talk of close relations between the United States and Israel, the two countries ravenously collect intelligence on one another. "FY 2013 Budget Consideration," a document given to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden, reveals that the Obama administration believes Israel to be one of the country's biggest espionage threats.

Israel is listed alongside the likes of Pakistan, China, Russia, Iran, and Cuba as countries that should be the focus of "target surveillance and offensive C.I. [counterintelligence]." The document implies that Israel's espionage activities in the U.S. stem from their suspicions that Washington and Tel Aviv are not in agreement regarding peace talks between Iran and Palestine.

These revelations shouldn't come as a surprise for two reasons. First, there is tension between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations. Second, the countries share a long history of mutual espionage. In the recent past, the Obama and Netanyahu administrations have often looked at one another with suspicion. This was apparent at a meeting at the White House in May 2011 when Netanyahu admonished Obama for suggesting that Israel and Palestine need to return to their 1967 borders. A year later, Obama rebuffed Netanyahu during the latter's visit to the United States over Netanyahu's increasingly tough talk over Iran's nuclear program.  

A further look into Israel's past reveals its long history of spying on the United States, and vice versa. The most famous example involves former naval intelligence officer Jonathan Pollard, who was arrested in 1985 for passing classified documents to Israel while working as an intelligence analyst. He was handed a life sentence for violation of the Espionage Act in 1987. More recently, the CIA had reason to believe one of its agents in Israel had been burgled by his Israeli counterpart after finding his equipment had been tampered with.

On the flip side, the United States has also carried out espionage against Israel. In 2008, the U.S. spied on Israel as a means of monitoring its nuclear weapons capabilities. Around the same time, former FBI translator Shamai Liebowitz leaked transcripts of conversations caught by FBI wiretaps at the Israeli embassy in Washington. The Associated Press report states that that Hebrew translators stationed at the NSA allegedly listen in on Israeli officials.  

Espionage is as old as the nation-state itself, and allies often spy on each other in order to "know what they know about what I know." The relationship between the United States and Israel, despite its closeness, will always be one fraught with suspicion.

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Frank Lopapa

Graduate of the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Global Negotiation and Conflict Management. Guest contributor to international affairs magazine Diplomatic Courier. When not writing about security issues for Policy Mic, I cover Italian soccer for Forza Italian Football, among other places.

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