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EspionageU.S. officials told lawmakers Israel’s industrial espionage efforts in U.S. “crossed red lines”

Published 7 May 2014

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the State Department, the FBI, and the National Counterintelligence Directorate told lawmakers, in a series of behind-closed-doors briefings in late 2013 and January 2014 to discuss Israel joining the Visa Waver Program, that Israel has gone too far with its spying operations in the United States. The intelligence officials told lawmakers that other allies of the United States also engage in spying against U.S. private and government entities, but that Israel’s spying campaign goes far beyond the efforts of allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. “No other country close to the United States continues to cross the line on espionage like the Israelis do,” U.S. intelligence officials are quoted to have said.

The U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of some countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or while in transit for up to ninety days without having to obtain a visa. There are thirty-eight countries on the list. Some are long-time U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Others are members of NATO and the EU, or Western liberal democracies such as Spain, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, and New Zealand. Others – Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary — have benefitted from gaining their independence at the end of the cold war, so giving them the VWP status had less to do with their democratic credentials or their adherence to the values of pluralism and more to do with U.S.-Russia competition in central Europe. The place of other states on the list – Brunei, San Marino, Andorra, Monaco – can probably be explained as the result of a well-oiled, and expensive, lobbying effort.

One country conspicuous by its absence is Israel. Despite repeated efforts by friends of Israel on the Hill to have the country added to the VWP list, the U.S. intelligence community has objected, citing a wide-spread Israeli campaign of industrial espionage against American technology firms.

Newsweek reports that officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the State Department, the FBI, and the National Counterintelligence Directorate told lawmakers, in a series of behind-closed-doors briefings in late 2013 and January 2014, that Israel has gone too far with its spying operations in the United States.

The magazine says that in a closed-door hearings on the question of whether or not Israel should be added to the VWP program, representatives of the U.S. intelligence community that Jerusalem’s efforts to steal U.S. industrial and technological secrets – typically done under the cover of trade missions and joint defense technology contracts — have “crossed red lines.”

The intelligence officials, speaking in the January closed-door session of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, told lawmakers that other allies of the United States also engage in spying against U.S. private and government entities, but that Israel’s spying campaign goes far beyond the efforts of allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and Japan. A staffer familiar with the briefing described it as “very sobering…alarming…even terrifying.” Another staffer called it “damaging.”

The intelligence officials stressed that Israel’s target are primarily industrial and technical secrets.