Part I: Rather funny
The latest spy vs spy "scandal", where Israelis brazenly crawl into the most important shelter a man has in his life, with obviously nefarious purposes, is beyond being comical or absurd. Yet here it is, in a somewhat respected media outfit, Newsweek:
Israel’s Aggressive Spying in the U.S. Mostly Hushed Up
I wouldn't bother you with retelling the whole story, suffice to quote the relevant passage:
According to a senior former U.S. intelligence operative, a Secret Service agent who was enjoying a moment of solitude in Gore’s bathroom before the Veep arrived heard a metallic scraping sound. “The Secret Service had secured [Gore’s] room in advance and they all left except for one agent, who decided to take a long, slow time on the pot,” the operative recalled for Newsweek. “So the room was all quiet, he was just meditating on his toes, and he hears a noise in the vent. And he sees the vent clips being moved from the inside. And then he sees a guy starting to exit the vent into the room.”And the dramatic conclusion of that accident:
The brazen air-duct caper “crossed the line” of acceptable behavior between friendly intelligence services – but because it was done by Israel, it was quickly hushed up by U.S. officials.Of course, the story doesn't stand up to any, even most shallow, analysis. To a gullible teenager who isn't aware of the fact that even 16 years ago (an impossibly olden times for a teenager, agreed) there already was some fairly sophisticated eavesdropping machinery available, the necessity to crawl air conditioning vents may seem double-o seven reasonable. To any sufficiently sober person - hardly. And why would an Israeli black hat seek access to a restroom, of all places? - this is beyond burlesque as well*.
Surely the chance that an example of the famous 20 feet tidal wave will materialize during Al Bore's visit to the restroom will be a pity to miss - but wouldn't it be simpler all around (and safer too, seeing as how dangerous that wave might be) to stick a few recording devices in that sacred abode of a man?
I happened to hear the author of that delightful opus, Jeff Stein, being interviewed on Israeli radio. I can tell you that the man, besides being totally devoid of sense of humor (at least during the interview), is deadly serious and pompously self-important, insisting that the the story is true to its smallest details. Oh well.
Story of this kind would be on par with recently surfaced delicious story of Israeli specially developed wild boars and white mice being shipped [by Mossad?] in quantities to Jordan and other neighboring Arab countries.
This story is not new. The dossier of Israeli attacks on Jordan is full of events, which are largely left unexposed. Israel stopped sending jets to bomb civilian targets in Jordan a long time ago. Since the signing of the Wadi Araba Treaty [Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty] In October 1994 and the official end of hostilities between Israel and Jordan, it has launched a new front against us. It replaced the jets with wild boars and white mice in order to sabotage Jordanian agriculture, and ultimately the Jordanian economy.So what, you might say: the wild boars, white mice and spies in the air conditioning ducts are all part and parcel of feverish journos' imagination. At least here, in Israel, being on the business end of the murky stream of anti-Israeli (and Jew-hating) conspiracy theories, we are used to laugh this crapola off and forget it. However, I stressed "would be" in the first sentence of that paragraph. Because in Jeff Stein's case, his article is more than a curio, produced by a loony. It is part of an orchestrated campaign and is
Part II: Not so funny, really
Let's be serious here for a moment and take a look at some less visible trends in what is specifically American branch of conspiracy theories. Only first a disclaimer:
I more than believe that both US and Israel indulge in mutual spying for at least the last 66 years (yeah, the age of State of Israel, you are right at that). Just like any two other randomly chosen countries that have even a rudimentary spying outfits, US and Israel do their best to learn in many ways: legal, barely legal and totally illegal - everything there is to learn about the military, industrial, scientific and many other aspects of other side's activity. This is the way it is and this is the way it will be, morality, friendship and political declarations notwithstanding. There are some differences between the ways and means, of course: no one invests more in spying after other friends and partners than US and hardly anyone does get caught more frequently (as a result of statistically inevitable missteps) than US. The other significant difference is in the way that being caught spying on the other side is treated. When Israeli spying - real or imaginary - gets discovered, the matter is widely publicized and frequently inflated. When an American spy gets caught in flagrante in Israel, the matter is hushed up so quickly and so efficiently, it hardly ever breaks through the local censorship - believe you me, and I don't want to say anything more on the subject**. However, what is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to a bull... so let's take it as granted and live with it.
