Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jonathan Jay Pollard Spy Case

Allies Spy

Israel is so closely allied to the United States that some people have called the Jewish nation America's 51st state. The U.S. has strongly supported Israel in the wars it has fought throughout its brief and violent history. Moreover, America shares a great deal of the vital intelligence it gathers with Israel and vice versa. Indeed, the vast majority of American intelligence information that Israel would be interested in is voluntarily given over to it.

However, in the arcane world of statecraft, friendly countries do not share every piece of intelligence with each other. Thus, allies spy, a practice called "friendly espionage."

Why would the United States withhold intelligence from Israel? The interests of one country never perfectly coincide with another, no matter how close the two nations might be. As Wolf Blitzer writes in Territory of Lies, America does not share with Israel (or Israel with the U.S.) "information that it [feels] could compromise what the intelligence professionals call 'sources and methods' namely, how that information was collected." For example, CIA sources are kept secret from Israel because the American intelligence-gathering organization believes that those sources would dry up if the Israelis were told about them. American information concerning those Arab states with which it is friendly, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, are also not revealed to Israel. Intelligence is shared, even with allies, on a basis of exchange. If one country has a "mole" in the other, the latter's ability to receive intelligence from the former is greatly weakened.

David Durenberger, former senator (AP)
David Durenberger,
former senator (AP)

The United States has been known to snoop on Israel. America took satellite reconnaissance photographs of Israeli military installations which Pollard illegally shared with Israel, helping them to develop better "masking" techniques. The Israelis have been convinced that there were American moles in their country and there has been some evidence to support their suspicion. Republican Senator David Durenberger of Minnesota charged that the CIA had an Israeli spy who started working for the US before Israel accepted the services of Jay Pollard. Immediately after the Pollard scandal broke, the late Yitzhak Rabin, who was then Israel's Defense Minister, said that Israel had found no less than five American spies working inside during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The spies were expelled from Israel, rather than prosecuted and imprisoned, to prevent too much conflict between the country and its American ally.

Americans wondered why the Israelis would risk an international incident in order to obtain what they withheld from them. After all, the vast majority of data is shared. The answer lies in the extreme degree of concern that the little, tempest-tossed nation has for its security. As noted in an article on the case, "Why Israel spied on U. S." that appeared in U. S. News & World Report, "Officially, the Israeli government regrets the spy case. Unofficially, Israeli officials and private citizens alike repeatedly cite vital security concerns in defense of the action." The article also says, "To most [Israelis], Israel is a nation surrounded by enemies and must risk dispute with its one indispensable ally if it feels that ally is withholding information that Israel needs."

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