Subscribe Today

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 2000, pages 6, 24

Special Report

Despite Coverup, Israel Caught Spying in Washington Again

By Richard H. Curtiss

Israel has been caught spying in Washington again, this time on the White House and other sensitive telephone systems. But Americans have to look and listen very hard to learn the details. The damage could be as great as that sustained during spy-for-pay Jonathan Jay Pollard’s blatant military codes, plans and secret-stealing rampage of the 1980s. And probably greater than Israel’s stealing not only of U.S. nuclear secrets in the 1960s, but even of American enriched uranium via an Israel-controlled contracting firm in Apollo, Pennsylvania.

Predictably, on the record the White House, Department of Justice and the FBI all are minimizing the damage, saying that although the investigation into Israeli eavesdropping on White House telephones “remains open,” no one has been charged because no crime can be proved. But off the record FBI officials have confirmed to journalists not only the espionage, but details about the operation and the perpetrators. They are a married Israeli couple, at least one of them a Mossad member stationed in the Israeli Embassy in Washington and enjoying diplomatic immunity from arrest.

The story was broken May 5 in Insight magazine, a weekly supplement to the daily Washington Times, and on Fox News, a national television network. The Washington Times and Insight are controlled by the World Unification Church of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and Fox News is controlled by Australian-born media mogul and U.S. citizen Rupert Murdoch. Both are identified with conservative causes and provide a more hospitable platform for Republican Party ideas and personalities than the other three major U.S. networks or the congressionally supported Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

However, unlike Moon, Murdoch is at least as careful not to offend Israel or to carry stories unfavorable to the Jewish state as are the other networks. Therefore, after printing the lengthy May 5 report by journalists J. Michael Waller and Paul Rodriguez on its Web site, it is not clear how zealously Insight or Fox News, or any other major media organizations, plan to follow up.

Washington, DC’s other major daily newspaper, The Washington Post, has carried only a May 6Associated Press report quoting “two senior federal law enforcement officials...who requested anonymity” as saying “the FBI had identified no one to arrest during its investigation.”

Because of the Israeli involvement, “no government official would speak for the record.”

The AP also quoted “Capitol Hill Republican sources” as saying the allegation centered on a telecommunications contractor. AP reported also that spokesman Mark Regev of the Israeli Embassy in Washington called the allegation “outrageous,” saying, “Israel does not spy on the United States.” This is an astonishing claim given the number of Israeli spies who have fled Washington over the years in connection with the Pollard and other cases.

According to the Insight report, the investigation was launched after a local telephone company manager in the U.S. raised suspicions in late 1996 or early 1997 about an employee of Amdocs, an Israeli companythat sells billing software for telephone companies. The Israeli employee worked as a subcontractor on a program for telephone billing for the CIA, and is married to an Israeli woman employed in a diplomatic position in the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

The Insight reporters said it is not clear whether the husband as well as his wife is a Mossad employee, but noted that husband-and-wife assignments abroad by Mossad are common. The American telephone company manager’s suspicions came to the attention of the CIA, the reporters said, which turned the matter over to the FBI. It was an FBI search of the husband’s workplace that discovered in his possession what Waller and Rodriguez called “a list of the FBI’s most sensitive telephone numbers, including the Bureau’s ”˜black’ lines that FBI counterintelligence used to keep track of the suspected Israeli spy operation.” In the words of the Insight investigators, “the hunted were tracking the hunters.”

Wrote Waller and Rodriguez: “More than two dozen U.S. intelligence, counterintelligence, law-enforcement and other officials have told Insight that the FBI believes Israel has intercepted telephone and modem communications on some of the most sensitive lines of the U.S. government on an ongoing basis. The worst penetrations are believed to be in the State Department. But others say the supposedly secure telephone systems in the White House, Defense Department and Justice Department may have been compromised as well. The problem for FBI agents in the famed Division 5, however, isn’t just what they have uncovered, which is substantial, but what they don’t know yet.”

