The CIA took an internal poll not long ago about friendly foreign intelligence agencies.
The question, mostly directed to employees of the clandestine service branch, was: Which are the best allies among friendly spy services, in terms of liaison with the CIA, and which are the worst? In other words, who acts like, well, friends?
“Israel came in dead last,” a recently retired CIA official told me the other day.
Not only that, he added, throwing up his hands and rising from his chair, “the Israelis are number three, with China number one and Russia number two,” in terms of how aggressive they are in their operations on U.S. soil.
Israel’s undercover operations here, including missions to steal U.S. secrets, are hardly a secret at the FBI, CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. From time to time, in fact, the FBI has called Israeli officials on the carpet to complain about a particularly brazen effort to collect classified or other sensitive information, in particular U.S. technical and industrial secrets.
The most notorious operation employed Jonathan Pollard, the naval intelligence analyst convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison for stealing tens of thousands of classified documents for Israel.
One of Israel’s major interests, of course, is keeping track of Muslims who might be allied with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, or Iran-backed Hezbollah, based in Lebanon.
As tensions with Iran escalate, according to former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, “Israeli agents have become more aggressive in targeting Muslims living in the United States as well as in operating against critics.”
“There have been a number of cases reported to the FBI about Mossad officers who have approached leaders in Arab-American communities and have falsely represented themselves as ‘U.S. intelligence,’ ” Giraldi wrote recently in American Conservative magazine.
“Because few Muslims would assist an Israeli, this is done to increase the likelihood that the target will cooperate. It’s referred to as a ‘false flag’ operation.”
Giraldi’s piece continued, “Mossad officers sought to recruit Arab-Americans as sources willing to inform on their associates and neighbors. The approaches, which took place in New York and New Jersey, were reportedly handled clumsily, making the targets of the operation suspicious.”
“These Arab-Americans turned down the requests for cooperation,” Giraldi added,”and some of the contacts were eventually reported to the FBI, which has determined that at least two of the Mossad officers are, ironically, Israeli Arabs operating out of Israel’s mission to the United Nations in New York under cover as consular assistants.”
“Oh, sure, they do that,” the other former CIA official said, waving a dismissing hand, when I asked about Giraldi’s story. “They’re all over the place.”
The FBI did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But a retired senior FBI counterintelligence official told SpyTalk, “They have always been extremely aggressive, and seem to feel they can operate whenever and wherever they want, in spite of being called on the carpet more than any other country by probably a factor of three times as often.”
A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, which routinely denies accounts of Mossad operations on U.S. soil, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The former CIA official, who discussed such sensitive matters only on the condition of anonymity, echoed the views of other U.S. intelligence sources I’ve talked to over the years about Israeli operations in the United States.
They don’t begrudge the Jewish state’s interest in keeping track of its potential or real enemies, including here — indeed, they often say Israel is America’s best friend in the Middle East.
Which, they say, makes Mossad’s impersonation of U.S. intelligence agents all the more galling.