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US sees Israel, tight Mideast ally, as spy threat

The CIA believes that US national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

Updated: Jul 28, 2012, 21:01 PM IST

Washington: The CIA station chief opened the locked box containing the sensitive equipment he used from his home in Tel Aviv, Israel, to communicate with CIA headquarters in Virginia, only to find that someone had tampered with it.

He sent word to his superiors about the break-in.

The incident, described by three former senior US intelligence officials, might have been dismissed as just another cloak-and-dagger incident in the world of international espionage, except that the same thing had happened to the previous station chief in Israel.

It was a not-so-subtle reminder that, even in a country friendly to the United States, the CIA was itself being watched.

In a separate episode, according to another two former US officials, a CIA officer in Israel came home to find the food in the refrigerator had been rearranged. In all the cases, the US government believes Israel`s security services were responsible.

Such meddling underscores what is widely known but rarely discussed outside intelligence circles: Despite inarguable ties between the US and its closest ally in the Middle East and despite statements from US politicians trumpeting the friendship, US national security officials consider Israel to be, at times, a frustrating ally and a genuine counterintelligence threat.

In addition to what the former US officials described as intrusions in homes in the past decade, Israel has been implicated in US 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 as 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 US national secrets are safer from other Middle Eastern governments than from Israel.

Israel employs highly sophisticated, professional spy services that rival American agencies in technical capability and recruiting human sources.

Unlike Iran or Syria, for example, Israel as a steadfast US ally enjoys access to the highest levels of the US government in military and intelligence circles.