Why Are We Spying on Israel? 

How It Works
Aug. 29 2013 5:25 PM

Why Are We Spying on Israel? 

164284811
Israeli President Shimon Peres, U.S. President Barack Obama, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand together prior to Obama departing from Ben Gurion International Airport on March 22, 2013, in Lod' Israel. Would Obama be posing like this with the leaders of Iran?

Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman has another blockbuster today from the mixed-up files of Mr. Edward J. Snowden, this one providing details of the top-secret $52.6 billion “black budget” for the 16 spy agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

Among other details, the report discusses the recent resurgence of the CIA and the intelligence community’s new focus on “offensive cyber operations.” It also includes this striking detail:

Pakistan is described in detail as an “intractable target,” and counterintelligence operations “are strategically focused against [the] priority targets of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and Israel.”
Advertisement

The inclusion of Israel on that list might seem surprising, but the United States and its “greatest friend” have a long history of spying on each other. Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo of the AP reported on some of this last year:

In addition to what the former U.S. officials described as intrusions in homes in the past decade, Israel has been implicated in U.S. criminal espionage cases and disciplinary proceedings against CIA officers and blamed in the presumed death of an important spy in Syria for the CIA during the administration of President George W. Bush.
The CIA considers Israel its No. 1 counterintelligence threat in the agency's Near East Division, the group that oversees spying across the Middle East, according to current and former officials. Counterintelligence is the art of protecting national secrets from spies. This means the CIA believes that U.S. national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel. […]
The National Security Agency historically has kept tabs on Israel. The U.S., for instance, does not want to be caught off guard if Israel launches a surprise attack that could plunge the region into war and jeopardize oil supplies, putting American soldiers at risk.
Matthew Aid, the author of "The Secret Sentry," about the NSA, said the U.S. started spying on Israel even before the state was created in 1948. Aid said the U.S. had a station on Cyprus dedicated to spying on Israel until 1974. Today, teams of Hebrew linguists are stationed at Fort Meade, Md., at the NSA, listening to intercepts of Israeli communications, he said.

And then there’s the high-profile case of Jonathan Pollard, the former Navy civilian intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying for Israel in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. Pollard’s release has long been a priority of the Netanyahu government and, apparently, Anthony Weiner

None of this has prevented the intelligence services of the two countries from working together, as they apparently did in the creation of the Stuxnet worm that crippled Iranian nuclear systems in 2010. As I noted on Monday, a certain amount of spying between allies is expected.

But leaders in Tel Aviv probably still won’t be thrilled to see themselves included on a list with Russia and Iran. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 30 2014 1:23 PM What Can Linguistics Tell Us About Writing Better? An Interview with Steven Pinker.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.