Israeli Spies in the US

by Jeff McConnell
published in MER138

November 21, 1985, was a remarkable day. FBI agents arrested a civilian terrorism analyst working for the US Navy, Jonathan Jay Pollard, outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, where he had gone seeking political asylum. Six days later, Pollard was arraigned in federal district court on several counts of espionage against the United States as a paid agent for the government of Israel.

The Pollard affair took Washington and Tel Aviv by surprise. Wolf Blitzer, Washington correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, in a book published just several weeks before Pollard’s arrest, wrote that there is no real fear in the US government that American Jews are leaking information to the Mossad, the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. “Experienced US intelligence officials readily acknowledge that the degree of cooperation between the CIA and the Mossad is already so close that the two organizations do not really have to spy on each other. Despite infractions on both sides,” Blitzer explained, “US and Israeli intelligence organizations have maintained a discreet arrangement since the 1950s, banning covert operations against each other.” [1]

Another reading of this record, though, shows that Pollard’s activities fit a pattern of Israeli espionage efforts. As John Davitt, a 30-year veteran of the Justice Department who resigned in 1980, told the New York Times: “When the Pollard case broke, the general media and public perception was that this was the first time this had ever happened. No, that’s not true at all. The Israeli intelligence service, when I was in the Justice Department, was the second most active in the United States, to the Soviets.” [2]

In 1978, two Congressional committees studied Washington’s posture toward the activities of “friendly” intelligence services in the United States. Both found that the FBI did not aggressively search out illegal activities, as it did in the case of “hostile” intelligence services, but only reacted to specific complaints; that information developed by the FBI rarely reached Justice Department prosecutors; and that both the CIA and the State Department discouraged penalties against “friendly” services or their agents, in part out of concern for American personnel abroad. [3]

What accounts for the willingness of the US government to prosecute and to make a public issue of Israel’s espionage activities? Probably it represents a combination of two factors: One is the Reagan administration’s campaign to whip up public support for measures against “security risks”; the other is the differences within the US national security establishment, especially the military services, over Israel’s role in US Middle East policy. Pollard is only the second American citizen ever to be formally accused of passing classified information to the Israeli government. Prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, a Zionist underground existed in the US for the purpose of smuggling war materials to Palestine, in violation of the Truman administration’s embargo on such shipments. Although FBI investigations resulted in several convictions, all but one of those convicted escaped going to prison. [4]

It was out of this underground that the Israeli intelligence network in the United States originated. Operations were supervised by a four-member board, consisting of an American citizen, two Israeli diplomats and an Israeli troubleshooter who traveled frequently between the two countries. The FBI reportedly learned of at least 12 incidents in which American citizens passed classified information to the Israelis, but there were no prosecutions. [5]

Besides those probed by the FBI, there were certainly others, including high government officials, who were also helpful to the new Jewish state. On October 29, 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall telegrammed Washington from a United Nations meeting in Paris to complain that the Israelis knew what President Truman’s instructions had been on a key vote “almost as soon as [the Americans] had received the relevant telegram.” Israeli delegate Abba Eban attributed his delegation’s information to an “unimpeachable source.” These sources apparently never came to the FBI’s attention. [6]

The Herzog Affair

As far as we can determine, it was not until 1954 that the US government made any effort to punish an American citizen for passing classified information to Israel, apparently as the result of a broader FBI investigation into espionage activities of the Israeli embassy in Washington. At least one aspect of this investigation involved Chaim Herzog, now president of Israel. Herzog was head of Israel’s military intelligence service before coming to Washington in 1950 as its defense attache. In October or November of 1953, he allegedly sought information on the Jordanian military from a soldier stationed at the Jordanian embassy. Herzog recently acknowledged meeting with a Jordanian officer who offered information about his country, but he denied recruiting him as an agent. According to a 1954 sworn affidavit by Wilbur Crane Eveland, an Army intelligence officer assigned to the case, Herzog told the State Department desk officer for Israel and Jordan that he “turned the matter over” to an Israeli “security officer.” Israeli sources recently expressed the belief that this “security officer” recruited the soldier.

The State Department desk officer was Fred Waller. The FBI took note of Waller when he began making inquiries, apparently regarded as improper, into what the US government knew of Herzog’s activities. According to the 1954 affidavit, the FBI specifically requested that Waller be excluded from receiving information on the Bureau’s investigation into Herzog’s activities. The affidavit goes on to allege that, despite this, Waller learned of the probe and started to draft “an answer to a White House suggestion, based on an FBI report, to the effect that Colonel Herzog be declared persona non grata by the Department of State.”

