11

I was debating a friend of mine as to whether it is in the American interest to continue supporting Israel. I argued against this. One point I raised was that Israel has an extensive history of covert espionage against the United States. Perhaps the most notable example is the Jonathan Pollard case. There are also the cases of Arnon Milchan who was an Israeli spy in the US who played a role in the illegal procurement of "krytrons"( nuclear weapon triggers), Ben-Ami Kadish who disclosed unauthorized documents to Israel and Lawrence Franklin who disclosed classified information on US policy vis-a-vis Iran. There are also more recent cases. For instance, in 2019, Israel planted spy devices in and around the White House premises. In 2016, an Israeli Mossad-linked group launched a covert campaign to spy on American pro-Palestine activists.

My friend's counterargument was that it is not unusual for allies to spy on one another. He cited the case of the US spying on Merkel. I was ultimately not convinced by this. The United States is a superpower that can get away with this. It has extensive leverage on Germany in the form of military protection. But it is unclear what leverage smaller Western countries like Israel should have on the United States that they can get away with spying on America so extensively and violating her sovereignty without paying a high price. This example also felt like an "appeal to fairness" which ignored the debate topic of American interests. It is in the American interest to spy on Merkel, but it is certainly not in the American interest for other countries to spy on America. He also cited a few other cases ([1], [2]) where the British apparently spied on the US, but in each of these cases it was clearly done at the behest of the US government, so it was not covert.

I am open-minded though. If covert espionage by Western allies is indeed just a "normal" thing that the US just allows or "forgets and forgives", perhaps this argument is not the strongest.

In recent times (e.g., within the past 50 years), has a Western ally other than Israel engaged in covert espionage operations against the United States?

By "espionage", I mean broadly any state-sponsored actions which attempt to illicitly obtain classified American information or materials. By "covert", I mean without the express consent of any US governmental bodies (so this excludes various joint counter-terrorism operations like UKUSA).

10
  • 4
    Are you ruling out industrial espionage? I think Western countries are not above trying to gain commercial and industrial advantage against each other, which is arguably of a slightly different nature than military/political spycraft. So you might get more examples if you leave that open. For example, whether true or not... france24.com/en/… Jan 15 at 23:53
  • 2
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I do not rule it out and welcome any examples, including industrial. But I do have a mild preference for the military or political. Jan 15 at 23:56
  • 1
    I think the reference to psy-ops broadens the question too much because it is not related to espionage. Can you strike it? Jan 16 at 12:05
  • 1
    @MathematicsStudent1122 This is not quite spying so it's not an answer but India just got caught trying to assassinate someone in the US after successfully doing it in Canada. To me that's more heinous than a charge of spying. reuters.com/world/us/… Jan 16 at 19:24
  • 2
    What you are really asking is which ones have been publicly declared. It's pretty well known that every country spies on every other, it's such an open secret that the US isn't going to freak out to find out that some other country was spying on them, they probably wouldn't report it either. Making a commotion would just make the US look weak while changing nothing, not to mention it would be hypocritical since the USA is doing at least as much spying of their own, probably more then the average country. I suspect the NSA knows of plenty of espionage they just don't bother publishing.
    – dsollen
    Jan 17 at 20:40

3 Answers 3

21
+100

It is relatively straightforward to find information about other US allies spying on the USA.

  • The former head of the French intelligence services admitted that France has spied on the USA and claims that everyone does it.
  • Germany has spied on targets in the USA, including governmental ones.

As the French spymaster said, it's not terribly uncommon. Of course, perhaps Israel spies more in general, or perhaps the fact that it doesn't have such unrestricted access to American intelligence as Five Eyes or even much of Europe leads it to spy more on the USA in particular.

One other thing to note is that most of the cases of Israeli spying that the question adduces are somewhat older—most of them occurred in the 80s. Spying still occurs, but the USA does not make much of a fuss due to Israel being an ally, a trend that follows the strengthening of the alliance between the USA and Israel over the last few decades. Which is to say, the fifty-year period mentioned in the question is one during which relations between the USA and Europe have been consistently strong, meaning that a lot of spying by European allies may never make it to press.