Let's proceed to the trends. The absurdity of the discussed above Jeff Stein's article is obvious. What is less obvious is that, while a self-important and humorless doofus, Stein is being manipulated by some rather more clever people. While in the toilet article he doesn't disclose his source, referring to some unnamed "senior former U.S. intelligence operative", the article Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S., penned by same Stein a few days ago, does point a finger to one of his sources: Paul Pillar, the CIA’s former national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia. There is a catch where Mr Pillar is concerned. The Algemeiner has done a bit of research on Mr Pillar, and a Pillar of Objectivity he is definitely not:
Paul Pillar, a retired CIA intelligence officer and the main named source in this week’s Newsweek article, ‘Israel Won’t Stop Spying on the U.S.,’ which was rejected by Israeli officials, is also an outspoken supporter of the American Studies Association boycott of Israeli universities, according to an article he wrote for The National Interest.And even Paul Pillar is not the main driving force in this case. Since the beginning of the current friction between the White House and Jerusalem, we have seen a steady trickle of leaks from various State Department, Pentagon and intelligence offices, regarding military and intelligence activities of Israel: be it an Israeli Air Force operation in Lebanon or elsewhere or a secret tidbit on Iranian nuclear developments passed from Jerusalem to Washington etc.
Of course, an acting intelligence officer cannot serve as a source, so the use of retired CIA folks, via a friendly phone call or some other gentle nudge in desired direction is a typical MO of the whole business.
And we all remember only too well a very similar period of intentional leaks during the Clinton/Netanyahu "friendly" scraps over various Middle Eastern matters. Smiling for the photo-ops and kicking each other shins under the table... yeah, been there, seen that...
That was history, and if you want a professional analysis of the reasons for the current brouhaha, beyond the Obama/Bibi little feud, here it comes, from Ron Ben-Yishai, one of the best Israeli reporters on military and intelligence matters. He says the following about the motives for the behavior of the American intelligence community:
1. A desire to prevent the release of convicted US-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, and anger at the Obama administration's willingness to succumb to Israeli pressure and offer his release in return for extending peace talks.But that ping-pong of mutual blame is getting too long, so time to go to
2. The move to allow Israel to join the exclusive Visa Waiver club, one of the pro-Israel lobby's potentially greatest achievements, has invoked the anger of the US intelligence community. It is also possible that conservative republicans are using these unnamed former intelligence officials to slam Obama's administration.
3. There is growing anger from US intelligence officials at their Israeli counterparts, who have repeatedly embarrassed them. For example, in an intelligence briefing from 2005 regarding Iran's nuclear program the US intelligence community announced Iran had frozen its nuclear program.
Israel claimed that the assessment was mistaken and Israel was slammed for it, only to have the assessment's authors recant and apologize only a few years later.
An additional such case of embarrassment took place in regards to Syrian President Bashar Assad's usage of chemical weapons. Then head of the IDF Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Itai Baron, repeatedly claimed the Americans were mistaken, and that Assad had in fact used chemical weapons – and again the Americans had to put their foot in their mouth.
Part III: Conclusion and a bit of friendly advice
Ladies and gentlemen of the spying community (known otherwise as spooks, specters, secret agents or, frequently and as an oxymoron, "intelligence officers"): we all know that your thirst for spying will never be slacked. We know that you did it from times immemorial and will continue to do it till the last lock remaining on this here planet rusts back into the dirt it came from. And we, the normal people (well, the people with an average curiosity quotient) could do nothing to prevent you from doing it. Moreover, we even delude ourselves sometimes, thinking that your incessant snooping may bring some advantage to the side you are ostensibly snooping for. Maybe. Just maybe.
There should be only one proviso attached to the money we, the people, provide you quite generously, to enable you to do all that spying stuff: when the other ones, the black hats, step on your toes or other sensitive appendages - don't come to a sympathetic journo (especially not to one daft as a plank) crying and inventing ridiculous stories about them black hats. After all, they are doing their jobs, same as you, trying to make the ends meet.
And I would venture a guess: just like you, they don't like to crawl through the air conditioning ducts. It is an unsanitary, dangerous and, nowadays, a totally unnecessary tactics.
Oh, and one other thing: you should never mix your direct occupation with politics. It is outright unhealthy and will definitely have a negative career impact. Not to mention that it's sooo stupid...
Update. Back to funny things: Roger Simon says I Was an Israeli Spy. Tee hee...
(*) The same opinion as expressed by a pro, Former Mossad director Danny Yatom:
I think that there are much more advanced methods, that everybody who’s seen movies and read books on the subject knows to say to himself that these methods of agents crawling through the ventilation ducts to get to the room of the vice president of the United States — these descriptions are delusional.Delusional and extremely stupid, but some of the public, esp. the conspiracy-minded ones will lap it up for sure...
(**) The rare stories about US agents/agencies being caught spying on Israel, like this one, are usually product of some third party "initiative", like Snowden or Wikileaks material.