Installation Assistance

According to Fox News, the Israeli Amdocs software company, which now has a base in Chesterfield, Missouri, “helped Bell Atlantic install new telephone lines in the White House in 1997.” Although Fox News noted that “for the past 18 months the FBI has been investigating Bell Atlantic and Amdocs,” Amdocs spokesman Dan Ginsburg said the company has not been notified of any FBI investigation and only heard of the probe from news reporters on May 4.

Bell Atlantic officials declined comment, but Fox News reported that “in 1997 the White House had a new, state-of-the-art phone system installed by Bell Atlantic.” Fox News said investigators told President Clinton “that a senior-level employee of Amdocs had a separate T1 data phone line installed from his base outside of St. Louis that was connected directly to Israel.”

Reported Fox: “Investigators are looking into whether the owner of the T1 line had a ”˜real time’ capacity to intercept phone calls from both the White House and other government offices around Washington, and sustained the line for some time, sources said. Sources familiar with the investigation say FBI agents on the case sought an arrest warrant for the St. Louis employee but Justice Department officials quashed it.”

Similarly, Waller and Rodriguez noted that because of the Israeli involvement, “no government official would speak for the record.” They quoted “a senior U.S. official familiar with the super-secret counterintelligence operation” as saying “we’re not even sure we know the extent of it,” and another “senior government official who would go no further than to admit awareness of the FBI probe” as saying, “It is a politically sensitive matter. I can’t comment on it beyond telling you that anything involving Israel on this particular matter is off-limits. It’s that hot.”

The Insight reporters noted FBI dismay at learning that discovery of the FBI phone list “called into question the entire operation. We had been compromised. But for how long?”

Insight also quoted a former U.S. intelligence officer as explaining: “When it has anything to do with Israel, it’s something you just never want to poke your nose into. But this one had too much potential to ignore because it involved a potential system-wide penetration.”

Explained David Major, a retired FBI supervisory special agent and a former White House director of counterintelligence, to the Insight reporters: “The Israelis conduct intelligence as if they are at war...There are a lot less handcuffs on intelligence for a nation that sees itself at war. But that doesn’t excuse it from our perspective.”

Fox reported that “the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby (R-AL), was briefed along with Sen. Richard Bryan (D-NV), a ranking Democrat on the committee,” and that “several other lawmakers on key committees with jurisdiction over these matters have never been briefed.”

A week after the first revelations, most Americans probably still had not heard of either the penetration of White House and possibly other sensitive telephones, or of the FBI investigation. But Israeli journalists had reported it. However, instead of describing how the perpetrators were detected, Israeli media speculated that the news was “leaked” by the Clinton administration and that the purpose was to send a message to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak after his revelation that he intended to ignore President Bill Clinton’s disapproval and continue with the planned sale of at least one Israeli-configured AWACs-type airborne-warning system to China.

The Tel Aviv daily Ha’aretz noted that first the Pentagon had complained that an Israeli ballistic missile test had endangered an American naval craft in the Mediterranean, and then “another such leak came from the White House and Defense Department, raising suspicions of wiretapping against Israel. The administration is using every possible opportunity to convey its message to Jerusalem’s policymakers.”

Whether the Clinton administration orchestrated the leak, as Israel journalists claim, or, as it appears to this writer, is frantically seeking to cover up in a presidential election year a grave security breach that the Republicans could use for their political benefit—all readers will be reminded of the telephone tapping story that emerged from Monica Lewinsky’s testimony to U.S. government investigators. She told them that President Clinton had warned her that he believed “a foreign embassy” was tapping their steamy telephone conversations.

The speed with which the contents of those calls were leaked to Israel-friendly U.S. journalists when Clinton and then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu clashed over a Middle East land-for-peace agreement not only gave credence to Clinton’s voiced suspicions at the time, but also made clear which foreign embassy was doing the listening. What the newest revelations add is exactly how the Israelis did it, and may still be doing it.

Readers may find the complete text of the article from Insight Magazine on its Web site: <>. The full text of the Fox report may be found on <>.

Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.