6
  • 7
    The French case is a statement backed up by no evidence or details whatsoever, all it says is 'allies spy on each other'. The German case is a prime example of relativizing, the US tried to get a live wiretap on a foreign head of state. The Germans tried to get information on who is trying to borrow what from the Public British Library. The 'illicitly obtaining' is there in both cases, the classified information is not.
    – quarague
    Jan 16 at 7:26
  • 11
    @quarague - If the former head of the French spy agencies says that he was spying on everyone, he probably was. He's not going to release classified French documents as evidence, as amusing as that would be.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 16 at 7:35
  • 2
    As for Germany, your dismissal of its spy agencies as just gathering library data suggests that you did not read the article: "The German intelligence agency used the selectors to surveil telephone and fax numbers as well as email accounts belonging to American companies like Lockheed Martin, the space agency NASA, the organization Human Rights Watch, universities in several U.S. states and military facilities like the U.S. Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the secret service agency belonging to the American armed forces."
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 16 at 7:37
  • 2
    "Connection data from far over 100 foreign embassies in Washington, from institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Washington office of the Arab League were also accessed by the BND's spies."
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 16 at 7:37
  • 7
    I did read the article and it looked like they assembled a laundry list of everything related they could find. I choose a particularly harmless example on that list to emphasize the intent of relativizing. Note also the difference between connection data (so who talked to whom and when) versus wiretapping the content of the talk and the difference between 'some phone numbers and email accounts belonging to organisations' and 'the head of state'. There is a significant difference of scale here.
    – quarague
    Jan 16 at 8:54
5

The report Espionage Against the United States by American Citizens 1947-2001 lists Americans caught spying against the US during the given period. The report is dated and does not cover more recent espionage scandals. Page 62 lists nationalities of recipients or intended recipients of classified information. Of the 149 recipients analyzed, 127 were from adversarial powers, 84 from the Soviet union, three from the Philippines, two from Israel, two from South Africa, and one from Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Netherlands, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Taiwan, and United Kingdom (a footnote argues that the UK case perhaps should not be classified as espionage). The high number of Soviet spies is totally unsurprising.

Given the harsh punishments doled out to convicted spies it's not something the US government "forgets and forgives". The claim about "everybody does it" refers to, as far as I can tell, gathering of intelligence through open channels, which is not quite what you are asking about. While Israel doesn't stand out when it comes to criminal convictions, many sources claim that Israeli infiltration of the US government is unlike that of any other ally. Here are some examples:

“The leaks to Israel are fantastic. If I have something I want the secretary of state to know but don’t want Israel to know, I must wait till I have a chance to see him personally.” [...]

“It is a fact of life that everyone in authority is reluctant to put anything on paper that concerns Israel if it is to be withheld from Israel’s knowledge,” says the veteran. “Nor do such people even feel free to speak in a crowded room of such things.”

The diplomat offers an example from his own experience. “I received a call from a friend of mine in the Jewish community who wanted to warn me, as a friend, that all details of a lengthy document on Middle East policy that I had just dispatched overseas were ‘out.’” The document was classified “top secret,” the diplomat recalls. “I didn’t believe what he said, so my friend read me every word of it over the phone.”

They Dare to Speak Out (Findley, 1989)

“There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States,” said a former intelligence official who was familiar with the latest FBI probe and who recently left government. “Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States.”

Israel Has Long Spied on U.S., Say Officials (LA Times, 2004)

“Everyone does it,” is a common reaction to such claims of ungentlemanly conduct. But by these accounts, in the case of America no one does it like Israel – not even allies with intelligence services as skilled as those of France, Germany, even the UK.

US accuses Israel of ‘alarming, even terrifying’ levels of spying (The Independent, 2014)

As Newsweek reported on Tuesday, American counter-intelligence officials told members of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees at the end of January that Israel's current espionage activities in America are "unrivaled and unseemly," going far beyond the activities of other close allies, such as Germany, France, the U.K. and Japan.

Israel's Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up (Newsweek, 2014)

7
  • 7
    In American law treason can only be committed during war by aiding an enemy. So Pollard is a spy but not a traitor. Jan 16 at 17:05
  • 2
    What about non Americans spying?
    – Joe W
    Jan 16 at 17:13
  • 4
    This answer begins with a weak attempt to answer the OP (but still NAA). Then it rapidly becomes a long rant very clearly and specifically to discredit Israel. I am flagging it: (a) for failing to conform to Politics SE rules (it is off-topic, and it is "just a rant in disguise"), and (b) as "not an answer" (NAA). Jan 16 at 17:48
  • 1
    You don't always need a security clearance to get classified data and there is almost always non Americans involved in those cases as well. Your answer only seems to focus on the American citizen side of the issue and not who else is involved in it.
    – Joe W
    Jan 16 at 22:27
  • 1
    The "UK case" was Samuel Loring Morison who sent classified photographs of Soviet ships to a UK-based magazine Jane's Defence Weekly for publication, so not a UK government operation.
    – Henry
    Jan 17 at 13:13
1

Question:

Which Western allies of the US have been caught spying against the US?

