American and Israel: The Spy Game
09/07/2011 - 12:46
Douglas Bloomfield

I can’t imagine anyone, especially readers of the New York Times and the Jewish Week, being surprised by the Times’ page one headline Monday revealing that the United States spies on Israel. More to the point, the FBI taps the phones of the Israeli Embassy in Washington. I’m shocked. Next thing you’ll be telling me is there’s gambling in the back room at Rick’s Café.

A former State Department official told me the U.S. has spied on "the British over IRA and Rhodesia sanctions, the Saudis and their arms and oil industry allies for F-15's and AWACS, Sri Lanka over their war with the Tamil Tigers, and the Turks, who periodically pull out all the stops to lobby against pro-Armenian resolutions." And tht’s just a sampling.
The Times article focuses on the case of Shamai K. Leibowitz, an FBI translator who apparently leaked information about the wiretaps because he thought Israeli diplomats were being too aggressive in pushing their point of view. For the full story, read Scott Shane’s “Leak Officers Look at Efforts by U.S. to Spy on Israel.”
 It seems someone failed to explain to Leibowitz and the FBI that that’s the legitimate work – and right -- of diplomats as well as lobbyists, grassroots activists and everyone else who wants to influence public policy. 
The Times story gives no indication that the US government thought the Israeli actions were “excessive and improper” – only those of the man responsible for the leak, which he knew was a violation of the law. Blogger Richard Silverstein, the recipient of the leak, felt that “nothing Mr. Leibowitz described to him appeared to be beyond the bounds of ordinary lobbying,” the Times wrote.
I hadn’t followed the case closely when it broke last year, but I’m not surprised that the feds were tapping the Israelis’ phones. And I expect they’re not alone; the Russians, Chinese, Arabs and others are probably trying to listen in as well. 
This has been going on for many years. I have no proof, but I suspect it may have been something the FBI overheard one of its taps that led them to charge a pair of my former AIPAC colleagues – Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman -- under the same Espionage Act as Leibowitz. In their case, however, the charges were dropped. 
During the 1980s when I was the legislative director of AIPAC I operated on the assumption that someone – the FBI, NSA, foreign embassies and particularly the Arabs and their political and corporate friends – was listening.
I had only assumed AIPAC’s phones were being tapped until we got a visit from a job seeker claiming to be a Pentagon intelligence officer. He told my boss, one of my colleagues and me that our office phones, our home phones and probably our cars were bugged and that signals could be bounced off our office windows from several blocks away to listen in on conversations in any room with an outside window. (It didn’t occur to us to ask “So why are you sitting here in front of the window telling us all this?”) We thought he was a paranoid nut case and sent him packing; and that’s how it was that Aipac did not hire Jonathan Pollard, who a few years later was arrested for spying for Israel. The job Pollard applied for went to Steve Rosen, who was charged some 20 years later with violations of the Espionage Act for allegedly passing secrets to the Israeli Embassy.
Pollard may have been delusional about the extent of the bugging, but that such spying takes place has never been in doubt, as this week's revelations demonstrate. The Israeli right will no doubt try to attribute this to anti-Israel bias, particularly in the Obama administration. In fact, it's just business as usual in high-stakes diplomacy.
Still, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
When the Times reporter called me about the story, I told him, “I am not surprised at all to learn that the F.B.I. was listening to the Israelis. But I don’t think it’s a wise use of resources because I don’t see Israel as a threat to American security.” 

-- Douglas Bloomfield

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Grant Smith, admittedly Bloomfield is confusing, but this story is NOT about AIPAC - it is about the FBI wiretapping the Israeli embassy in Washington. You want to talk AIPAC? Fine. Their primary job and reason for being is to lobby Washington for favorable treatment for Israel on an array of issues. That is their right in a free and democratic nation like the US. Everyone understands who AIPAC works for and what they are doing. By the way, there are thousands of lobbies in Washington, including those of foreign countries, each working for their own particular interest group. I don't like many of them, but I know they have rights in America, too. Your main gripe against AIPAC seems to be that the interest group that you represent lost the competition in which they were engaged, AIPAC won. Generally speaking, winning a free and open competition is not a crime, and losing is not grounds for a federal investigation.

"winning a free and open competition is not a crime, and losing is not grounds for a federal investigation."

That's true. But if you read the FBI investigation of AIPAC, here is the scenario. 1. An Israeli government agent illegally obtains classified US confidential business information, which the USTR/ITC promised to keep secret. 2. The agent passes it to AIPAC for use in lobbying and PR. 3. The US government agency entrusted to keep the information secret asks aipac to return the doc, and Bloomfield copies it instead.

That's certainly not "free and open competition". Looks much more like espionage. Plus, the prejudicial agreement has been entirely one-sided in terms of benefits, which could be expected given the forces arrayed against the US industries and groups opposed on a variety of grounds. And yet Bloomfield has that gall to lecture America about spying. I think there's a descriptive word for that...

'The fact of Israeli penetration into the country is not a subject oft-discussed in the media or in the circles of governance, due to the extreme sensitivity of the U.S.-Israel relationship coupled with the burden of the Israel lobby, which punishes legislators who dare to criticize the Jewish state.' Christopher Ketcham 2009

Bloomfield makes the risky mistake of underestimating real anti-semitism. Denunciation of real and imagined spying by Israel on the US occurs on a regular, continual basis in high US circles. The quote above is one instance of many that I've heard and read over the years.
People engage in spying on allies because a) they believe their real goals and desires are different than advertised and b), they don't trust the other to refrain from pursuing unhelpful goals. The only reasonable conclusion one can infer from the FBI spying on the Israeli embassy is that certain elements in the US government (Holder and Obama have to be aware) do not trust Israel to act in ways that are cooperative with US interests. Bloomfield may discount the seriousness of the incident, but if I learned that my business partner had hired an investigator for surveillance of me, I would probably look for another business partner who I could trust.

Really? So there’s gambling in the back room at Rick’s Café. Are you sure?

At some point, Douglas Bloomfield needs to explain to Americans why AIPAC obtained classified, business confidential information submitted by American companies *opposed* to the US-Israel bilateral trade deal—using it against their legitimate concerns This act gravely violated their due process rights. It was not part of any "game."

When the USTR ordered AIPAC to return the classified document, Bloomfield (According to what he told the FBI) made an illegal photocopy of of the classified document.

Perhaps the key to deterring FBI interest in AIPAC as an unregistered foreign agent engaged in espionage—would be for AIPAC to stop acting like an unregistered foreign agent engaged in espionage.