Later, there were allegations of other Israeli recruiting and other indiscretions on Waller’s part. An FBI memo of January 1954 notes an account by Eveland of a discussion at Waller’s home between Waller and Esther Herlitz, first secretary of the Israeli Embassy:

Of important interest...to the Bureau was a conversation between Waller and Esther Herlitz in which, according to Eveland, Waller mentioned that during his tour as American consul in Haifa he came to know that at least two of his employees were on the Israeli payroll. He then referred to Mr. [Omar] Dajany (an official in the Jordanian Legation [to Washington]) and laughingly professed to know that he was in the pay of the Israeli Government. Miss Herlitz acknowledged that Dajany had been a paid agent of the Israeli Government prior to his assignment to the US and for at least a year thereafter. Waller then began to discuss the matter of Colonel Herzog’s attempt to obtain information from an Arab Legion soldier stationed in Washington. Miss Herlitz appeared to be completely familiar with the subject. [7]

Although Eveland mentioned that Washington was considering declaring him persona non grata, Herzog did not leave Washington until September 1954, apparently after his normal tour of duty had ended and with a letter of appreciation from John Foster Dulles. [8] At about this same time, Fred Waller appeared before a State Department board of review for various “indiscretions” and was marked for dismissal. He successfully appealed the charges against him, however, and resigned. [9]

Don Bergus, Waller’s successor at the Israel-Jordan desk, attributes the FBI investigation and the actions against Waller to Sen. Joe McCarthy’s hysterical campaign over government security. [10] Another ingredient may have been tensions with Israel over Dulles’ suspension of American economic aid in September 1953 (due to Israel’s failure to comply with requests by United Nations truce observers), and over the State Department’s October 18 condemnation of the Israeli massacre of 53 civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya. This occurred less than two weeks before the investigation involving Herzog and Waller began.

There was an apparent escalation of espionage by the two countries against each other during this period. In the Lavon affair, [11] Israeli agents tried to poison US-Egyptian relations by bombing American buildings in Cairo and Alexandria. US officials discovered a microphone and two taps in the embassy in Tel Aviv between 1954 and 1956. And Shinbet (Israel’s internal security service) tried to blackmail and recruit a clerical employee of the US consulate in Jerusalem. [12] Blitzer reports similar US intelligence activities against Israel. [13]

Intelligence Pact

It seems that, as Blitzer contends, Washington and Tel Aviv made a deliberate effort in the mid-1950s to put an end to these covert operations against one another. Most observers assign responsibility for this to top CIA official James Angleton. Since the early 1950s (how early is a matter of dispute), Angleton had exercised formal authority over CIA liaison with Israel, stemming from his wartime contacts with Jewish intelligence agents while stationed in Italy, a major transit point for refugees traveling to Palestine. In contrast to the usual geographical organization of CIA operations, the Israel desk had been placed under Angleton’s counterintelligence staff rather than under the Middle East section. Angleton reportedly saw the pipeline of Soviet Jewish emigrants to Israel as a source of potential KGB infiltration of the Middle East, but also of valuable contacts inside the Soviet Union. Israel agreed to make its emigrants and contacts available to the CIA. [14] According to several accounts, through these contacts Angleton was able to obtain Khruschev’s famous 1956 speech to the Soviet Communist Party Congress denouncing Stalin. [15] The CIA, for its part, provided Israel with about $70 million between 1956 and 1976 to buy influence among black African nations. [16] By one account, the CIA also agreed to swap information on Arab countries, excluding only material that fell into the highest security categories. [17] It appears that this was part of the agreement by Israel and the US to cut back on spy operations against each other. [18]

This apparent agreement may have simply made it easier for the Israelis to get what they had always wanted -- now with the help, instead of the hindrance, of the American intelligence community. Sharing information on Arab countries may have been one example of this. Another may have been assistance in getting nuclear weapons for Israel. According to Seymour Hersh, “sources close to” Angleton told former New York Times reporter Tad Szulc that the CIA helped the Israelis obtain technical nuclear information in the late 1950s. “This fits in with something I had been told by a high-level CIA official,” Seymour Hersh added in 1978, “that Angleton, then in charge of CIA liaison with Israeli intelligence, gave the Israelis similar technical information in the mid-1960s.” [19]

During this period, enriched uranium was vanishing from an American atomic energy company with close ties to the Israeli government. [20] In 1957, the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) was set up in Apollo, Pennsylvania, to process and reprocess nuclear fuel, among other things. In the mid-1960s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) discovered that NUMEC could not account for all the enriched uranium that was supposed to be in its possession. NUMEC’s records were said to be very sloppy. The AEC had issued warnings about loose security practices that allowed foreign visitors possible unauthorized access to highly classified material. Once, NUMEC was warned that its practices could violate espionage laws.

Especially suspect was the company’s relationship with Israel. Early on, NUMEC had signed a consulting and procurement agreement with Israel. In 1965, it established a subsidiary in Israel of which the Israeli government was half-owner. At least one FBI source believed that packages from the US to the Israeli subsidiary, supposedly containing material for agricultural research, were capable of holding the missing uranium. The FBI put NUMEC’s president, Zalman Shapiro, under surveillance and wiretapped his phone, only to discover that Shapiro used an encoded phone device to communicate directly to the Israeli consulate in New York.

There were never any indictments. For quite a while, the AEC actually continued business as usual, awarding NUMEC a large government contract for reprocessing plutonium about a year after the first major AEC investigation into the missing uranium had begun. After the National Security Council reviewed the NUMEC matter in May 1969, the case was dropped, although Shapiro was stripped of his security clearance. One White House aide who reviewed the CIA and FBI evidence against NUMEC in 1970 told Seymour Hersh that it was “very circumstantial,” but the aide also gave another reason for discontinuing the investigation: “You don't mess with the Israelis.” [21]

Targeting Arab-Americans

A similar pattern of information sharing probably made it easier for the Israelis to obtain information about Palestinians living in the United States. Between 1968 and 1974, the CIA and the FBI carried out Operation CHAOS, a spy operation against political activists living in the US. CHAOS was coordinated through Angleton’s counterintelligence staff. Washington frequently exchanged data on targeted individuals with “friendly” intelligence services. It also requested clandestine operations against them. One such target was Abdeen Jabara, a Detroit lawyer and Arab-American activist. In November 1971, after receiving information about him from the CIA, the FBI requested the National Security Agency to monitor his international communications. Jabara, during a subsequent lawsuit against the US government, learned that the FBI had directly supplied confidential, non-criminal information about him to three foreign governments. The FBI promised, as part of a recent settlement of the case, to attempt to retrieve that information. Washington denied that the FBI exchanged information about Jabara with Israel, but Jabara and others suspect that there were information exchanges, if not through the FBI then at least through the CIA.

In 1978, the FBI briefed the Senate Judiciary Committee in executive session on the case of Sami Esmail, a US citizen then attending Michigan State University and Jabara’s client. Esmail had been arrested and imprisoned shortly after arriving in Israel to visit his dying father. He was eventually charged with, and convicted of, membership in a Palestinian organization outlawed in Israel. Based on his own experience, Jabara suspected that, even though Esmail had done nothing illegal in the US, the FBI had transmitted information about Esmail to Mossad. Jabara contacted Sen. James Abourezk, who arranged a closed hearing. There, Abourezk recalls, Justice Department officials confirmed Jabara’s suspicions. The FBI, says Abourezk, “had information that [Esmail] was on his way” to Israel and “gave it to the Israelis.” Abourezk emphasized that the FBI volunteered the information; Mossad did not even need to ask for it.

A similar pattern of cooperation between US and Israeli intelligence agencies exists in the area of military procurement. “Israelis were caught in the Pentagon with unauthorized documents,” one US official told former Congressman Paul Findley, “sometimes scooping up the contents of ‘inboxes’ on desk tops.” This official recalled that a number of Israelis were very quietly asked to leave the US as a result of such activities; no formal charges were ever filed against them. Several US officials told Findley that the Israelis would submit orders for military items they were not supposed to have or even to know about -- using top-secret code numbers and sometimes precise specifications. Presumably they obtained the information from friendly executive branch contacts, but no official efforts were undertaken to discover the sources of the leaks. [22]

Two such leaks seem to have come from former Congressional aides now holding high-level Pentagon positions. Richard Perle, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, was overheard on an FBI wiretap of the Israeli embassy in Washington in 1970 discussing classified information supplied to him by someone on the National Security Council. [23] At the time Perle was a foreign policy aide to Sen. Henry Jackson. No action was taken against Perle.

Perle brought in his close friend Stephen Bryen as his Pentagon deputy. In March 1978, Bryen, then an aide to Sen. Clifford Case, was allegedly overheard offering Israeli officials a classified document on Saudi air bases. After a lengthy investigation, John Davitt, then chief of the Justice Department’s Internal Security Section, urged in January 1979 that the case be brought before an investigative grand jury. “Some of the unresolved questions thus far,” he wrote Philip Heymann, his immediate superior, “suggest that Bryen is (a) gathering classified information for the Israelis, (b) acting as their unregistered agent, and (c) lying about it.” But the case was never taken before a grand jury. In 1981, Bryen was able to get a high security clearance despite the material in his file. [24] Davitt recently told the New York Times that he found it “difficult to understand how anyone reading [Bryen’s] file could conclude, ‘Well, this matter was investigated and he was given a clean bill of health and all the allegations were resolved in his favor.’” [25]

The Krytron Caper

Pollard was not the only American arrested in 1985 for breaches of security involving Israel. In May, Richard Kelly Smyth, a NATO consultant with a high-level security clearance, was indicted for illegally shipping krytrons to Israel -- devices which can, among other uses, trigger nuclear weapons. Smyth’s company, Milco Incorporated of Huntington Beach, California, acted as the American agent for the deal on behalf of Heli Corporation, an Israeli trading company owned by Arnon Milchan, an international businessman and the producer of such movies as Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy.

US officials went out of their way to take the focus off Israel. They emphasized that the indictment against Smyth resulted from a Customs Service investigation designed to block the illegal flow of military and high-tech goods out of the US. The State Department stressed that the charges did not implicate any Israelis; the Israelis denied any intention to use the krytrons to trigger nuclear weapons. [26]

The State Department asserted that Israel had been very cooperative in the investigation, but this public stance was in contrast to a New York Times report that the Israelis had initially provided an unsatisfactory account of their acquisition of the krytrons. The Times also reported a deliberate effort to keep the case out of the public eye. [27] Smyth disappeared before he was scheduled to stand trial in August. FBI officials have reportedly been searching for him since then but have declined to comment on what success they have had.

This pattern of Israeli espionage in the United States, and the generally nonchalant stance of the US government is not completely unique. South Korea and Taiwan enjoyed similar “privileges” in the past. What makes the Pollard case unique is Pollard’s arrest and the intense publicity which surrounded it. But already the old patterns are returning. It appears that the US will try to get a guilty plea from Pollard in exchange for a promise to avoid further public questions about Pollard’s past Israeli connections and about other Israeli intelligence operations in the US. Pollard bragged years ago at Stanford about how Mossad prepared him to infiltrate the US government. Both Israel and the US would be embarrassed for the story behind his bragging to come out in court. And the network of offices of LEKEM, the scientific intelligence unit that ran Pollard, indicates that the Pollard case was likely not an isolated one. LEKEM was headed, after all, by Rafi Eitan, the Israeli master spy. A promise of silence about the operations of LEKEM and other units of Israeli intelligence may have been the price for Israeli cooperation in the Pollard affair.

Endnotes

[1] Wolf Blitzer, Between Washington and Jerusalem (New York, 1985), pp. 95-96.
[2] New York Times, December 22, 1985.
[3] Senate Intelligence Committee, Activities of “Friendly” Intelligence Services in the United States: A Case Study, June 22, 1978; Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Activities of Certain Foreign Intelligence Services in the United States, unpublished typescript, pp. 69-97.
[4] Leonard Slater, The Pledge (New York, 1970), pp. 319-320.
[5] New York Times, December 22, 1985.
[6] Wilbur Eveland, Middle East International, January 10, 1986.
[7] FBI memo, V. P. Keay to A. H. Belmont, January 13, 1954.
[8] Letter, John Foster Dulles to Abba Eban, September 14, 1954. (National Archives 601.84A.il/9-1454.)
[9] The Herzog-Waller story is discussed by Richard Higgins and Jeff McConnell in the Boston Globe, December 15, 1985.
[10] Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1985), p. 147.
[11] Aviezer Golan, Operation Susannah (New York, 1978), p. 57.
[12] CIA, “Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services,” reprinted in CounterSpy, May-June 1982, p. 47.
[13] Blitzer, p. 96.
[14] David Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (New York, 1980), p. 20.
[15] Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets (New York, 1981), pp. 100, 413-414.
[16] Findley, p. 153.
[17] Stewart Steven, The Spymasters of Israel (New York, 1980), pp. 97-98.
[18] Ibid., p. 98; Findley, p. 148.< br /> [19] Seymour M. Hersh, “The Angleton Story,” New York Times Magazine, June 25, 1978.
[20] On NUMEC, see Stephen Green, Taking Sides (London, 1984), chapter 7.
[21] Seymour M. Hersh, The Price of Power (New York, 1983), p. 85.
[22] Findley, pp. 141-143.
[23] Hersh, The Price of Power, p. 322.
[24] Michael Saba, The Armageddon Network (Brattleboro, VT, 1984).
[25] New York Times, December 22, 1985.
[26] Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1985; May 17, 1985.
[27] New York Times, May 16, 1985.

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