And The United States spying on all of the above.

Generally speaking you and your friend are both correct.

There are two types of espionage. Economic and National Security. France, Germany and Israel have all been caught in the past conducting espionage to gain trade information or technology to bolster their own industries. Even trying to overhear government leaders personal conversations to get incite on their real feelings on various issues.

Israel's Johnathan Pollard was not an economic spy. He stole tens of thousands of documents with profound national security implications. We still don't know everything he stole now nearly 40 years later. We do know He compromised four major intelligence gathering systems.

  • Human assets, A year of daily reports from the Navy's Sixth Fleet Ocean Surveillance Information Facility (FOSIF) in Rota, This is raw human SIGINS data. With it they could discover every human asset the US had across the middle east.

  • satellites, THE documents that Pollard turned over to Israel were not focused exclusively on the product of American intelligence its analytical reports and estimates. They also revealed how America was able to learn what it did -- a most sensitive area of intelligence defined as "sources and methods." Pollard gave the Israelis vast amounts of data dealing with specific American intelligence systems and how they worked. For example, he betrayed details of an exotic capability that American satellites have of taking off-axis photographs from high in space. While orbiting the earth in one direction, the satellites could photograph areas that were seemingly far out of range.

  • SIGINT, POLLARD also provided the Israelis with what is perhaps the most important day-to-day information in signals intelligence: the National SIGINT Requirements List, which is essentially a compendium of the tasks, and the priority of those tasks, given to various N.S.A. collection units around the world. This along with the RASIN an acronym for radio-signal notations. The manual, which is classified "top-secret Umbra," fills ten volumes, is constantly updated, and lists the physical parameters of every known signal, destroyed America's ability to effectively use SIGINT's on the eve of the first Gulf War.

  • nuclear submarines. A number of officials strongly suspect that the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard's material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Other officials go further, and say there was reason to believe that secret information was exchanged for Jews working in highly sensitive positions in the Soviet Union. A significant percentage of Pollard's documents, including some that described the techniques the American Navy used to track Soviet submarines around the world, was of practical importance only to the Soviet Union.

But the tens of thousands of documents he stole didn't stop there.

He stole documents on NATO's defense tactics and strategies for Europe, complete with landing sites for American / Canadian relief efforts in the event of a Soviet Invasion. The American Signals intelligence Bible, how we identified and measure military strength using radio signatures. That US nuclear submarines were regularly shadowing soviet subs in the oceans of the world for their entire patrols months, without the Soviets knowing about it. Raw intelligence reports used to track back and identify networks of spys and contacts the CIA relied on leading up to the first gulf war, effectively blinding US intelligence. In truth Israel has never provided the United States with a manifest of all that Pollard stole. Israel denied Pollard was their spy for the first 13 years of his incarceration in the US. Much of what he stole ended up in the Soviet Union.

So I would say Pollard was one of the most damaging spy's the United States ever caught. On par with the worst soviet spy of the 70's and 80's. Entirely different category from French spy's bugging Concorde passengers to overhear business gossip. Or even Germany and the US bugging each other's government officials.

from comments

from Timur Shtatland Could you please provide the references for your claims? For example, this: "Much of what he stole ended up in the Soviet Union.", and "...Pollard was one of the most damaging spy's the United States ever caught. On par with the worst soviet spy of the 70's and 80's.", etc. –

THE TRAITOR: The case against Jonathan Pollard.

BY Pulitzer Prize winning journalist SEYMOUR M. HERSH

Along with the quotes above from this source here are a few other supporting quotes

A number of officials strongly suspect that the Israelis repackaged much of Pollard's material and provided it to the Soviet Union in exchange for continued Soviet permission for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Other officials go further, and say there was reason to believe that secret information was exchanged for Jews working in highly sensitive positions in the Soviet Union. A significant percentage of Pollard's documents, including some that described the techniques the American Navy used to track Soviet submarines around the world, was of practical importance only to the Soviet Union. One longtime C.I.A. officer who worked as a station chief in the Middle East said he understood that "certain elements in the Israeli military had used it" -- Pollard's material -- "to trade for people they wanted to get out," including Jewish scientists working in missile technology and on nuclear issues. Pollard's spying came at a time when the Israeli government was publicly committed to the free flow of Jewish emigres from the Soviet Union. The officials stressed the fact that they had no hard evidence -- no "smoking gun," in the form of a document from an Israeli or a Soviet archive -- to demonstrate the link between Pollard, Israel, and the Soviet Union, but they also said that the documents that Pollard had been directed by his Israeli handlers to betray led them to no other conclusion.

A full accounting of the materials provided by Pollard to the Israelis has been impossible to obtain: Pollard himself has estimated that the documents would create a stack six feet wide, six feet long, and ten feet high.

A senior intelligence official whose agency was involved in preparing the report for the White House told me, somewhat facetiously, that he would drop all objections to Pollard's immediate release if the Israeli government would answer two questions: "First, give us a list of what you've got, and, second, tell us what you did with it." Such answers are unlikely to be forthcoming. The Israeli government has acknowledged that Pollard was indeed spying on its behalf but has refused -- despite constant entreaties -- to provide the United States with a complete list of the documents that were turned over to it.

Jonathan Pollard Was One of the Most Damaging Spies in US History

The Truth About Jonathan Pollard The prosecutors produced a secret letter and memo from Secretary of Defense Caspar "Cap" Weinberger referring to the "enormous" harm that Pollard had done to our national security. In his memo, Weinberger directly accused Pollard of betraying America's "sources and methods," which is to say, he had betrayed our spies in foreign countries. Weinberger publicly stated that Pollard was the worst spy in American history: "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called year of the spy, to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant." Despite his plea agreement to the contrary with the government, Pollard was given the maximum sentence, life in prison. Weinberger later said that he wished Pollard had been shot.

Jonathan Pollard was one of the worst traitors of the 20th century. He deserved to languish as long as he did.

Talk:Jonathan Pollard/Archive 2

"Pollard caused enormous damage to U.S. national security. He gave Israel top-secret U.S. military intelligence and diplomatic codes; names of nearly 100 U.S. agents in the Mideast, who were then "turned" by Israel; NSA code-breaking techniques and targets; intercepts of foreign communications; and U.S. war-fighting plans for the Mideast. According to CIA sources, Pollard provided Israeli intelligence with names of important American agents inside the former Soviet Union and Russia who had supplied information on East Bloc weapons and war plans. How the agents' names were linked to the secrets they supplied - a major breach of basic intelligence security - remains a mystery. Some of the enormously sensitive secrets stolen by Pollard may have been either sold, or bartered, by Israel to the Soviet Union. A number of key CIA agents in the East Bloc were allegedly executed as a result of Pollard's spying. The KGB likely gained access to top-secret U.S. codes - either directly from Israel, or through spies in Israel's government. In short, Pollard's treachery caused one of the worst security disasters in modern U.S. history."

10
  • Could you please provide the references for your claims? For example, this: "Much of what he stole ended up in the Soviet Union.", "...Pollard was one of the most damaging spy's the United States ever caught. On par with the worst soviet spy of the 70's and 80's.", etc. Jan 17 at 22:42
  • @TimurShtatland responded d at the end of my answer
    – JMS
    Jan 18 at 7:42
  • Thank you for the references! Unfortunately, they do not support the above (rather strong) statements ("Much of what he stole ended up in the Soviet Union."). Just one problem: no hard evidence Just as your quote says: "The officials stressed the fact that they had no hard evidence -- no "smoking gun," in the form of a document from an Israeli or a Soviet archive -- to demonstrate the link between Pollard, Israel, and the Soviet Union, but they also said that the documents that Pollard had been directed by his Israeli handlers to betray led them to no other conclusion." Jan 18 at 20:46
  • The only source for the 2nd statement ("Pollard was one of the most damaging spy's the United States ever caught) is an opinion of a 1 (one) person: 'At his sentencing hearing, then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger gave the court a scathing four-page memo that read: "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called 'year of the spy,' to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant in view of the breadth, the critical importance to the U.S., and the high sensitivity of the information he sold to Israel."' It's one opinion of one person, not a fact. Jan 18 at 20:55
  • @TimurShtatland, If that's your take away you didn't read either article. So much of what we know Pollard stole is classified, much more of what he stole is still unknown. But based on what we knew in 1985, then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger publicly stated that Pollard was the worst spy in American history: "It is difficult for me, even in the so-called year of the spy, to conceive of a greater harm to national security than that caused by the defendant.". He did so in a still classified letter to the court trying Pollard.
    – JMS
    Jan 19 at 15:03

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .